(Photo: J.R. Rivers (hand raised) shows off part of a white box at Tuesday’s ONUG meeting in New York. Source: Cumulus Networks on Twitter.)
Cumulus’ mission is to ease the adoption of white-box switches — generic hardware alternatives to the gear sold by vendors such as Cisco. It’s on the same team as Pica8, in that sense, but Cumulus doesn’t provide the actual boxes, just the software — obsessively based on Linux — that runs the boxes.
Most enterprises don’t seem ready for that step, but the promise of cheap networking equipment has their attention, and Cumulus is following up with claims of a more agile and more quickly scalable network. Cumulus CEO J.R. Rivers was in New York as the press release launched Tuesday, explaining white switches to attendees of the Open Networking User Group (ONUG) in New York.
“What we rarely see is people who say, ‘This is a stupid idea,'” Rivers told SDNCentral recently. He says the more common reaction is, “‘Maybe now’s not the time, but we’ll be back.'”
Waiting for Broadcom
Cumulus Linux 2.0, due for general availability next month, arrives as Broadcom’s StrataXGS Trident II gets into the hands of switch manufacturers in volume. Trident II is arriving a few quarters later than Broadcom had initially announced, although limited quantities have been available this year to certain vendors.
Among the chip’s benefits is plain old density, which makes a particularly big difference for fixed-configuration platforms, Rivers says.
For example, data-center pods can now be built entirely out of fixed-configuration platforms. Trident II makes possible an Ethernet switch with 32 40-Gb/s ports on it, or 48 10-Gb/s ports and six 40-Gb/s uplinks. That’s good enough to provide the aggregation function that would normally be assigned to a more expensive modular switch. Theoretically, pods just got a little bit easier and cheaper to build.
Trident II also introduces hardware support for VXLAN, something vendors were banking on when they flocked to support VMware’s NSX back in August. (Trident II supports Microsoft’s NVGRE and other protocols as well.)
Cumulus took that idea a step further, working with the Linux community to build a VXLAN device into the Linux kernel. That elevates VXLAN to “first-class citizen” status as Linux applications go, Rivers says; the commands for things like bridging VLANs are simpler than they otherwise would be.
Open-Source Made Easy
Other elements of Cumulus Linux 2.0 aren’t exactly “features” and fall more in the category of Cumulus trying to make the open-source software world easier to navigate.
Take the CFEngine configuration management system, for example. It’s been added in Cumulus Linux 2.0 as a validated add-on package. CFEngine comes in open-source or enterprise (paid) forms, and the two forms each use a different controller and agent. Teaming up with CFEngine, Cumulus pre-compiled the enterprise agent and added the download to the Cumulus repository. So, a customer deciding to move up to the enterprise version simply downloads the agent from Cumulus for free. (They pay when they go to get the enterprise version of the controller.)
The idea is to make it easier for enterprises to work with the Linux-based toolkit Cumulus has assembled, which includes CFEngine as well as orchestration, routing, and network virtualization functions. For Cumulus, putting all this together was aided “by being strictly Linux,” Rivers says, because that eases work such as the compiling of CFEngine.