Of all of the presentations given Cumulus may well have been the best single overall presentation. What impressed me more than the technical content was the clarity of direction and vision. Cumulus made it very clear what their mission was and more importantly what they were NOT doing. They do not feel that they are just going to be an enabler for white box network hardware rather, Cumulus is on a mission to simplify and enable the network to be configured and managed in a manner more synonymous with that of Linux and Unix system OS administration. They firmly believe that this charter will enable new levels of automation and simplicity which will drastically reduce administrative overhead. On the other hand, Cumulus made it very clear that they are not trying to boil the ocean and solve every shortcoming of networking technologies. This candidacy of both vision and limitation was refreshing.
For me, the best part of the presentation was when Dinesh Dutt (@DDCumulus) talked about scale via simplicity. A collection of smaller and simplified elements creates a much more robust and clean environment. These statements may sound like marketing buzz word worthy but there really is a lot of substance to this. For example, when discussion any layer 2 elements Cumulus wants to standardize on MLAG. Why? Because it is simple and well understood. They do not want to get into layer 2 fabrics or legacy loop avoidance, they are entirely focused on a single simple building block for layer 2 topologies. Personally I HATE! HATE! HATE! MLAG or stack technologies currently. However, I completely understand what Cumulus is doing and why they would chose this direction. My biggest issue with MLAG personally is that every single deployment is proprietary and no two vendors do it the same. In fact most vendors have multiple incarnations of MLAG, think vPC, VSS, stack, etc.
Cumulus did let on that they were either working on or working with a open industry standard for their MLAG deployment which would be the right thing to do but I remain skeptical. None the less Cumulus definitely has the right approach, they have identified what they feel is a simple building block and they are focused on using these simple building blocks to build a scalable and solution set.
On the other side of the spectrum is the potential that is unlocked when the network OS becomes a modular collection of open and programable software. We talked a lot about BASH and the simplicity that simple scripting presents with using a well known standard interface for configuration and scripting.
In summary, Cumulus is definitely making waves in the networking world. I came into the presentation thinking what many others do that this was a white box OS play but the solution has serious potential to be far more transformative than that.