Cumulus Networks is walking a bit of a fine line. If you’re not familiar, they offer their Cumulus Linux distribution for network switches. Previously, they’re made the argument that disaggrating the hardware from the software solution is an overall win for enterprise customers. By having a consistent software experience, it moves the competition squarely to the hardware, which now has to compete on an easily comparable playing field.
Cumulus is switching this up with the offering of Cumulus Express. This is the first time the company is selling a hardware offering pre-loaded with their software. It’s an interesting approach. The company has taken pains to show that they are not trying to compete with their own customers. Drew Conry-Murray spoke with their CEO, Josh Leslie, said that they are not trying to get into the hardware business, and that their existing relationships with equipment makers are strong.
Still, the fact remains that it’s Cumulus branded hardware getting sold. It sounds like this isn’t coming from a profound change in strategy from Cumulus, rather that they’re offering it in response to customer demand. It says something about their OS offering that ease of deployment is near the top of customer wish lists. They may not see this as truly entering in the hardware business, they’ve using EdgeCore equipment for the offering, but in the long run it’s going to be a difficult dance. I think Cumulus would be happy if this stayed relatively niche, and kept the customers that wanted total ease of deployment happy. But if it takes off, they could alienate partners, or risk slowing the hardware competition by effectively producing the reference specification for their platform.
For now, Cumulus Express is just an interesting foray into the hardware, more of a convenience than a truly competitive offering. The company has strong and growing relationships, they’re actively partnering with Mellanox to get Cumulus Linux on their silicon, and will continue to work well with Dell. It would be interesting if this becomes an unforeseen success. This hardware push could back the company into a market they never really intended to enter.