Cisco, Arista disaggregating?

Speculation that they might offer bare metal OSes a la Cumulus

Should Cisco and Arista make like Cumulus Networks and develop versions of their operating systems for bare metal hardware? If the market shifts dramatically toward white box switching from brand name networking, they may have to.

If they want to appeal to hyperscale cloud providers attracted to disaggregated networking elements, they might have to. And even though bare metal versions of Cisco NX-OS and Arista EOS would run on merchant silicon-based ODM hardware, the products would be an attempt to counter and mitigate the incursion of white box switches in their high-end, high-value accounts.

+MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: The future of networking is your choice of NOS on bare metal, says Cumulus Networks+

“Notice that neither (Cisco nor Arista) is considering running a third-party networking operating system on their network hardware,” says IDC analyst Brad Casemore. “They in no way want to encourage adoption of Cumulus or Big Switch in the broader enterprise space; and this is purely a defensive move to protect the more rarefied, cloud-centric high-end of their customer base.”

Cumulus and Big Switch have relationships with OEM hardware vendors, like Dell, in which Dell bundles the Cumulus Linux or Big Switch Switch Light network operating system on its Ethernet switches. Dell believes adding third-party networking software on its switch hardware will actually increase the value of its products because enterprise customers are demanding these disaggregated hardware platforms, operating systems and applications.

Dell can then make money by providing follow-on integration services and support.

“In the broader enterprise space, success will depend, among other things, on the continued advance of the DevOps model and on committed and increased OEM vendor adoption,” Casemore says.

Cisco and Arista could pursue an inverse of that strategy in order to thwart it. By allowing customers to purchase commodity hardware, the companies can maintain customer stickiness through the unique hooks in their software… and charge more for the software by claiming it is cloud-grade, or data center-grade from an established vendor.

Pricing and market insertion will be key: if Cisco or Arista charge five or six times what Cumulus charges for an annual license, it might be cheaper to actually buy a Cisco or Arista switch with the tightly coupled operating system. That might actually be their strategy should they go the bare metal route – disaggregate-to-reaggregate.

Then again, it could drive more buyers towards Cumulus for the much less expensive alternative in a market just legitimized by the two of the biggest data center networking players. The customer will then have to decide: am I buying for cost or for brand name quality, service and support?

Without commenting specifically on whether a bare metal version of NX-OS is in the pipeline, a Cisco spokesperson said:

We have a merchant plus strategy that supports Open NX-OSand Fabric OS. We have communicated openly our ability to support Linux containers and allow customers to run 3rd party applications.

Cisco also has the merchant silicon-based Nexus 3000 line with NX-OS upon which to heavily discount. But what operating system would an Open Compute Platform switch from Cisco run?

Arista, too, wouldn’t comment specifically on development of a bare metal version of EOS. But a company spokesperson offered this:

Arista has always built our software with abstraction layer merchant silicon diversity. We have also shipped software only virtual machine images through vEOS and we will continue to enhance our EOS foundation.

Sources say Arista has a bare metal EOS already developed and ready to go should the market force it that way.

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