Dell to bundle Cumulus Linux network OS

Seeks to open up its switches to variety of software in demand among cloud, Web 2.0 providers

Dell this week said it would resell start-up Cumulus Networks' Linux operating system in an effort to broaden the appeal of its fixed-configuration switches.

Dell said it would incorporate Cumulus’ Linux network operating system for bare metal hardware with its S6000 and S4810 top-of-rack switches. The company said it was doing so to offer more choice for cloud providers and Web 2.0 companies beyond Dell’s FTOS-based switches and routers.

“It’s an opportunity for incremental accounts moving away from traditional networking,” says Tom Burns, vice president and general manager of Dell Networking. “We are looking at various options and models to offer choice.”

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Burns says the Cumulus Linux-based switches from Dell would cost 20% to 25% lower than the list price of FTOS-based switches.

Dell and Cumulus have an exclusivity period with their arrangement before they can recruit other operating system and hardware partners, respectively, the companies say.

Dell says the arrangement is intended to address the changing dynamics of data center networking, in which software-defined networking, virtual machine mobility, shifting traffic patterns to east/west from north/south, resource pooling and the need for server-like automation are driving cloud and Web 2.0 providers to implement Ethernet fabric-based switching based on a variety of hardware, and application and operating system software. Much of this demand is being met with bare metal or whitebox switches running open source applications and operating systems.

Traditionally, networking purchases required hardware, software and operating system procurements from the same vendor.

“You can run whatever software on any IT component except networking,” says JR Rivers, CEO and co-founder of Cumulus Networks.

Opening up Dell’s switches with a Linux operating system will also allow customers to avail themselves of the community of Linux-based open source applications, Dell says.

Whatever sales revenue is lost on Dell’s own vanity switches and FTOS operating system can be made up in providing pre- and post-sales service and support, and follow on server and software sales, says Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research.

“Whitebox is in the early stage of development," Doyle says. “It takes some bleeding edge expertise to implement it. Dell is offering a nice, warm security blanket.”

Dell expects to begin offering switches with Cumulus Linux in the second quarter.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 27 years, 22 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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