First deal lets organizations add a Linux networking operating system to two Dell top of rack switches

Almost every IT manufacturer looks for a way to separate its products and strategy from competitors. Dell Inc. is trying to distinguish its network strategy by offering more support for open networking than others.

On Tuesday the company announced a reseller agreement with Cumulus Networks, which makes a Linux operating system for bare metal network devices, to support what it calls a disaggregated networking model for its fixed configuration switches.

To start, Dell will shortly begin selling Cumulus Linux OS as an option on its S6000 10G/40G and S4810 top of rack switches.  Among the advantages, it says is these switches will help lower operational costs, although pricing wasn’t announced.

It’s the first of what Dell says will be a number of partners creating open networking solutions.

In a statement Dell [Nasdaq: Dell] said its vision of the new data center networking model is an open ecosystem in which customers can choose among various industry-standard networking gear, network applications and network operating systems to meet their business needs. Customers will be able to choose best-of-breed networking for workloads, application and other networking needs including orchestration, automation and monitoring, it said. There will be consistent compute and networking with a common deployment and operational model, it argues, while IT administrators will be able to leverage open source data center solutions with rapid standards-based innovation.

“Networking is an industry crying out for disruption,” Tom Burns, vice president and general manager of Dell Networking, said in a statement. “We’ve done this before with PCs and servers, putting us in the best position to offer a choice of network operating systems,” said. “Networks are like human minds – they work better when open.”

JR Rivers, co-founder and CEO of Cumulus Networks said the partnership “represents a definitive step towards disaggregating hardware and software In this new open, multi-vendor ecosystem that’s becoming all the more prevalent, the customer finally gets to choose exactly the components they need to build the software-defined data center of the future without having to worry about vendor lock-in.”

His company is less than a year old. Customers include cloud service providers DreamHost and Fastly.

Cumulus says it is decoupling the operating system from networking gear, which will help organizations move to software defined data centres. The ability to run bare metal hardware sold by a number of switch makers – such as Accton Technology Corp., Delta Networks, Quanta Computer and now Dell – drives gains in price performance, it argues.

The company says the OS presents a native Linux environment where the front panel ports are presented and managed as if they were normal server-based NIC — in other words, it adds, it accelerates the data forwarding path while preserving the control plane abstractions of standard Linux. It says because the OS maintains the standard device abstractions, all interactions with userspace tools are familiar and work out of the box. ”

This differentiates the solution from networking software that is merely Linux based and allows a device running Cumulus Linux to be managed, automated, and monitored with widely available commercial packages and open source Linux tools,” the company says, such as Chef, Puppet and ganglia. It also works with overlay network virtualization from VMware.

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