Background on Redpill Linpro
Redpill Linpro is the leading provider of professional open source services and products in the Nordic region. They provide consulting, development services, training, support, application management and IT operations for open source products ranging from infrastructure, databases, middleware and enterprise applications to customer specific solutions based on open source components.
Redpill Linpro started in 1995 as a managed services and consulting company to help organizations build an IT foundation for their digital transformation in the areas of API & integration, automation, devops, agile IT operations and digital workplace. As the leading open source service provider in the Nordics, and as they are primarily a Linux shop, they’ve always had a focus on openness.
The Challenge: The need for an open, agile network
Redpill Linpro had been a Juniper shop since 2008, running EX switches in a spine/leaf topology. It was an L2-based fabric based on MLAG and virtual chassis. These systems were getting old and going off of support. Additionally, they were moving to a new data center and began looking around for a more modern network offering.
Redpill Linpro had thousands of servers in their data center that they were going to move. All these servers were managed with the Puppet automation tool. While they were happy overall with their Juniper switches, they didn’t plug into their scalable Puppet system. Tore Anderson, Network Engineer at Redpill Linpro, explained that Juniper’s API didn’t use the Linux shell in the same way. “It’s an XML-RPC API, so it is not managed by Puppet natively. That means we have to do manual work to get it to work,” states Anderson. “It becomes a big effort, especially given the size of our environment.”
Tore and the Redpill Linpro team looked at Cumulus to bring openness and automation to their network. “Having the dozens of network devices we operate slot right into all of our preexisting Linux systems was a compelling value proposition for us,” says Anderson. “That was a lot more appealing vs. our typical way with other vendors that required lots of custom duct tape and rubber bands to integrate in an adequate fashion.”
The other attractive benefit was the potentially significant capital expense savings. Redpill Linpro selected Cumulus, and procured some Cumulus Express 48 devices built with Broadcom Trident II+ 10G ASIC. Juniper’s QFX5100 was essentially the same hardware, with a proprietary OS, but at a significantly higher cost. Arista came in the same ballpark, roughly. “It was clear from the outset that whitebox networking would bring us substantial CapEx savings.” The outlay reduction they experienced was around 35%, a meaningful number for their operational size.
Redpill Linpro deployed Cumulus in their new data center in the fall of 2017 as part of their facility move. “With the move, we didn’t have a lot of time to change all the elements of our network. The new network in our new data center had to still be based on L2 MLAG and using OSPF as the routing protocol.”
Exceptional customer support
“Cumulus support has been outstanding, excellent, top-notch. I’m used to working with big vendors. When reporting some issue, it is usually two weeks of time repeating yourself over and over again to some first-line engineer, who is clearly not very technical, until you finally get someone who is technical and knows their stuff,” Anderson says. “Cumulus support has been stellar! All our tickets have been quickly been picked up by skilled engineers that are quick to grasp the issue at hand. And we can talk to them directly on Slack! The engineer who solves our issue is the same one that picks up the case in the first place. I honestly feel a bit bad when I hear of your support answering tickets way late in the night for them.”
Tore explains another difference as well, “MX support is so expensive, we can buy two cumulus switches for the price we used to pay Juniper for support!”
What’s next for Redpill Linpro
Already, there is an upgrade plan in early 2018. Additionally, Redpill Linpro’s plan is to replace the other Juniper EX switches with Cumulus in two other data centers. “We are looking closely at EVPN, and changing our DCI model from VPLS to Cumulus’ EVPN over VXLAN. We are very excited about this.” Anderson also says that they may replace OSPF with BGP in there data center networks, saying it seems like it is the best way to modernize their networks.
In the future, Redpill Linpro see themselves moving more and more to automation in the network. They do this today with their servers. “We have thousands of servers that go out and ask Puppet automation ‘who am I and what is my purpose in life.’ Five minutes later it is in production, and you never have to log into that server to make that happen,” says Anderson. “That is the power of Linux, and that where we expect to go with Cumulus as we spread them out across our various centers.”
One thing is for sure, Cumulus has changed the way networking is done at Redpill Linpro. “It’s fun to do networking again!” Anderson explains. “The daily network grind had been kind of boring. Not much innovation has been happening in this space. The entire reason we looked to change vendors was because we needed to reduce manual labor and become more automated. Otherwise, it is just steady state.” With EVPN and BGP in coming to their data center, and moving to L3, they can have more automation directly with their servers, says Anderson, “and that is going to make all the difference for us. A lot of fun projects ahead to take network into more modern state. I just finished writing a technical blog on running BGP as L3 over MLAG, that explains this process in more detail.”
Anderson concludes, “I am a very happy customer so far!”