Linux has already transformed data center economics on the server side, and Cumulus Networks  is set to do it again – this time through the network. The company behind Cumulus Linux, the first distribution for data center switches and other networking hardware, is part of a broader enterprise movement toward open networking.
By adopting open source software-defined networking technologies, companies are looking to cut the cost and complexity of operating modern data centers as well as speed up the pace of innovation through industry collaboration.
“Pretty much any closed "appliance" type embedded system can be greatly improved by openness,” said Nolan Leake, CTO and co-founder of Cumulus Networks via email. “Linux is the fastest and most widely supported way to do that.”'
Along with CoreOS and Rackspace, Cumulus Networks recently became a corporate member of the Linux Foundation . Here Leake discusses what his company does, why they use Linux, and the role of Linux and open source technologies in the latest industry trends.
Linux.com: What does Cumulus Networks do?
Nolan Leake: Cumulus Networks makes a Linux Distribution that brings Linux to bare-metal switches in a way that is immediately familiar to every Linux administrator and developer. It is not just Linux-based, it is Linux.
How and why do you use Linux?
Our distribution makes switches look like normal Linux servers, only ones with hundreds of ethernet NICs (network interface cards). Behind the scenes, the packet forwarding functionality is offloaded to a specialized chip, resulting in orders of magnitude higher performance, and lower latency.
Given that the overwhelming majority of the servers in the Datacenter run Linux, it was only logical to bring that to the switches as well. Locked down proprietary switch OSes are primarily an artifact of how the networking industry evolved, rather than something that is useful to end-users.
Why did you join the Linux Foundation?
As Linux's role in networking expands from its traditional software-based packet forwarding to modern hardware accelerated ASIC forwarding, we saw the Linux Foundation as a great place to include more users, developers and vendors in the conversation about what future we should collectively build.
What interesting or innovative trends in your industry are you witnessing and what role does Linux play in them?
The history of Linux has repeatedly been about opening up proprietary systems, often despite the opposition of the incumbents. We don't see any reason that closed, locked down networking devices can't be opened up in the same way that proprietary UNIX server platforms were in the late 90's and early 2000's.
What other future technologies or industries do you think Linux and open source will increasingly become important in and why?
Opening up networking is obviously near and dear to us, but pretty much any closed "appliance" type embedded system can be greatly improved by openness. Linux is the fastest and most widely supported way to do that.
Read more about becoming a corporate member of the Linux Foundation .