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Vyatta Pushes Open Source Routing

Linux has always enabled network admins to use commodity x86 hardware as a router platform. But Vyatta, an open source startup, thinks it can take open source routing a step further with its Open Flexible Router (OFR).

Vyatta claims that OFR is "the first enterprise-grade, open-source router platform." It is currently a software-only based solution that includes typical router functionality.

"Think of it as a custom Linux distribution that is very network-centric," Dave Roberts vice president of strategy at Vyatta, said. "It is based on a kernel.org kernel with a lightweight set of utilities on top of it; XORP is the routing stack."

Roberts noted that Vyatta is a financial supporter of the XORP project and also contributes to its development. According to Roberts, Vyatta OFR goes beyond being just a simple stack for routing on Linux.

"Obviously open source stacks have been available for a long time. What we've really tried to do is build something that acts more like a router in the traditional Cisco and Juniper sense than simply a Linux box running routing," Roberts told internetnews.com.

Though Vyatta aspires to take on Cisco and Juniper , it is only a software-based solution and, as such, does not offer hardware-based acceleration.

According to Roberts, that may not matter all that much.

"Obviously if you're going to stack up software-based routing versus hardware-accelerating routing, software is going to lose," Roberts admitted.

"That said, not all of Cisco or Juniper is hardware accelerated. In fact they do a lot of routing in software in the low-to-mid range of their product lines."

Though Vyatta does not have a hardware appliance today, that doesn't mean it won't sometime soon.

"What we say is 'Don't confuse our initial foray into the marketplace with where Vyatta can ultimately go,'" Roberts said. "You need to separate out the software-based control plane and the software-based forwarding plane.

"Even a very high-end Cisco or Juniper router is still running software. To run the routing protocol, it's only the forwarding that is running in ASICs (application-specific integrated circuit)."

That said, hardware is on the Vyatta roadmap.

"Over time you will see us shipping hardware," Roberts said. "While we're coming out with the software today, in fairly short order you'll be seeing us shipping prepackaged hardware/software solutions."

But the Vyatta platform is lacking in a few critical aspects that many enterprises may need, including a VPN and UTM (Unified Threat Management).

"Right now today's product contains standard routing functionality, as well as firewall functionally, but we see things like VPN, IDS and virus scanning as being big," Roberts said.

OFR is available as a free download with paid support on a professional subscription starting at $497.