Vyatta's 3500 open source router could fit in enterprise data centers

With its 3500 series appliance, open source router vendor Vyatta hopes to convince network engineers that an appliance based on off-the-shelf server hardware can serve as an enterprise's WAN edge router.

Open source router vendor Vyatta continues to go after bigger and bigger fish with its appliances, the latest being the Vyatta 3500 series, a 10 Gigabit Ethernet router designed for enterprise data center connectivity and the service provider edge. But opinions are mixed on just how many network engineers will be comfortable with using an open source product as their wide-area network (WAN) edge router.

Vyatta, which earns revenue by offering support for its open source router operating system and selling appliance versions of the routers on standard x86 server hardware, has launched its most powerful router yet with the Vyatta 3500 series. The device can process up to 3 million packets per second, manage as many as 8,000 simultaneous IPSec VPN tunnels, and forward data at a rate of 20 Gbps. It has some of the more baseline features for a data center router, such as a firewall, VPN and intrusion prevention. It also has a hot swap redundant power supply, four 1 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports, and four PCI Express slots that offer capacity for 16 additional 1 GbE or 10 GbE ports.

But the real highlight of the Vyatta 3500 is probably price-performance, where it blows Cisco out of the water. Vyatta has positioned the 3500 against Cisco's Aggregated Services Router (ASR) 1006. The Vyatta 3500 series starts at a base price of $4,595, versus the ASR 1006 base price of $75,000. And Vyatta is offering 10 GbE ports at $1,500 apiece, versus the $20,000 ports Cisco sells for the 1006.

Steve Schuchart, principal analyst for enterprise network systems at Current Analysis, said Vyatta has done well with its earlier appliances, which have focused on small and midsized businesses and branch offices, but enterprises will be hesitant to put a Vyatta router in their data centers as a WAN edge router.

"It's nice that it's open source, and even using generic hardware isn't a bad thing, but the router is the heart of the network," Schuchart said. "Without the router, you don't have connectivity. Vyatta has a very compelling money story, but in terms of where you can save money on your network, this isn't where you want to do it. I don't think in large enterprises that price is the first consideration [for data center connectivity]. I think [Vyatta] miscalculated."

Vyatta isn't setting its sights so high, according to Tom McCafferty, the company's director of marketing.

"This continues to expand our market space as we creep up into larger and larger enterprises," he said. "This is for the midsized and large enterprise." But large enterprises with enormous data centers will not consider the 3500 an option, McCafferty said, because it simply doesn't offer the port density of Cisco or Juniper routers.

He hinted, however, that Vyatta will continue to go after larger and larger customers by building more powerful appliances from off-the-shelf server gear.

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"This appliance is just a single, quadcore [Intel Nahalem] processor," McCafferty said. "There's no reason we couldn't build an appliance with multiple quadcore processors. These things are all coming, and we will continue to build on our ability to leverage the x86 universe."

Open source routers: Play it safe or save money

Jim Metzler, vice president of the consultancy Ashton Metzler & Associates, said the price-performance story of open source routers has its place in today's market. He said many enterprise IT organizations are under tremendous budget pressure, and that pressure won't go away any time soon.

"In that environment, there is room for Vyatta-type services," Metzler said. "[Enterprises] are going to try it. They're not going to flash cut all locations to Vyatta, but they might be doing it in branch offices where they're not going to use the 5,000 features a [Cisco] router has. People look at their branches and their data center very differently today. [In the data center] Vyatta doesn't have the name recognition of Cisco, Juniper or HP," he continued. "For years, they said you don't get fired for buying from IBM. Well that's been transferred to Cisco and to a lesser extent to HP and Juniper. You're going to bet the store on this [router] from who? You add to that this is open source, and people will think that can't be as reliable as [other vendors]."

Joseph Jackson, a network engineer with VoIP and Signaling System 7 long distance carrier ANI Networks, is more sanguine about the Vyatta 3500. He uses Vyatta routers in his company's network already, and he sees a lot of promise in the 3500.

"I think, at least here, we try to always buy the most cost-effective solution," Jackson said. "I would say you can get fired for spending too much money. I let my executives know what the risks would be [with Vyatta] and they accept the risks with the benefits. But I don't see a major risk here. Hardware replacement and software fixes can all happen very quickly. I guess the biggest risk would be [Vyatta] just going away."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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