Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Cumulus Networks Comes Out of Stealth With Linux for Data-Center Networks

cumulus_logo-featureStartup Cumulus Networks popped out of stealth mode today to announce that it has created a version of the Linux operating system for building out software-defined networks in the data center.

Backed by a Series A investment led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Peter Levine, the company aims to break up the proprietary software that tends to run on networking gear like switches. While there has been so much talk about software-defined networking, the fact is that the primary piece of networking equipment still has an embedded operating system on it that is closely tied to the company that built it.

As Levine put it in a blog post this morning, Cumulus Linux is intended to change that. Combine it with other SDN technologies like that of Nicira — a onetime AH-backed startup that’s now part of VMware — and you have a reasonable shot of making proprietary hardware obsolete.

In this way, networks become a lot more customizable, and more carefully tuned to the applications running in them. They also get cheaper. As Brian Marshall, an analyst with ISI, noted in a research note to clients this morning, shortly after Cumulus’ announcement crossed the wires: “In our view, Cumulus is the first company to offer a true standalone operating system for the datacenter switch market decoupled from the underlying hardware infrastructure. End customers now have the choice of purchasing commodity white-box (or bare-metal) switching hardware from Taiwanese vendors like Quanta, Accton and Agema.”

The target, of course, is Cisco Systems, which controls most of the switching market, followed by companies like Hewlett-Packard, Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper and Dell.

Cumulus, which has raised a combined $15 million from AH, Battery Ventures, Peter Wagner and the founders of VMware, is led by a team of networking veterans. CEO JR Rivers built switches at Google, and had two stints at Cisco, his second by way of Cisco’s acquisition of Nuova Systems in 2008. CTO Nolan Leake was also at Nuova, and spent some time at VMware.

Marshall says he thinks a key Cumulus customer is Amazon Web Services, which he says may be using Cumulus technology in trials. Web hosting company Dreamhost is also a customer. Two partners are VMware and Broadcom.


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