Low cost, open routers are high on quality

Open Source Router technology is bringing innovation and affordability to the networking industry by leveraging open source technologies and the performance increases of x86-based processors. This open approach to routing and security has created customizable solutions that scale from the branch office to the service provider edge for a fraction of the cost of proprietary systems.

Traditional proprietary router vendors have invested a fortune developing new products based on custom designs, chipsets and boards. But this time-consuming process pulls proprietary vendors into a spiral of maintaining and supporting rapidly aging technologies that they cannot scrap due to inertia in aging technologies, argues ‘Case Communications’ Andrew Saoulis. Customers must therefore swallow poor performance and pay high prices to support custom development. Fortunately, a revolution experienced by desktop publishers, mainframe users and other technology segments is at hand.

vyatta

Benefits of open routers

  • Industry standard hardware – Open routers can be installed on traditional x86 systems.
  • Pricing – Significantly lower. sometimes as low as 1/4th of its proprietary counterpart. A sample price difference between Vyatta and Cisco is here
  • Performance – Performance can increase as the open routers are based on off the shelf available commodity hardware. Due to its cheap cost, every year, router H/W can be upgraded to the current industry standard hardware.
  • Open Source Software – There are open router community projects like XORP and Quagga (descendent of Zebra) become platforms for other open router vendors. Other vendors can download these router code, improve or assemble them into a separate router products which can be tested and provided to small and medium enterprises at a much lower cost. Advantage here is that, router technology, the OS on which it runs (Mostly Linux) are all open and evolve rapidly unlike the proprietary router technology.
  • No Software Licenses – vendors can easily and inexpensively include all software with the hardware, without additional cost to themselves or users.
  • Flexibility – Organizations can easily modify the router, Linux operating system to meet their specific needs. Unlike proprietary platforms, Linux users can choose from thousands of software of software packages to add to commodity routers.

There are many Open Source routers out there in the markets, some of the very famous are;

  • Vyatta – Vyatta offers low cost open routers either based on x86 PC hardware or with their own, high performance, H/W appliance. It supports a lot of router protocols, firewall, intrusion detection etc. Advantage is Vyatta offers a good customer support.
  • XORP – XORP is the industry’s only Extensible Open Router Platform. It is being used by many worldwide, with thousands of downloads by companies and educational institutions and an active international developer community. Designed for extensibility from the start, XORP provides a fully featured platform that implements IPv4 and IPv6 routing protocols and a unified platform to configure them. It is the only open source platform to offer integrated multicast capability. XORP’s modular architecture allows rapid introduction of new protocols, features and functionality, including support for custom hardware and software forwarding. XORP is available as absolutely free and anyone can download, use, modify etc.
  • Quagga – Quagga is a routing software suite, providing implementations of OSPFv2, OSPFv3, RIP v1 and v2, RIPng and BGP-4 for Unix platforms, particularly FreeBSD, Linux, Solaris and NetBSD. Quagga is a fork of GNU Zebra which was developed by Kunihiro Ishiguro. The Quagga tree aims to build a more involved community around Quagga than the current centralised model of GNU Zebra.
  • Open Router Project – ORP is a stand-alone GNU/Linux distribution which aims to be a complete PC-based router solution.

There are companies like Case Communications, ImageStream that are cost effective, open and are based on Linux.

Challenges ahead:

  • Though open routers bring in cost effectiveness to an enterprise networking solutions, it still needs to be backed with a great customer support. Only then it can compete with proprietary router vendors.
  • It is better to have an in-house expertise on routers while deciding on open router technologies, as open router technology is still evolving and may need customization. At the same time, it is not far away from becoming matured enough to replace biggies like Cisco router products etc.
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