A debate is raging these days over the merits of using commercial silicon versus specialized ASICs inside networking gear. Proponents of commercial silicon argue that the time has come to move away from ASICs to both reduce the cost of networking and prevent customers from finding themselves locked into any one vendor.
Dell this week announced that it is throwing its weight behind this argument by making Linux-based software from Cumulus Networks available as an option on Dell Networking S6000 and S4810 top-of-rack switches.
Tom Burns, vice president and general manager for Dell Networking, says that Dell will continue to support multiple networking architectures across its switch lineup. By reducing the cost of switching, Dell sees the rise of network operating systems as a way to potentially increase the overall size of the networking market in much the same way lower prices increased the size of the server and PC markets.
The degree to which that level of disruption can be applied to switches and other types of networking gear remains to be seen. Part of a larger Open Compute Project (OCP) movement that seeks to apply open source software development practices to IT infrastructure, Cumulus Networks CEO J.R. Rivers says the end goal is to separate the acquisition of hardware and software in a way that disrupts the business models of established networking vendors such as Cisco.
How long that disruption might take to achieve is anybody’s guess. But given the number of vendors now participating in the OCP, it’s more than apparent that substantial change to the way IT infrastructure is bought and sold is on its way.