Cumulus Linux, which bills itself as "the first true, full-featured Linux operating system for datacenter networking," has emerged from stealth mode. Backed by several VMware (VMW) veterans, Cumulus sounds like a next-generation software-defined networking (SDN) player. And the company has $15 million in venture funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Battery Ventures and others.

Cumulus Linux emerged from stealth mode and become generally available on Wednesday. The company behind its development, Cumulus Networks, says the OS will do for networking what Linux has already achieved in other areas. 

In the words of CEO JR Rivers:

Linux revolutionized the compute-side of the datacenter over the past 15 years. Having a common OS broke vendor lock-in, drove down server hardware cost, allowed scale-out architectures, and provided a common platform for innovations like virtualization. Meanwhile networking remained stagnant. Innovation is finally coming to the network, and we are bringing that same transformational impact that Linux has had on datacenter economics and innovation to the networking side of the house.

Specifically, Cumulus Linux's backers envision it as a solution for allowing enterprises to take advantage of powerful, cost-efficient next-generation networking hardware without restricting themselves to proprietary configurations or risking vendor lock-in. By running on bare-metal networking devices from companies like Quanta, Accton and Agema, Cumulus Linux allows customers to bypass proprietary pricepoints and software limitations in order to deploy networking hardware in whatever ways they see fit.

In addition to Andreessen Horowitz and Battery Ventures, the OS has also received venture funding from Peter Wagner and four VMware (VMW) founders. These supporters expect Cumulus Linux to play a key role in meeting the channel's networking needs going forward. 

Peter Levine, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said the firm "is betting heavily on the transformation of the datacenter from something that was traditionally hardware-centric to a new world where the intelligence lives in software. Nicira was an investment that addressed a key part of this, and now Cumulus Networks is filling another critical piece on the networking side."

He added, "The recent announcement from Facebook’s Open Compute Project underscored this need for a Linux OS for networking. Clearly the need is massive. And the opportunities for enterprises and service providers to drive massive new efficiencies in the datacenter is massive as well."

Cumulus Linux, then, may turn out to be much more than another drop in the bucket of Linux distributions. Stay tuned.