The lowdown on stealth startup Cumulus Networks

Forget Nicira or Big Switch, the hot new networking start-up is one you have not even heard of – Cumulus Networks. It is the brainchild of Nolan Leake and JR Rivers, who both were part of the team that helped Cisco understand the coming changes in infrastructure that led to its server play.
Rivers and Leake are both well-respected in the networking world and while Rivers didn’t want to share details about his still-stealth company, here’s what I discovered.
According to the California Dept. of Corporations, Cumulus has raised about $1.8 million in funding. Battery Ventures is a backer although Rivers didn’t disclose the total funding or backers. Battery declined to comment as well. However, a scan of Founder Nolan Leake’s ¬†and Rivers’ respective LinkedIn pages shows that the two worked at Nuova Systems, which developed what is now Cisco’s Unified Computing System that combines servers and networking on one box.
Make no mistake, these guys not only understand networking, they also understand the problems of today’s massively scaled out server environments. In a conversation with Rivers, he explained, “Picture the network topology that makes [Cisco, Juniper Arista and other networking vendors] the most money is one where they are the god box and have chassis-based switches and lots of crazy cool things for you,” Rivers says.
“Those systems, they made the people a lot of money but they didn’t deliver a lot more reliable network for the application. And now, IT is worried about scaling out these networks and they don’t want a chance encounter or update to crash the whole network and the app. So the network will become more of an IP fabric and with parallel paths and enormous amounts of bandwidth.”
Rivers compares the network of the future with a distributed system that runs like servers do today in webscale environments, where a certain set of servers can fail without bringing down the entire compute infrastructure. In this decentralized networking environment the industry will need tools to help manage and provision the new distributed network easily.
When I asked if he was developing something akin to the Puppet (see disclosure) or Chef configuration management tools¬†commonly used in webscale and cloud environments to rapidly provision the environment, he said, “You want the network to use Puppet or Chef. The IT barriers companies are seeing today need common tools to help solve them. In general that’s the approach that we’re taking.”
The company’s description on LinkedIn notes that: “Cumulus Networks is satisfying the networking needs of large Internet service clusters with high-performance, cost-effective networking equipment.” For now, we’ll have to be satisfied with that, and the information I gleaned in my conversation with Rivers. But those in the networking sector and those building webscale architectures are excited enough about Cumulus, that I keep hearing its name bandied about. I can’t wait until the full reveal.
Disclosure: Puppet Labs is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.