When it comes to a new networking OS, Linux is the Linux of networking


How is networking like farming? JR Rivers, the co-founder and CEO of Cumulus Networks, which launched earlier today, tried to use our evolution from a hunter-gatherer society to today’s food acquisition environment to explain how technological advances that speed up distribution and make distribution or product manufacturing cheaper change societies.

“Large economic transformations occur when we can make distributing goods faster, easier and more affordable,” Rivers.

In the computing world, networking is apparently still in the hunter-gatherer stage where vendors build gear that Rivers called a “single vendor blob,” during his presentation Wednesday at the GigaOM Structure conference.

“This is great for the vendors because they get to control the experience, and make incredible margins, but it sucks for you because it is expensive and takes you out of the pace of innovation,” he said. This is exactly why Facebook is working hard to build an open switch as well as its own networking fabric. And Rivers hopes that the breaking up of that vendor blob will help move networking to a more modern era.

Cumulus, which is building a Linux operating system for switches that use merchant silicon, has the potential to be an open element in the new networking stack. Rivers said, “We want to blow up that single-vendor blob and democratize bandwidth.”

Check out the rest of our Structure 2013 live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:


David Mytton

A custom OS just for networking devices is an interesting play. In the consumer market you see many techies replacing their stock router firmware with to provide feature and/or performance improvements. This is often necessary because the vendors don’t care about you after you’ve bought the hardware, so there’s no incentive to provide upgrades and improvements.

Perhaps it’s a little different in the business hardware world because you’re likely to have a support contract but even then, vendors don’t always do a good job at providing the latest greatest firmware, especially for older devices.

So this could be a good way to offer very powerful software improvements to networking hardware. And of course, an obvious acquisition target!


Do you have a feel for how the market splits along DIY, white-box type deployments and more conventional networking products? And what becomes the tipping point from one to the other. It strikes me that to go the DIY route, you need to have more DevOps-y people on-staff already, else you have to hire (read: increase OpEx) to capture the OpEx savings. I wonder if this dissuades smaller early adopters. Though larger companies (think: webscale) will already have this expertise and could conceivably move immediately.

That said, I really like what Cumulus is doing. I think opening up Linux is a good move, and it makes available a whole other set of tools that are difficult or impossible to get to today.

Well done.


Comments are closed.