Modern datacenters are so different from legacy ones, and with good reason. Traditionally, companies supported a handful of critical applications, and the network was put in place primarily to support just those applications. Once installed, the network was left mostly untouched in many organizations. It consisted of dedicated hardware-based routers and switches that, for that time, performed their tasks of routing and switching packets quite well. That network equipment was so specialized, that an entire ecosystem sprang up around it to provide training, education, certification, consulting, software, and support maintenance.
Over time, the data center landscape has changed immensely, just as the application landscape has morphed into something radically different from what was seen in the past. The number of business-critical applications is on the rise; modern applications are distributed between on-premises infrastructure, between partner networks, and across the public cloud; company data moves around the globe at high speed. All that is happening constantly and continuously. New applications are being built today and torn down tomorrow in favor of even newer technologies. Change is happening so fast that network infrastructure needs to adapt to support these changes!
The specialized network hardware that characterized legacy datacenters cannot keep up with these constant changing connectivity requirements anymore. The only way to meet these networking needs is by using industry-standard switching and routing solutions, using generic or off-the-shelf hardware, leveraging Intel CPUs, and the uncharted possibilities of a Linux operating system. This combination makes networking far more affordable, more scalable, easier to learn, and more adaptable to the constantly changing needs of the business. After all, the network’s purpose is ultimately to connect users, applications and data no matter what technologies are being used. And that is where open source and software defined networking solutions thrive.
Cumulus Linux is a Linux distribution that focusses on layer 2 and layer 3 internetworking switching and routing, using off-the-shelf whitebox switching hardware to accelerate the packet processing that otherwise would be done by software on traditional servers. allows networking hardware controlled by Cumulus Linux to achieve packet processing rates and functionality on par with traditional switching and routing vendors.
While Linux based networking can work on just about any hardware, Cumulus Linux is best run on commodity bare-metal switches that are hardware accelerated. The “hardware acceleration” portion of that means that the switches contain hardware called ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuit), specially designed to switch frames and route packets, similar to how a graphics card is specially designed for graphics. These ASICs are what make routers and switches different from regular servers and allow them to process hundreds of gigabits or even terabits of network traffic per second.
By using a Linux based open network operating system, you can choose any application you need to improve its optimization and have them fully integrated into your open infrastructure. The result is a network that is more affordable to build, more agile to customize and which can be adjusted as your business changes. Furthermore, it is easier to expand and scale as your business grows.
Linux based networking and cloud platforms
This truly is apparent when you are building and servicing a cloud platform such as OpenStack or Ceph. Where traditional vendor specific Top or Rack switches greatly determine (in)flexibility of your clusters. Ignoring networking innovations such as DVR, FWaaS and LBaaS. Using a Linux based networking operating system though enables cloud administrators to design, deploy, monitor, manage and orchestrate your complete cloud stack with generic management tooling such as JuJu, Ansible, Puppet and Chef. Bringing the full power of the open infrastructure community to your cloud network.
When you have any questions about Linux based open networking, I am happy to answer them.