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Dell's new switch OS could become much more after EMC merger

Dell has introduced a Linux-based switch OS that is likely to become a major component of the company's data center infrastructure products.

Dell's latest switch OS has the potential to become the software foundation across the company's portfolio of data center infrastructure products following the acquisition of EMC and its subsidiary, VMware.

Dell introduced Operating System 10 (OS10) this week at a news conference in San Francisco. The latest version of the network operating system (NOS) that powers Dell switches is based on an unmodified Linux kernel that is built on the Debian distribution.

For tech buyers, Dell is adding the OS to the choices they have for the vendor's switches. Companies can buy a Dell switch today with an NOS from Big Switch Networks, Cumulus Networks, IP Infusion or Pluribus Networks.

A baseline version of OS10 is scheduled to ship by the end of February. A premium version will be available in beta at the same time, with general availability expected by the end of August. Initially, companies can run OS10 on Dell S-Series 1/10/40 GbE top-of-rack switches. Dell will offer the OS on Z-Series fabric switches later in the year.

Much more than a switch OS

While OS10 is a switch OS today, it is expected to become much more after Dell completes the $67 billion acquisition of EMC and gains control over VMware. That deal is supposed to close mid-year.

"Today, this is about a Linux NOS, but it is likely to serve as the software foundation for a unified Linux across all Dell's data center infrastructure -- compute, network and storage," said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC. That foundation could make it easier "to automate, program and orchestrate using common tools and DevOps practices."

Today, this is about a Linux NOS, but it is likely to serve as the software foundation for a unified Linux across all Dell's data center infrastructure.
Brad Casemoreanalyst at IDC

Indeed, OS10 could become a key networking component in EMC's converged and hyper-converged systems sold under the VCE brand. Those systems combine computing, storage, networking and virtualization into a single system.

Dell's OS could also become the networking option for the company's partnership with VMware on hyper-converged systems. Today, Dell sells an appliance that combines its servers and storage with VMware's EVO:RAIL infrastructure software.

Other possible uses for OS10 include running VMware's network virtualization platform, called NSX, over Dell switches. Today, NSX is available on Dell switches powered by Cumulus, which also sells a Linux-based NOS.

"Perhaps network provisioning [with NSX] in a converged infrastructure -- provisioning racks, including switches -- can be made easier in the future so that one can provision physical and virtual networks more easily than people do today," said Dan Conde, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

Sales of Cumulus OS on Dell switches could suffer as a result of OS10. "Of all Dell's open-networking software partners, Cumulus is most in the crosshairs of OS10," Casemore said.

VMware expected to favor Dell

In general, VMware is likely to prefer Dell in deals involving NSX over Cisco, which has a competing software framework, called Application Centric Infrastructure. Today, roughly three quarters of NSX customers run the software on Cisco hardware, according to VMware.

"From a VMware perspective, I think they'd rather have Dell in there," said John Fruehe, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, based in Austin, Texas. Cisco is a much greater threat because the company "tends to take control of opportunities when they're in there."

Initially, Dell is aiming OS10 at financial institutions, tech companies building out cloud services and other enterprises with large software-defined data centers. Dell will compete for their business with Arista Networks, Cisco and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

The premium version of OS10 adds on top of the operating system management tools, IP services, policy control, and a full stack of Layer 2 and Layer 3 services. Dell plans to provide third-party applications, such as automation tools, and fabric and security services. The company did not disclose pricing.

OS10 runs on top of the switch abstraction interface, which provides a common language between the NOS and the silicon powering the physical switch. As a result, Dell could offer OS10 on other vendors' hardware, but has chosen to make it available only on Dell switches.

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