Dell Embraces Cumulus Linux for Networking

Dell is no stranger to Linux, having supported it on its server portfolio as well as its own networking gear. Now Dell is expanding its Linux networking effort by enabling its customers to choose Linux, specifically the Cumulus Linux distribution, as a networking operating system on a pair of Dell switches.

Arpit Joshipura, VP at Dell Networking, told Enterprise Networking Planet that server buyers have long had the ability to choose the operating system they want. Now that same choice is coming to the networking realm.

Cumulus Networks first emerged in June of 2013 with a Linux distribution geared towards networking. Inside Cumulus, the system is derived from the Debian Linux project. It was updated in October of 2013 with new Broadcom silicon support.

As to how Dell and Cumulus got together, Cumulus Networks co-founder and CEO JR Rivers told Enterprise Networking Planet that his company is focused on the vision of the Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), and Dell fits into that model well.

From a business perspective, Dell will now resell Cumulus Linux as an option for the Dell Networking S6000 and S4810 switches. Dell also offers users of those switches the option to use the FTOS operating system, which came to Dell along with much of its networking portfolio, through the acquisition of Force10 in July of 2011.

Joshipura explained that from a strategy perspective, the Cumulus Linux support empowers the S6000 and S4810 switches to compete against offerings from Original Device Manufacturers (ODMs) at one end and vertically integrated switches from Cisco at the other. Joshipura noted that Dell is not yet releasing formal pricing on the Cumulus Linux option for its switches, though he noted there could be as much as a twenty percent pricing differential in contrast with existing platforms.

Dell Linux

In December of 2013, Dell announced a new Linux operating system for its N2000 and N3000 series switches.

Since Dell has its own Linux operating system solution for networking, some might wonder why it wants or needs Cumulus Linux. As always, it’s the details that matter.

Joshipura noted that the N-series routers serve the needs of campus networks, whereas the S6000 and S4810 are targeted at the data center.

Rivers stressed that there is also a difference in how Dell’s N-series platform and Cumulus Linux include and use Linux.

“At Cumulus, we focus on hardware accelerating the Linux kernel,” Rivers said. “There are a lot of operating systems that use Linux as the kernel, but then the actual operating software for the network is an application that runs on top of Linux.”

Rivers added that Cumulus Linux uses the Linux kernel data structures for networking. He noted that Linux has a fully featured networking stack, with all of the features needed in a modern data center.

“With our approach, it enables administrators to use Linux-centric tools in a seamless way on the platform,” Rivers said. “So the biggest difference is whether you really expose the Linux nature of the platform or not.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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