Will an open source router replace your Cisco router?

How do Vyatta's open source routers stack up to Cisco? David Davis took one for a test drive to find out. Get the details on Vyatta's offerings, and get David's first impressions of using one.

Vyatta is an open source company that hopes to take the XORP (i.e., extensible open source router platform) and make it a commercially viable, enterprise-ready product. Pronounced "vee-atta," Vyatta wants to do for routers what Red Hat did for Linux and what Asterisk is trying to do with VoIP. (For some background, see George Ou's blog post, "Open source routers shine at Vyatta secret society.")

What does Vyatta have to offer?

Before we discuss the possibility of open source routers replacing your Cisco routers, let's examine who Vyatta is what this company has to offer. Using Vyatta, you can take a standard Intel PC or server and turn it into a router and firewall. All you need to do is download the Vyatta live CD image from the company's Web site and boot from it—no real install is necessary.

In my opinion, anything you want to do with a standard Cisco router, you can do with Vyatta for the most part, and you don't have to worry about the various Cisco IOS licenses. Here's a list of some of the standard features it includes:

  • Runs on any 32-bit AMD or Intel processors
  • Supports various Ethernet speeds including Gig-E
  • T1 and T3 cards
  • Supports IPv4, IPv6, RIP, OSPF, BGP, and static routes
  • Acts as a DHCP server and relay
  • Ethernet, PPP, Frame-relay, HDLC, and 802.1q VLAN
  • Stateful firewall, NAT, site-to-site VPN, and RADIUS
  • VRRP and redundant power supplies in the server
  • Syslog and SNMP2c
  • Can use Ethereal (now Wireshark) to view packets going through the router
  • CLI, Web-based interface, Telnet, and SSHv2

The Community Edition—the standard Vyatta version—is free. However, there's no support included, and bug fixes are available only every six months.

Vyatta also offers the Professional Edition (starting at $497)and the Enterprise Edition (starting at $647) if support and priority bug fixes are necessary. You could use standard PC/server Ethernet cards (make sure they're supported), and you can buy the T1/T3 cards (or Ethernet cards) from Vyatta.

Of course, Vyatta also sells router appliances (i.e., servers with the Vyatta OS already installed). Starting at about $1,800, the appliance includes a Dell server, support, and the Vyatta router OS. This is much less than a comparable new Cisco router.

First impressions

While it's too soon for me to compare the full production functionality and features of Vyatta to a Cisco router, here's my initial experience with the Vyatta product. I downloaded the 96-MB file from Vyatta's Web site.

The site offers a video demo of using the software, but I bypassed that for now. According to the Vyatta Quick Evaluation Guide, I should be able to get the software running in about 30 minutes—let's see if it's right.

I used VMware Server to create a new Linux virtual guest OS on my Windows XP machine and set the Vyatta ISO as my boot CD. The Linux machine booted right up and ran. Figures A and B show some screenshots:

Figure A

Figure B

I logged in using the default username of vyattaand the password vyatta. Next, I typed configure and then set an IP address on the Ethernet interface using the following:

set interfaces Ethernet eth0 address prefix 16
set service http

To view the command, type exit to go back to > prompt, and then type show.

One important thing to remember about the Vyatta router is that you can't make any changes to the router until using the commit command. (Like Cisco routers, you can use the [Tab] key for automatic command completion, and you can type ? for help. You can also use Cisco command-line shortcuts such as [Ctrl]W to delete the word before or [Ctrl]A to go to the beginning of the line.) There are two modes: regular Show mode (at the > prompt) and Configure mode (at the # prompt).

To try out the Web interface, I opened a browser and put in the IP address I had configured on the Ethernet interface. I was surprised at the number of tools the Web interface featured and how user-friendly it seemed. It boasts performance graphs on the screen—and even a subnet calculator in the Tools section. Figure C shows a screenshot from the Web site.

Figure C

By using VMware, I was able to get this new router up in less than 30 minutes—as promised by the evaluation guide. In fact, half of that time came from downloading the file. In addition, I ended up reading some of the guide to learn the default login and the basics of the user interface.

In my opinion, Vyatta shows a lot of promise. While I'm not recommending throwing out Cisco routers in favor of Vyatta just yet, spending 30 minutes to familiarize yourself with what it can do is a smart idea.

Are you familiar with the Vyatta open source router? What's your take on open source? Would you use an open source router on your network? Share your thoughts in this article's discussion.

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David Davis has worked in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.

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