Editor's note: In this three-part series, Kevin Tolly examines the virtual router marketplace. In part one, Tolly...
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explained the evolution of virtual routers. This part moves from the theoretical to the practical as it examines the feature set of leading virtual routers. This installment looks at Brocade and Cisco.
The first order of business when considering a virtual router (VR) is to avoid getting lost in the details of routing protocols and instead focus on significant differentiators, among them:
- Platform: Does the VR you are evaluating run on a standard PC platform or is it built to run only on the same type of hypervisor as a virtual machine (VM)? If it is a VM (usually delivered as a virtual appliance), which VM environments does it run in? You can usually count on a version being available for VMware ESXi, but after that it is anyone's guess -- the other major environments being Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer and Red Hat KVM.
- Feature set: Yes, all routers route. But some systems may be targeted at sophisticated service provider functions and thus offer all manner of functionality that you will never require. If you are planning to use the VR for branch office networking, you will probably want to implement a virtual private network (VPN), so make sure the VR you consider offers that function.
- Pricing model: With physical routers, pricing is tied to the hardware. While the operating software is typically the same, more powerful routers -- with turbocharged LAN and WAN interfaces -- justify a higher price tag. With VRs, this pricing model disappears. As a result, the "get more, pay more" model morphs accordingly. With a Cisco VR, for example, the price you pay is linked to the bandwidth you require to be pushed by the platform. With HP, the pricing is linked to how many cores you select for the VM running the software. More cores equal more throughput, which equals higher price. Finally, the fact that VRs are software-only systems makes it easy for vendors to offer downloadable demos. Be sure to check out that option and try before you buy.
Virtual router review: Brocade Vyatta 5400 vRouter
Vyatta, upon whose technology this VR is based, is a pioneer in the realm of virtual routers -- even before such terminology even existed. Vyatta's original products consisted of routing functionality based upon open source software that ran on off-the-shelf Dell PCs.
This is a fully functional and well-developed routing product -- as it should be given how long it has been around. Like most of the VRs profiled in this series, the Vyatta 5400 lists data center virtualization, edge consolidation and cloud computing/cloud bridging/multi-tenancy as applications. Basically, it's good for anything you can think of.
Platform: This VR runs on all the major virtualization platforms -- VMware ESXi, Citrix Xen, Microsoft Hyper-V and Red Hat KVM. In addition, and unlike the other VRs, the Vyatta can be run on "bare metal" -- which is a fancy way of saying that you can run it on a regular PC without the need for any virtualization environment.
Pricing: Low cost used to be a major benefit of the Vyatta virtual router. In fact, for most of Vyatta's existence, the software was free and what you paid for was the pre-packaged hardware and support. No more. Brocade sells the router on a per-license, annual subscription basis. The least expensive option for running the software on your own machine is $2,595 for one year. If your hardware has more than five cores, that cost goes up to $5,595 for one year. To run a single router in a virtual environment will cost $1,995 for one year. If you were willing to commit to five years, that cost would be $4,995.
If you are hankering for the good old days when you could get this software for free, you are in luck. After Brocade shut down development on the community (i.e., "free") edition, some other developers launched the VyOS Project, a Linux-based operating system. If you are willing to forego the support provided by a vendor like Brocade, you can have a VR at no cost by running the OS.
In addition, as with most of the other VR vendors, Brocade offers a trial version for 60 days.
Virtual router review: Cisco Cloud Services Router 1000V
As indicated in its name, the Cisco Cloud Services Router (CSR) 1000V exists to help enterprises use cloud services to extend their existing physical routing network. Announced in June 2012, it runs the Cisco IOS XE operating system, which allows routing and other functions to be run as partitioned services on top of a broader OS, in this case Linux.
Focus: The CSR is designed to run virtualized and provide services for a single tenant in a multi-tenant, provider-hosted cloud. It is built on the software that runs Cisco's physical Integrated Services Router. The CSR is used for a number of functions, among them secure VPN gateway, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) WAN termination, data center network extension, and control and traffic redirection.
Platform: The CSR can be run on Cisco unified computing system servers and also runs on all of the major virtualization platforms (VMware, Citrix, Red Hat, Microsoft) as well as an Amazon Machine Image on AWS.
Feature set: The CSR 1000V offers a wide range of IPv4 and IPv6 features, among them advanced routing (Border Gateway Protocol, open shortest-path first, Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol, multicase and generic routing encapsulation); VPN support (IPsec, dynamic multipoint VPN, Easy VPN); MPLS; application visibility and traffic redirection. The CSR 1000V is anything but a "lite" router.
Pricing: After a 60-day demo period, the CSR will still run, but will be throttled down to a deliberately barely usable 2.5 Mbps. The licensing fee is complicated and based on a combination of features, throughput and duration.
There are four feature set options, nine throughput level choices (ranging from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps) and three licensing periods (one year, five year, forever).
Next up: Virtual routers from Alcatel-Lucent, HP and Juniper Networks.
The evolution of virtual routers
Digging into the 1000v
Integrating physical and virtual networks