Lenovo is now offering its ThinkSystem RackSwitch models with support for the Cumulus Linux network operating system (NOS). Cumulus already offers its NOS on lots of different hardware. But this is Lenovo’s first foray into the disaggregated switch model.
Three of Lenovo’s bare metal switches have been certified with the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE). Created by Cumulus Networks in 2012, ONIE is an Open Compute Project initiative driven by a community to define an open “install environment” for bare metal network switches. ONIE enables a bare metal network switch ecosystem where end users have a choice among different network operating systems.
Priya Natarajan, a senior marketing director in Lenovo’s data center group, said that Lenovo is beginning its disaggregation strategy with Cumulus, but it plans to validate hardware with other operating systems in the future.
Previously, Lenovo switch customers got a hardware/software bundle that was pre-integrated, tested, and validated. And, of course, Lenovo still offers that. In addition, Lenovo has provided API support for customers who wanted to work with other software. But some customers have wanted a disaggregated option. With the disaggregated model, if down the road, they choose to change either the hardware or software, “then they can change without necessarily changing the management infrastructure,” said Natarajan.
It’s about “embracing what the customer wants to do,” she added. “We want them to buy our products, not because they’re locked in, but because they enjoy the product.”
Different Data Center Switch Models
Josh Leslie, CEO of Cumulus Networks, said there are basically three models for obtaining data center switch technology. First is the traditional model where a vendor, such as Cisco, Dell EMC, or Juniper Networks, sells a complete hardware/software package. At the other end of the spectrum is a complete open source model where the customer buys open hardware and open software and either configures it all themselves or uses a third-party to assist. This is the realm of open source projects such as OpenSwitch with its OPX software and the Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC) operating system.
Cumulus’ work with Lenovo falls in the middle between fully proprietary and fully open.
Leslie said Cumulus is now in 100 different physical platforms. “And Lenovo is going to do additional operating systems, and we think that’s just great,” he said. “We think the network operating system should operate where the consumer can pick the hardware, the software, and the silicon, that’s economically valuable to the consumer.”
Although Cumulus’ Linux operating system is based on open source software, the company “provides a polished piece of software that we support,” said Leslie.