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MontaVista Brings Carrier Linux to LTE

Linux vendor MontaVista Software is expanding its Carrier Grade Linux (CGL) product offering to include new next generation LTE wireless and networking capabilities.

MontaVista Carrier Grade Edition 5.1 is the first major release of the platform in nearly two years, and remains compatible with most of the underlying architecture from the CGE 5.0 release. With MontaVista Carrier Grade Edition Linux widely deployed in network equipment at service providers around the world, change is not always a good thing and neither is being on the bleeding edge of Linux development.

"We're providing this as an update, so we're not changing the kernel version and we're not changing most of the underlying infrastructure, the kernel and the low level stuff and frankly we did that on purpose," Dan Cauchy, MontaVista's vice president of marketing, told InternetNews.com.

"Our customers, really don't want that level of change, they are happy with CGE 5.0 and they don't want a wholesale change. The way we're providing this update, it's actually a series of patches to the 5.0 product but the underlying kernel and infrastructure doesn't change."

Cauchy added that simply noting the Linux kernel version to determine the quality of a distribution is not necessarily the right approach. He explained that even though CGE 5.1 hasn't changed its core Linux kernel version, MontaVista has backported critical security and stability fixes. Cauchy noted that MontaVista backports fixes all the time but stays away from the areas of the kernel that could trigger instability.

The advantages of backporting

A recent report from the Linux Foundation, found that nearly 11,000 lines of code are added to the Linux kernel every day.

"There is no way you can take that thing and put it in a carrier grade network," Cauchy said. "Having the latest and greatest kernel version is a problem and not an advantage. By backporting what we need and having a stable kernel version, this is the value we add and it's why customers buy from us. It's often a misconception in the marketplace that if you don't have the latest and greatest you're behind, but for this carrier grade market it's the opposite."

Carrier Grade Linux is a specific grade of Linux designed to meet the needs of service providers. The Carrier-Grade Linux Requirements Definition effort first got going in 2003 at the OSDL, with version 2.0 of the spec. Version 3.0 debuted in 2005, version 3.2 appeared in March 2006. The most recent set of guidelines are the CGL 4.0 specifications which debuted in 2007.

Among the new features in the CGE 5.1 platform are additional support for the next generation LTE and WiMax wireless protocols.

Cauchy explained that LTE and WiMax require some additional protocols and tools in order to help facilitate deployment. Among them is IKE v2 (Internet Key Exchange) which is a protocol used for securing connections. MontaVista is leveraging technology from the open source strongSwan project.

MontaVista is also adding SCTP (Stream Control Protocol) to support redundancy for LTE and WiMax. Cauchy explained that with SCTP, carriers can dual-home a connection so if a link fails with SCTP the carrier can transparently fail-over to the other link.

The SCTP technology was pulled together from over 400 different open source projects and then stabilized under MontaVista CGE 5.1.

Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRF) technology is another key new feature of CGE 5.1. Cauchy noted that VRF has existed in proprietary operating systems before like Cisco's IOS, but in his view the CGE 5.1 implementation is a first for Linux.

Consolidating multiple physical routers

"We wrote this feature from scratch at MontaVista and it enables the separation of routing and forwarding domains," Cauchy said. "It lets you consolidate the services of four or five physical routers onto a single multi-core blade and still provide the same functionality."

Cauchy added that VRF will enable carriers to separate out domains for security reasons and also enable them to separate traffic and potentially service other ISPs or smaller carriers on the same equipment.

With CGE 5.1 now out the door, work has already begun for MontaVista on its CGE 6.0 release. Cauchy said the planned delivery for CGE 6.0 is now set for the second half of 2010.