From Dell’s direction, the partnership could be considered a warning shot at Cisco. Dell won’t upend Cisco’s dominant market share by selling Cumulus-loaded top-of-rack switches, but the business model being represented here — one where customers purchase a switch’s hardware and software separately — has the potential to rattle the networking market. And now that model has a big name behind it.
“We are addressing markets which are typically locked by a single vendor,” says Arpit Joshipura, a Dell vice president of product management and marketing.
The companies are announcing their partnership Tuesday morning at the Open Compute Project Summit V in San Jose, Calif.
The idea behind bare-metal switching (also called white-box switching) is that someone could sell networking hardware with a choice of operating systems. Cumulus and Pica8 often get called white-box vendors in casual conversation, but their business is really on the software side — in Cumulus’ case, providing a distribution of the Linux operating system tailored for switches.
Dell will be offering Cumulus Linux on the S6000 and S4810 top-of-rack switches starting in Dell’s fiscal first quarter, which ends in April. True to the open aesthetic of bare-metal switching, the inclusion of Cumulus is a choice for those systems, not a requirement.
This doesn’t mean Dell wants to descend into a low-margin fight with ODMs. Dell uses commercial chips but enhances its hardware in other ways — air flow, cooling, power supplies — and that “gives us the ability to definitely charge a premium over the ODMs, but we don’t need to charge the premium that Cisco does,” Joshipura says.
For Cumulus, which has been working at building a following for its Linux distribution, the benefit is pretty obvious. The company gets the sales power of a big name in IT, which for certain customers is a “warm cuddly blanket,” Cumulus CEO J.R. Rivers says.
Rivers, of course, is a true believer in bare-metal switching, so it’s no surprise that he expects Dell’s competitors to adopt white-box strategies, too. “I believe that you’ll find customers requiring other vendors to try this strategy,” he says.
The Dell deal would seem to counter a recent rumor that VMware was about to buy Cumulus. “I’ve heard that same thing too, but I haven’t heard it from VMware,” Rivers says.