OS10 and Dell's open networking offensive

Freedom, as in OS10

Open Networking Benefits

Speaking of Cumulus: It is interesting to note that Dell is offering a direct competitor to the Cumulus operating system for switches in the form of the OS10 release, without terminating the existing partnership with Cumulus. It was possible to purchase Dell switches without OS10 previously: Dell also delivers its own switches with Cumulus as the operating system.

Until now, Dell has marketed OS10 as part of its open networking contribution: The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) includes virtually all of the major network hardware manufacturers, including Dell. They collaborate under the ONF umbrella with the goal of standardizing SDN and increasing its dissemination.

In a separate FAQ on OS10, Dell makes it clear that the system is to be understood as a complement and extension of the Dell ONF strategy and that this does not affect the existing Cumulus partnership. The number of switches that support OS10 is still low despite the large marketing hoopla in early 2016. If you want OS10, you cannot buy a Dell device with OS10 pre-installed; instead you need to install OS10 on a compatible device. The OS10 offering from Dell thus lags behind the Cumulus offering. Until Dell eliminates these problems, it would be unwise to ditch Cumulus.

Clearly, this strategy cannot be Dell's intent in the long term. For some time, the manufacturer will probably offer purchasers the choice between OS10 and Cumulus, at least until feature parity is achieved; then, things are likely to get exciting.


Dell is pointing the way with OS10 in terms of networking in a DevOps-dominated environment. Network dinosaurs – lead by Juniper and Cisco – noticed all of this long ago. Juniper is currently attempting to establish Junos OS as the operating system for third-party hardware. Compared with Dell's efforts, this seems like a desperate attempt to put the cart before the horse.

At the end of the day, OS10 is not so much about the target platform on which the operating system runs. Its internal structure is much more important, and Dell's approach could hardly be more radical: Away from closed and proprietary solutions and toward an open platform, so you can set up whatever you need with standard tools.

This approach is so radical that it represents a mental hurdle for companies that have long been accustomed to classical networks dependent on a specific vendor. If you have focused for years on Juniper or proudly display your Cisco training certificates above your desk, you might find it difficult to understand that a switch is just a normal Linux server that can be configured like any other device.

The false conclusion that this would devalue specialist network knowledge is all too easily drawn. The opposite is actually the case here: The complexity of network setups will increase, specifically in the context of SDN.

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