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With Dell Open Networking, choose your own OS, overlay

The Dell Open Networking story is expanding with a new partnership and reference design that simplifies the use of a Midokura virtual network overlay running on Dell open switches with Cumulus OS.

Dell has expanded its open networking strategy to offer customers not just a choice in network OS, but also network virtualization overlay software.

The company announced last week that its channel will sell Midokura's enterprise MidoNet Network Virtualization software, specifically optimized to run on underlying Dell infrastructure. The underlying infrastructure can comprise switches running either the Dell Networking OS or Cumulus' Linux-based OS.

Dell has also worked with Midokura and Cumulus to develop a reference architecture that will make it simpler to implement MidoNet overlays on Dell open switches running Cumulus OS. 

Dell open networking strategy

Dell's open-networking strategy centers on disaggregating software from underlying network hardware, and allowing customers to choose their own OS on what are essentially bare-metal switches.

As part of that strategy, Dell announced last January that it had cracked open its S4810 and S6000 switches, providing a bare metal option that would let customers choose their OS. Dell partnered with Cumulus to offer switches running the Cumulus Linux-based OS as one option. Dell also runs the Big Switch network OS on these switches.

Last August, Dell announced a partnership with VMware in which its channel would resell VMware NSX network virtualization overlay software. It also provided reference architecture to run NSX over Dell bare-metal switches running Cumulus' OS.

 "We've not locked customers into proprietary hardware and software solutions," said Tom Burns, vice president and general manager of Dell Networking and Enterprise Infrastructure. In offering a choice in network OS, hypervisor and overlay software using Dell switches and servers, the company hopes to allow customers to transition to programmable networks bit-by-bit and without a rip-and-replace, Burns explained.

How Dell, Midokura, Cumulus technology will work together

Dell, Midokura and Cumulus will tightly integrate physical and virtual workloads and networking – a challenge that many engineers have noted about network virtualization overlays.

The MidoNet overlay creates isolated networking at layers 2, 3 and 4 with provisioning done by Linux-based software agents. In a cloud data center, each application could have isolated virtual data center network segments all living on top of a shared infrastructure. 

"We believe that delivering these elastic services to applications is best done on software on x86 servers, while keeping the core of the network stateless and letting it focus on what it does best," said Dan Dimitriu, CEO of Midokura.

In the new Cumulus-Midokura-Dell architecture, Dell switches running Cumulus will act as Layer 2 gateways, to better connect non-virtual workloads to the overlay, he explained.

The idea is to "create a deeper integration between the MidoNet overlay and the Cumulus OS running on the switch, so we can provide a better operator experience," Dimitriu said.

Dell channel is "one throat to choke" for the technologies

Dell was the first traditional network hardware vendor to offer bare-metal switching options. Last week, Juniper Networks followed with a white-box switch announcement.

Now Dell is going even further by training its channel to sell this new variety of options.

"There is a huge amount of work to make these products available. There are contract negotiations, support teams, field enablement," said Cumulus CEO J.R. Rivers, adding that last week's announcements were not 'fluffy.'

Dell will both procure and support the combined technologies, and in doing so, "Dell is the one throat to choke," Burns said.

He added that Dell is not concerned that bare-metal switching and network OS choices or overlays would cut into its traditional hardware business.

"Since we announced in January with Cumulus, we’ve exceeded our expectations from a revenue perspective," said Burns. "Our traditional business has not been challenged by these new areas. These are customers that are looking for a new way of networking."

Rivers added, "There is going to be a class of customers that want to buy Dell OS and others that want Cumulus."

Either of those options is a disaggregated purchase that can be "separated, sliced and diced" to work in different ways over time, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Rivka Gewirtz Little, or follow her on Twitter.

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