Enterprise Open Networking Musical Chairs is Over — Who’s Still Sitting?

Musical Chairs image for sept 14 blog

OK, it’s time for another update on the events impacting the state of the market for open, white/brite box networking, specifically those that address enterprise campus and access requirements.

This time it’s a doozy thanks to ongoing fallout precipitated by NVIDIA’s acquisition of Cumulus Networks.

In a blog post back in May I noted that the Cumulus acquisition was clearing away market confusion as to which markets our two open Linux NOS offerings were actually targeting — data center (Cumulus) or campus/access networks (Pica8). I noted that Cumulus was soon going to be confined to data center-only business by the dynamics of major acquisitions if nothing else.

While I was only channeling my inner Nostradamus writing that blog, a recent industry development involving the major switch silicon players themselves has basically turned my May prediction into industry new canon. It’s now clear that if you want an open white box network operating system for use in enterprise campus and access networks, you’ve got exactly one option: Pica8. (Although plenty of hardware options are on hand, including Dell Technologies’ latest switches. More on that in a minute.)

Cumulus runs into big-time chip trouble

For a few months now, Cumulus had begun to branch out from the its data center roots, largely by going to some of its existing data center customers and trying to expand its software solution into the broader enterprise by using open campus switches from both Dell Technologies and Edgecore. But it turns out that its acquisition by NVIDIA has brought that effort to a screeching halt.

To expand its footprint into the enterprise campus, as it was starting to do, Cumulus needed chipsets that worked in campus and access networks, not data center ASIC designs; to get them, Cumulus was partnering with Broadcom’s open switch partners. But Broadcom competes head-to-head with Mellanox, now part of NVIDIA after the $7B acquisition that included Cumulus. The phrase “mortal enemies” does readily come to mind here.

I have it on good authority that Broadcom, understandably not wanting Mellanox anywhere near its intellectual property, has simply terminated software support for Cumulus for its ASICs. No software support, no enterprise switch roadmap, so nowhere to go, and in this market Mellanox cannot come to the rescue as they have no ASIC designs even remotely suitable for the enterprise campus.

This, in effect, ends the Cumulus enterprise story, at least in the near term. Arguably, it’s also likely to become a permanent withdrawal as most large acquisitions — and the $7B acquisition of Mellanox and Cumulus clearly counts as one — are generally given two years to prove the value of the acquisition to Wall Street, and NVIDIA told the Street this was an investment in the data center.

NVIDIA now owns Mellanox, which offers a line of high-performance data center switches, NICs and software. So the new combination of Cumulus, Mellanox and NVIDIA certainly makes sense; they’re all squarely data center-focused and their two-year clock is ticking. Why would NVIDIA allow the diversion of any of its newly acquired resources to a secondary — to them — enterprise switch market?

No longer having access to any silicon that can handle enterprise campus requirements like Power over Ethernet (PoE), network access control, Wi-Fi and more, not only are Cumulus’ campus dreams dashed — through no fault of their own, mind you — but their early enterprise customers have suddenly been left high and dry.

What to do?

Arista targets enterprise core

So, who else out there can make a viable play for open networking in the enterprise? Well, more than 2 years ago Arista announced its plan to expand from its data center roots out into the broader enterprise. In fact, the plan was nearly a one-to-one mapping with features and functions Pica8 has had for years. I considered it a ringing endorsement in another earlier blog.

In practice, though, Arista appears to be targeting Cisco’s enterprise core switches with repurposed data center switches. I guess that makes sense from the standpoint of being an easy route to take but it doesn’t address the key enterprise pain point, which is at the access edge.

Trends including the Internet of Things, edge data centers, Wi-Fi 6, artificial intelligence applications and more are driving network capacity demand through the roof at the access edge. And that was before Covid drove compute and network resources outside the corporate network completely. And, of course, Arista is a Cisco clone, not an open networking play.

Pica8 and Dell: a powerful campus combo

So, from where I’m sitting, I see exactly one blindingly obvious option for open, disaggregated white/brite box switching for enterprise campus and edge networks: Pica8.

You can now run the Pica8 PICOS network operating system on a comprehensive range of Dell switches, including the new PowerSwitch N2200 Series. The N2200 includes 24- and 48-port Multi-Gig and Multi-Gig 60W PoE switches. It’s a game-changer for companies looking to beef up their access game without signing yet another bloated contract with Cisco.

Our strategic partnership with Dell Technologies only strengthens the argument. Dell, of course, has one of the largest worldwide sales, service and support teams going, so be assured you can get products shipped to any location and enterprise-class support whenever and wherever you need it.

To learn more about what Pica8 and PICOS can do for you, download our white paper, “An Enterprise Approach to White Box Networking.” You may find you’ve written your last check to Cisco. Wouldn’t that feel good?