Dell's relationship with the open source ecosystem—and the rapidly evolving world of software-defined networking (SDN)—has grown even warmer. This week, it announced a reseller agreement with Cumulus Networks to deliver Culumus Linux, an operating system tailored for networking hardware, on Dell top-of-rack network switches for the data center.

Cumulus bills Cumulus Linux as "The first true Linux OS for data center networking." Designed specifically for data center-grade networking hardware such as switches, the platform allows enterprises to deploy open source software on networking hardware that traditionally has been coupled only with proprietary code. The move toward open solutions helps avoid the potential of software-based vendor lock-in and makes it easier to run standards-compliant open source applications on top of networking infrastructure.

On Jan. 28, Dell and Cumulus announced an agreement that will make the latter's flagship product an operating system option on Dell Networking S6000 and S4810 top-of-rack switches. The solution will become available in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014, according to Dell.

In a statement, Dell described this partnership as part of the effort by the "new Dell" to build "a broader ecosystem to bring open networking solutions" to enterprise customers. Dell Vice President and General Manager Tom Burns added that "networking is an industry crying out for disruption," with open source software poised to deliver that innovation.

In addition to signaling new directions for Dell, and a rock-solid commitment by the company to open source, the news is also a significant achievement for Cumulus. After securing $15M in venture capital last summer, the company has now gained the endorsement of a huge channel partner, and a pathway for reaching a large set of enterprise customers.

The agreement also comes at a time of rapid momentum within the world of software-defined networking, in which Cumulus has a strong stake. Related open source networking solutions, including OpenDaylight, are now also reaching maturity. By providing an open source OS platform and the requisite hardware for delivering SDN applications, Cumulus and Dell sit at a fruitful point of convergence within an ecosystem that will likely grow rapidly in 2014.