Lenovo adds open source networking portfolio through new partnership with Cumulus Networks

Lenovo is the last major infrastructure vendor to join the roster of Cumulus partners. They will offer three ThinkSystem RackSwitch models with support for Cumulus Linux out of the gate, with more coming in 2019.

Josh Leslie, Cumulus Networks’ CEO

Open networking software provider Cumulus Networks has announced a significant new partnership with Lenovo. Lenovo, which was previously the last major server vendor not to be partnered with Cumulus, brings their first open source networking product to market, as part of their recent initiative to expand their data centre presence. Three models are available now, with more to come in 2019. For Cumulus, it further broadens the route to market for their software through Lenovo and its partners, and provides a further validation of its open networking rationale.

“The company’s founder was at Cisco for 16 years and then went to Google, where he saw the value of building software using open source and putting it on ODM commodity hardware,” said Josh Leslie, Cumulus Networks’ CEO. “He then started a company to enable that in networking. The Linux server ties everything in the data centre together. So  they looked at a Linux distribution, added all the networking functionality it couldn’t do, and used the servers to deliver networking functions to operators.”

The evolution of the data centre with the cloud has defined the market for Cumulus.

“With the growth of cloud, the number of organizations in the infrastructure business is declining, which has particularly been the case in the SMB,” Leslie said. “However, many of those that continue to build their own infrastructure are building it at much larger scale today. They want to build web-scale type infrastructure to get its efficiencies. For example, Chase Bank, which is a referenceable customer, has built a private cloud for application development for AWS characteristics. We have about 1600 customers, heavy on the Fortune 500, and as big as tens of thousands of network nodes.”

Cumulus partners with server vendors, and they and their channel partners are Cumulus’s channel.

“Every time a customer wants a Cumulus license, they need a piece of hardware to run it on,” Leslie said. “That’s made and distributed by global system vendors, who have channels of their own, and we have commercial relationships with them.”

The Lenovo agreement is significant for Cumulus, because it is a net-new relationship, and is really the last of the big server OEMs to join their partner ranks. They already have relationships with all the others.

“Dell and HPE and Edgecore were the first for us, and Lenovo was the biggest and most prominent infrastructure vendor we did not have a relationship with,” Leslie indicated. “They had their own line of networking equipment and their own operating system, and they sold that. However, they listened to their customers tell them that they wanted more options, that they didn’t want to be forced to buy components from the same vendor. So they came to us and proposed that we work together, and we have had discussions on and off for some time before finally concluding this agreement.”

Through the agreement, Lenovo will offer ThinkSystem RackSwitch models with support for Cumulus Linux, and using NetQ, Cumulus’ operational management tool. Out of the gate, three models will be available: ThinkSystem NE0152TO RackSwitch – 1Gbase-T Ethernet Switch ONIE [Open Network Install Environment] version; ThinkSystem NE2572O RackSwitch – 25GbE Ethernet Switch ONIE version; and   ThinkSystem NE10032O RackSwitch – 100GbE Ethernet Switch ONIE version.

“They have updated these switches for ONIE, which we invented and contributed to the open source community,” Leslie said. “This establishes their open source networking portfolio. They intend to broaden it to other providers beyond ourselves, and they will build all these switches with ONIE on them. They will also release additional switches with us in 2019.”

The open source networking strategy is a part of Lenovo’s recent ambitious moves to strengthen and broaden its data centre.

“This deal is part of that strategy,” Leslie said. “They recently announced a partnership with NetApp which is a great signal to their ambitions in the data centre. They are a big company with huge resources and capital, and a strong field force and a brand to compete with Dell and HPE in the enterprise.”

Leslie also thinks this deal sends an important signal to the market about open source networking.

“Cumulus is an ecosystem company and an open standards company,” he stated. “We believe the marketplace very much wants these kinds of offerings. Customers are tired of paying more for proprietary technology. The networking market wants to be treated the same way that they are in the server market, and we are committed to enabling that vision. Signing with Lenovo is an enormous step on this journey for us.”