The Advent Of Decoupling Of Hardware And Software

Reza Malekzadeh, VP of Business, Cumulus Networks
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Reza Malekzadeh, VP of Business, Cumulus Networks

What significant changes did the networking sector witness in 2013? What did these changes mean to vendors and customers?

The biggest change in the networking sector has been around the decoupling of software and hardware. This has been a fairly new approach that gained traction in 2013, allowing faster product development, freedom from vendor lock-in and increased efficiency. Traditionally, with hardware and software being inextricably linked, hardware had to be managed and upgraded in line with the software but hardware replacement cycles are far longer than those of software so making the two moves in lockstep was almost impossible. This slows down innovation and convolutes the system. Along these same lines, when you decouple hardware and software, companies have the option to replace either the operating system or the hardware to whatever makes the most sense and is fiscally smart. Lastly, networks are much siloed – one application uses dedicated hardware resources and another application uses another dedicated hardware resource. That creates an inefficient usage model in terms of the underlying capacity. On the customer front, this decoupling method is providing more choice and opportunity, forcing vendors to provide less expensive but better solutions.

 What are some of the changes you had anticipated would happen in 2013, but did not happen?

This isn’t so much an anticipated change that didn’t happen, but something that was surprising was how much mindshare and exposure OpenFlow received and was initially thought to be the front runner for open standards. However, conversation quickly diminished once other approaches gained more traction because they were more valid and scalable.

Can you paint us the picture of how landscape for networking sector will change in 2014? What are some of the broader trends you are closely watching?

We believe that Linux will dominate conversation in 2014 and that Linux will continue its penetration in the data center based on the flexibility that new tier-2 devices are bringing to network architecture. Additionally, there have been new ecosystem solutions to help this penetration, which will continue throughout the year. For example, the Open Compute Project (OCP) Foundation, launched in 2011 by Facebook, focuses on developing open data center components such as racks and servers. The group, now a non-profit foundation, announced its expansion in May to include network hardware. In November, OCP formally accepted Cumulus Networks’ Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) project to enable installation of any networking OS onto bare-metal switches, which will allow companies to use the network operating system of their choice on a variety of hardware.

Can you highlight how the customer spends in this sector will change in 2014? What makes you think customers will be buying more/ less?

Customer spend will go down as the rise of software-centric networking shifts the responsibility of innovation from equipment vendors to developer communities. Until now, vendors have had the major advantage of closed control -- or the ability to selectively ignore or extend standards to maintain market dominance. Yet for a developer community, standards matter greatly. They are the glue that gives developers a common language and ties their extensions to other systems for integration. Additionally, with the white box vendor approach gaining speed, companies can now spend the same amount of money they were before but with the added benefit of higher capacity – it’s almost a new tagline that you can “get the capacity you need at the price you can afford.” As I mentioned earlier, the rise of Linux communities and alternative options is forcing vendors’ hands to either provide less expensive solutions or risk losing customers based on other options that are cropping up.

What's in store for your company in 2014?

We’re part of a larger ecosystem of products, especially with the growing prominence of Open Compute. Given that Cumulus Linux is compatible with these solutions, expect to see us penetrate even more next year with a growing customer base. Additionally, Cumulus Linux supports the new Broadcom Trident II switch, which will be available widely going into 2014. This will also increase adoption of our solution.

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