Cumulus Takes Its Open Network OS into the Container Age

Christine Hall

August 23, 2017

3 Min Read
shipping containers
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Cumulus Networks, the software-defined network technology firm that is helping commoditize data center network switches with its Linux network operating system has been expanding its product line. In June the company introduced the NetQ validation tool and today it announced the release of Host Pack, a suite of tools to aid in the deployment and operation of production-ready web-scale networks for containers and microservices.

To understand what Host Pack does, perhaps it’s better to start with NetQ.

“NetQ is really just an agent that runs on all of our switches,” Cumulus CEO, Josh Leslie, told Data Center Knowledge. “It streams all of this information about the network to a central database. We’ve built a number of intelligent queries in that database, and that gives our customers great power to understand if there is some problem. I can now look at the entire fabric and understand, when did the state of my network change, or where did it change, or what aspect of it changed.”

Host Pack takes that same technology stack and pushes it out onto the host.

Modern networks rely on containers, he explained, which are constantly being created and destroyed, with workloads often being moved to different physical machines or even being migrated to different data centers. Anywhere along the line a situation can arise that can cause anything from a major degradation of performance to a network collapse — all of which can be difficult to diagnose. Host Pack is meant to address some of these challenges by offering network operators end-to-end visibility into containerized applications, partly through integration with common container orchestration platforms like Mesosphere and Kubernetes.

“So, we understand everything happening,” Leslie said. “It’s no longer just a black box. We’re no longer looking at that one server as the only thing that the network knows about. We now can look at each and every individual container. We can know that container’s up and it should be advertised on the network; or that container’s down and it shouldn’t be; or that container moved, so we need to make sure we can balance the traffic to that container; or that container is part of a larger group of containers that represent the service, so that service is or is not available. We have awareness of those things because we’ve extended this technology stack onto the host.”

According to Cumulus, the key capabilities and benefits of Host Pack include:

  • Granular container visibility for faster debugging: Host Pack gives operational and development teams shared visibility of application availability through popular container orchestration tools such as Mesosphere, Kubernetes, and Docker Swarm. Enabled by NetQ running on the host, network operators can easily view the health of container services, keep track of container locations, track IP addresses and open ports, and have deep insights into where an issue resides, allowing for faster troubleshooting.

  • Simplified network connectivity for improved performance: With the use of routing protocols such as FRRouting and BGP unnumbered directly on the host and in a Layer 3 architecture, Cumulus’ network fabric is able to dynamically learn about containers and distribute these addresses throughout the network to ensure predictable performance between containers across host environments. This removes the complications of a Layer 2 overhead, provides rich and reliable multipathing, simplifies IP address management, and increases reliability.

  • A common data center operating model, Linux, from network to containers: Cumulus Linux utilizes the same Linux networking model that is foundational to container systems. This enables the use of a common operational toolset, guarantees interoperability, and reduces complexity across the entire data center.

Want to take a test drive to try it on for size? You can drive a cloud-based demo version Host Pack for free using Cumulus in the Cloud with Mesosphere.


About the Author(s)

Christine Hall

Freelance author

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001 she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and began covering IT full time in 2002, focusing on Linux and open source software. Since 2010 she's published and edited the website FOSS Force. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux.

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