It’s hard to point to the exact moment when Cumulus Networks “started” for me. Back in 1995, I started using, living, and breathing Linux. Linux, clusters of low cost systems and distributed storage systems have been on my mind for my entire career.

In 2007, after working for Radik (an open source database company), VMware, 3Leaf Systems, and Nuova Systems, I founded my first startup, Tile Networks. We built and offered a virtualized cloud hosting environment based on KVM with storage distributed across the hypervisor nodes. This resulted in a huge amount of east-west network traffic, which required far more network capacity than a traditional system. It became very clear to me that the traditional networking model did not work very well for this type of system. Our attempts to cobble a network together using large numbers of parallel links from each server to non-overlapping low-cost unmanaged L2 switches worked, but was brittle and had obvious scalability limits. L3 switches were simply too expensive, both to buy and to manage.

KVM uses Linux as the hypervisor kernel, so intra-VM networking is provided by native Linux mechanisms. This made it evident that not only was Linux as a network Operating System more capable than the cheap switches I was buying, it was capable enough to replace the very expensive L3 switches that I wasn’t buying.

There are several advantages that this approach would offer over the traditional networking approach:

  • Ease of automation
  • Ability to run scripts and programs directly on the switch (for example, monitoring and data collection)
  • Configuration on both the server and switch side is very similar

I was excited about the idea and thought it had great potential. While I felt confident in my expertise in Linux and virtualization, I knew I would need to join up with someone who had stronger experience in the networking world to pull it off.

And then in 2009, my friend and former colleague JR Rivers called me to let me know he had left his job and taking a break. He has the deep networking knowledge and experience to match my Linux and virtualization expertise. We agreed to meet up and talk now that he was on a well-deserved break from his last employer, and that’s where the real story of Cumulus Networks began.