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The company announces its initial lineup of disaggregated network switches, which can run either Lenovo's own CNOS operating system or Cumulus Linux.

Lenovo ThinkSystem

Lenovo is joining the growing ranks of hardware vendors offering disaggregated network switches that can run third-party operating systems.

Company officials this week unveiled the family of ThinkSystem RackSwitch networking gear that will run Cumulus Networks’ Cumulus Linux open network OS as well as leverage Cumulus’ NetQ operational management tool. At the same time, officials with Dell EMC, one of the frontrunners in the open networking space when it rolled out the first of its offerings four years ago, is adding Pica8’s Picos networking OS to the list of third-party operating systems that will run on its systems.

The moves come as vendors increasingly are growing out their open networking portfolios in response to the demand from enterprises and hyperscalers for greater choice, flexibility, automation and scalability when it comes to their network infrastructures and as data centers become increasingly software-defined.

“Open networking is no longer a nice-to-have,” Cumulus CEO Josh Leslie said in a statement. “It’s now a requirement for today’s innovative companies. The network is a critical part of the data center that has traditionally been a bottleneck for rapid deployment of applications.”

The rise in recent years of network virtualization technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV)—which essentially separate the network OS, control plane and network tasks from the underlying hardware—has allowed for networking gear to run software from third-party vendors. The move toward more software-defined data centers also has fueled the improving fortunes of makers of white-box switches and servers, which tend to be less expensive than systems from such brand names as Cisco Systems, Dell EMC, Lenovo and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Dell EMC was among the first established players to thread the needle with the introduction of its open networking gear, which can run not only Dell’s own network OS but software from other vendors, including Cumulus, Pluribus Networks, Big Switch Networks and, now, Pica8. Other vendors, including HPE, Arista Networks and Juniper Networks, also offer disaggregated networking options, and Cisco officials earlier this year announced that the company is enabling customers to run its NX-OS operating system on third-party switches and use other vendors’ software on its Nexus switches.

When they first launched their open networking initiative, Dell EMC officials said they wanted to offer organizations a third option that was less expensive than the company’s traditional switches but came with the performance, support and services that such a large OEM can offer.

White-box makers have been making inroads into the enterprise networking space, although in a report this week, Dell’Oro Group analysts noted that in the third quarter, white-box makers are losing share in the growing 100 Gigabit Ethernet switch market while vendors such as Cisco, H3C and Huawei gained.?White-box makers include such original-design manufacturers as Quanta, Celestica, Accton and Foxcomm.

“As users other than the top four U.S. cloud providers deploy 100 Gb/s, such as enterprises and smaller cloud providers, they are sticking with branded vendors,” Sameh Boujelbene, senior director at Dell’Oro, said in a statement.

Trio of ONIE-Based Switches

Now Lenovo is making the leap into the disaggregated networking space. The company is introducing three switches based on the ONIE (Open Network Install Environment) open-source initiative to enable them to run different operating systems. The ThinkSystem NE0152TO RackSwitch is for 1Gbase-T Ethernet switch environments, while the Ne2572O is for 25GbE networks and the NE100323O for 100GbE. The new switches give customers a choice between Cumulus Linux or Lenovo’s own Cloud Network OS (CNOS).

Lenovo officials said the company will add switches to its open networking portfolio in 2019.

For its part, Dell EMC will now include Pica8’s Picos OS on its high-end S4100-ON series of 10GbE switches, including the S4148T-ON, S41448-ON, S4112T-ON, S4128F-ON and S4112F-ON systems. Along with the Pica8-supported N3000-ON access switches, the Ethernet switches—which are aimed at enterprise campus, branch and remote office networks—can be deployed in a leaf-spine architecture and managed as a single logical switch. That includes a single IP address made available by Pica8’s optional PicaPilot automated switch orchestration and management software.

In addition, by using Pica8’s CrossFlow feature, users can control the switch ports by both L2/L3 and SDN/OpenFlow. The Pica8-based Dell EMC hardware is available now and starts at $860 for a 24-port perpetual license.