Cumulus Linux first to support new Facebook’s Minipack open modular platform

Minipack has a different go-to-market model than its predecessors, and will go through Edgecore Networks and their channel, making this version of the open switch platform likely to be more broadly sold through partners than before.

Today, at the Open Compute Project Global Summit in San Jose, networking software provider Cumulus Networks is announcing that their Cumulus Linux is the first network operating system to fully support the Minipack, a next-generation modular switch platform contributed by Facebook to the Open Compute Project. This version of the platform is likely to see more channel sell-through than previous versions, and Cumulus believes it will enjoy a significant first mover advantage.

“Minipack has two main dimensions that make it super important,” said JR Rivers, co-founder and CTO of Cumulus Networks. “The first is that it continues the dramatic drop in price point for high-density networking hardware. This form factor five years ago was a half-million dollar platform. Now it’s much less, well down into five figures. Networking has very rarely moved at that clip. But the open hardware networking system is making this available to a broader set of customers. And Facebook has been using their purchasing power to help move the ecosystem along.”

Minipack chassis

Minipack is based on Broadcom’s StrataXGS Tomahawk III Switch Series and its high-performance silicon. It is more powerful, occupies a smaller footprint and is more cost effective than a traditional chassis, and is more flexible in allowing them to design their data centres, supporting a mix of 100G and 400G Ethernet interfaces up to a maximum of 128x100G or 32x400G ports.

“We have been seeing a trend in data centre networks away from the traditional process of designing a data centre network and putting servers under it and then putting workloads on the servers,” Rivers said. “They now increasingly design a pod of servers for a specific application, built as a self-contained entity, and connected to the main network as in a service provider relationship. It lets them react to the rest of the company in a very deterministic way. This new platform will allow them to expand the size of the pod to be larger than it used to be. Before, there was effectively a limit of 16 racks. This lets them have a bigger pod with a higher performance network than they could built in the past.  It fits with the market trends towards pizza box switches rather than large modular platforms. Minipack gives you the core density and bandwidth of a modular platform with the price-performance of a fixed configuration pizza box platform.”

With Minipack, Facebook has also changed their procurement process to bring in Edgecore Networks and its distribution channel.

“Previous to Minipack, Facebook has contributed other ‘Packs’ – Backpack and Sixpack – to the Open Compute Product,” Rivers indicated. “Facebook procurement previously bought them direct from the manufacturer, but they found that getting them in customer hands this way was a rocky path. As a result, these Packs haven’t gone as far as Facebook  would like. That’s significant because Facebook is trying to stimulate an open hardware system, so others will develop for it. Then Facebook can use it and not have to invest as much on the design side as they do.”

This time, with Minipack, Facebook has had it developed by Edgecore Networks, which uses Accton, the ODM that owns Edgecore, for the manufacturing.

“Edgecore has its own channels for distribution,” Rivers said. “Facebook was well aware of these past supply chain issues, and that contributed to the selection of Edgecore.”

This will open up more opportunities for the channel to sell Minipack to their customers. Still, Rivers acknowledged that this announcement is very much a two-edged sword for the channel.

“Some parts of the channel sell Big Iron like Cisco and Arista and this is threatening to them,” he said. “We recognize that this is a big change in how they do business. But other major OEMs like Dell and Lenovo will follow along, so the channel will have to determine how they make their businesses work.”

As Minipack is open technology, other vendors will come into the space, but Rivers said that he believed Cumulus will have a significant first-mover advantage.

“We have been working with Facebook around some of this technology around open network and open compute from the beginning, and this is the sixth piece of open networking hardware they have announced,” he said. “Since they got into this, they have become more selective in announcing partners. They want high quality solutions that make their brand look good. That’s why they work with us on something like this. While the hardware is open, we will have a first mover advantage from this long relationship.”