5 Ways you can leverage the Linux community for your data center network
// Cumulus Networks Blog
Here at Cumulus, we often talk about the benefits of having an operating system built on Linux (if you need to be re-schooled on the benefits of unifying the stack, head here). But something that possibly goes overlooked, or at least under appreciated, is the value of the Linux community itself. The community is made up of 50,000 or so engineers all passionate about learning, improving and creating code. People like to say that when you go with a Linux operating system, you're "standing on the shoulders of giants," meaning that you don't only have to rely on your inhouse engineering team (even if they're world-class engineers), but rather you're relying on thousands of engineers, including some of the absolute best in the business. Since Cumulus Linux runs on Linux, our customers have this community at their disposal. So why does that really matter? Here are five reasons to consider.
The most widely cited benefit of having a community of 50,000 behind you is security. Basically it looks something like this. Let's say you're with a proprietary vendor (*cough* Cisco *cough* Juniper *cough*), and there is a glitch in your latest package installation causing a security vulnerability. Maybe you know about this vulnerability due to functionality issues or because it's public knowledge, so you're sitting around panicking wondering if your network is seconds away from being hacked. Or maybe, in a possibly worse case, you don't even know this vulnerability exists because you can't see the code. You're humming happily to yourself while you close out tickets, and meanwhile, your network has a major gap in its security. In either circumstance, you are 100% dependent on your proprietary vendor knowing about the issue, detecting the cause of the issue, fixing the issue and then sending you a new package containing the fix. Who knows how long your network security was at stake?
With Cumulus Linux, you have the entire Linux community on your engineering team (or at least it may feel that way). In this scenario, being the smarty pants you are, you've built your network with Cumulus Linux. So let's say a bug exists (they happen to the best of us). You might find out about this from a Linux forum, or maybe because you reviewed the code and saw a configuration issue, or maybe someone from the Cumulus team has contacted you. You wonder to yourself how long it will take to fix. Panicking, you start scouring repos, forums and blogs and realize that the Linux community is already on it. Hundreds, maybe thousands of engineers are looking for a way to remediate the issue. Inspired, you start scouring the code as well (might as well join the cause since you have access to the code yourself!). Within hours, the glitch has been found, diagnosed and patched. Cumulus sends you a quick script or package and everything goes back to normal. Quick, easy and painless
Linux community benefits also include having an open source code. If you don't like something, you can take it upon yourself to change it! No calls to support required. This may be a benefit to any open source software, but with Linux, you can also take to the community to help you design a solution or even a new feature to customize your data center network exactly to your business requirements and needs. When it comes time to implement the change, you don't have to set up a separate sandbox or container like you would with a proprietary vendor (rhymes with disco). You can go ahead and edit the code yourself, implement the feature, QA and even submit it to the community to adapt into the kernel. Your ideal network design is at your fingertips.
You may have seen this tactic play out with some of the web-scale giants like LinkedIn, Facebook or Google. Essentially, you can use the Linux community to a) gain an instant user base for your new project or modification, b) leverage the wisdom of the crowd by taking in external contributions and bug fixes and c) cultivate a pool of candidates that are familiarized with your open source operational tooling
For example, a few years ago, LinkedIn developed a product called Kafka, which is a "highly scalable messaging system that plays a critical role as LinkedIn's central data pipeline." LinkedIn released Kafka as an open source ecosystem and let the Linux community run wild. The community was able to analyze, refine and innovate Kafka, and LinkedIn was able to leverage their innovations. When it came time to hire inhouse, LinkedIn had a large candidate pool of engineers that already knew Kafka and had possibly even worked on it.
For companies of all sizes, you can develop any script, feature an application in Linux and submit it to the community for feedback and improvements.
Similar to security and awareness, you can also leverage the Linux community for support. Instead of waiting for hours on the phone with a support team, you can head to your favorite forum, mailing list or IRC room and enlist the help of others to solve a problem, code a fix, bake an idea or simply give you a virtual high five. Most of Cumulus Linux is written in Python. So you, and whomever you enlist, can just open the file and start reviewing the code. We like to think this empowers our customers to take their network into their own hands. Whether that be in design or troubleshooting, you have the tools you need to fix it yourself (but of course we're available 24/7 if you need us)!
5. Package-less patches
This last one is a bit more straightforward. At a proprietary vendor (think Mars, but bigger and farther away from Earth), without access to the code, you're left beholden to the vendor — waiting with your hands outstretched for a package for what might amount to a one-line change in a program. With Cumulus Linux, you have access to most of the code and it's in a language that you already know. So, when you're working with our support organization for a fix that is fairly small, instead of waiting for a package in a hot fix scenario, we may edit code right there with you for the fastest resolution to the issue. Of course major fixes always require a package, but you won't incur additional business impact for a fix that should take minutes.
There are countless benefits to having thousands of engineers supporting your network design, operating system and infrastructure. If you're new to Linux and would like to learn more, check out our first white paper in a 5-part Linux series, "What makes up the modern Linux OS?".
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