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Cumulus NOS, Edgecore switch bundle unlikely to beat incumbent vendors

Analysts are skeptical of networking supplier Cumulus's entry into the hardware business. The vendor is selling and supporting an Edgecore switch with the open Cumulus NOS.

Cumulus Networks has pivoted from selling an open network operating system to also providing the hardware switch...

underneath the software.

The company launched this week Cumulus Express, an all-in-one system that includes the Linux-based Cumulus NOS, a choice of one of a half dozen Edgecore switches and all the necessary cables and optics. The systems are available with speeds of 1, 10, 40 and 100 Gbps with a 25 Gbps model coming later in the year. The package comes with three years of support that includes a hardware warranty. Cumulus did not disclose pricing.

Cumulus's entry into the hardware business might surprise some industry observers and tech buyers. For years, the vendor has only been interested in selling the software that runs on top of open switches from hardware makers, such as Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Mellanox Technologies and Edgecore Networks. Cumulus's business model revolves around an industry concept called disaggregation, which separates hardware from the control plane that sits on top.

"They banged the drum on disaggregation so much, it [the new product] may be a head spinner for some people," said Dan Conde, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group based in Milford, Mass. "But they still sell the disaggregated software, so it's not a total 180-degree pivot."

Cumulus CEO Josh Leslie insists nothing has changed. Express is just another option for the Cumulus NOS, and nothing is stopping a customer from swapping the Edgecore hardware later if a better switch comes along.

"We're simplifying the consumption of our software," Leslie said. "Philosophically, we're not interested in manufacturing hardware."

The simplification is in having all necessary components in a single box, which is what traditional switch makers provide. Cumulus and other open networking proponents have derided companies Arista Networks, Cisco and Juniper Networks for selling systems with tightly integrated proprietary hardware and software.

Cumulus NOS can't crack mainstream enterprises

Despite the haranguing, open networking providers have failed to displace incumbent vendors within mainstream enterprises, which are willing to give up some freedom for peace of mind. The priority of those companies is having a network that doesn't fail.

"Once stuff is in place, nobody wants to touch it," said John Fruehe, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy based in Austin, Texas.

That dynamic is unlikely to change with Express. "I think that very traditional enterprises will have a hard time swapping out Cisco and other traditional switches for Cumulus Express," Conde said. Those organizations typically run mainstream business applications, such as SAP, Oracle and Microsoft.

To date, Cumulus's sweet spot has been major financial and healthcare institutions that are building data centers similar to those of Google and Amazon. Based on open technology, those data centers are far more sophisticated than what's needed by the typical enterprise.

Analysts do not expect Express to change Cumulus' customer base. Large companies interested in the vendor are likely to buy the product to test the technology in their data centers.

"It seems to me that this is really more of a way for them [Cumulus] to get in the door for evaluations," Fruehe said.

Cumulus is not the only open NOS vendor selling hardware packaged with its software. Pica8 also sells a preloaded 10/40 GbE Ethernet switch and a 1/10 GbE switch.

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