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Cumulus Linux 2.5 adds mainstream L2 features to bare-metal switching

Cumulus Networks releases validated design guides and Cumulus Linux 2.5, with more Layer 2 features for mainstream data centers.

As Cumulus Networks attempts to expand beyond the early adopters of its Cumulus Linux bare-metal switch operating system, it is adding Layer 2 networking features aimed at making it easier for enterprises to make the transition from legacy environments to the IP fabrics that most cloud computing customers operate.

Cumulus is also rolling out validated reference designs to help more enterprises get started with its technology.

Easing the transition with more Layer 2 basics

While most of Cumulus Linux's early users have built bare-metal IP fabrics, Cumulus has recognized the need to expand support for Layer 2 technologies used in older data center architectures. Many engineers want to evolve slowly from their legacy architectures, which means Cumulus switches need to integrate into traditional data center networks during the transition.

The company's latest software release, Cumulus Linux 2.5, adds active-active, multi-link aggregation (M-LAG) and virtual router redundancy protocol for first-hop redundancy, among other features.

"We've done a lot of work in the product to support more traditional network deployments by adding support for things like M-LAG," said Reza Malekzadeh, Cumulus' vice president of business. "No customer is going to throw out everything they have and start from scratch. You have to have a way to get from where you are today to where you want to go. These [Layer 2] features are designed to allow for that migration."

The addition of technologies like Layer 2 M-LAG is very much about offering a data center switch to mainstream enterprises, said Andrew Lerner, research director at Gartner.

"I see a lot of Layer 2 in the mainstream," Lerner said. "If you talk to folks on the forward lean of technology -- Amazon, Facebook, etc. -- those guys are starting to build Layer 3 routed, two-tier fabrics. But most folks don't have the luxury of building a net-new data center. They have to incorporate into existing data centers where you have spanning tree and need to support M-LAG. Eighty to 90% of the [IT organizations] I talk to aren't running fabrics. They're running Layer 2, hierarchical designs."

Reference designs for big data, VMware and OpenStack

Cumulus is releasing a series of validated design guides for engineers who want to build Cumulus-based networks to support VMware vSphere, Hadoop-based big data infrastructure or an OpenStack cloud, with step-by-step instructions on how to design and configure a bare-metal network for each one. Cumulus is basing these design guides on its early customer engagements and its technology partnerships with companies like VMware, Hortonworks and Mirantis.

"This is primarily about sharing knowledge with customers," Malekzadeh said. "If you look at the networking market in general, people are used to having [validated design guides]. We are maturing as an organization and we're able to now deliver on that expertise and help our customers on this journey."

Cumulus' early adopters went into bare-metal switching knowing exactly how to do it, said Brad Casemore, research director with IDC. "They got it. They said, 'I have Linux. I understand using Puppet and Chef to automate the configuration and management of it. I know how you'll fit in.' I think there are new customers who are looking at OpenStack and Hadoop [with Cumulus], but they need a little help. Cumulus is providing cradle-to-grave guidance, showing how to stand it up in a test bed and taking you all the way out to how you put it into production," he said.

Finally, the company is touting its growing hardware ecosystem -- both its suppliers and its resellers. Cumulus Linux is now supported on 19 switching platforms of various configurations from five hardware suppliers -- EdgeCore, Penguin Computing, Quanta, Dell and Agema.

Gartner's Lerner says the most interesting thing Cumulus is currently talking about is its assertion that it has more than 1 million data center ports in production.

"That's 20,000 top-of-rack switches," he said. Based on those numbers, Lerner estimates that Cumulus accounts for about half the white-box switches in production today. Gartner, he said, believes that white-box switches represent 3% to 5% of the total market today, and that the white box market will grow by around 11% over the next four years. Cumulus is obviously in a good position to capture a lot of that growth.

Next Steps

Find out how Linux-based network operating systems change network operations

Previous coverage: Cumulus Linux 2.0 supports Broadcom Trident II

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