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In this three-part series, Kevin Tolly examines the virtual router marketplace. In part one, Tolly explained the evolution of virtual routers. Part two moved from the theoretical to the practical and examined the feature set of Brocade and Cisco gear. In the concluding part of the series, Tolly compares virtual routers made by three other vendors.
As we discussed in the last installment, IT execs assessing the deployment of virtual routers (VRs) must focus on what makes each vendor's product different. Among the most important factors to consider in a virtual router review are:
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 on? 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.
Yes, all routers route. But some systems may be targeted at sophisticated service provider functions and, thus, offer functionalities that you don't need. 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.
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 -- come with 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 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.
Alcatel-Lucent Virtualized Service Router
Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) breaks out the functionality of its Virtualized Service Router (VSR) as separate "applications" with different names and features. To that end, ALU currently has identified seven different applications -- some of which are now available and some will be rolling out in 2015.
Focus: The focus is the service provider (SP) space. One of the router's initial applications is a Border Gateway Protocol router reflector function -- a way to add internal BGP scalability -- followed by an IP/Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) SP network edge function. In addition, there are network address translation, security, wireless and broadband gateway functions. These are areas of great interest to SPs.
Platform: Details are a bit sparse. The VSR router reflector application will run on VMware ESXi 5.5 as well as a Linux kernel-based VM, such as KVM. No reference is made to Citrix XenServer or Microsoft Hyper-V. The reference to the specific application implies that different applications of the VSR suite may have different platform requirements.
Feature set: The feature set is broken down into discrete applications that appear to run in separate VMs. Some of the applications, such as the VSR security gateway, VSR wireless LAN gateway and VSR broadband network gateway, aren't yet available. Check with ALU to be notified when those applications -- and others -- are released.
Pricing: Pricing info isn't publicly available; contact ALU. No demo version is available.
HP VSR1000 Virtual Services Router
With HP, we come back down to earth from the arcane world of multitenant route reflectors to the VSR1000. That means -- like the Vyatta Brocade offering -- we can just think of this as an IP router running on a real or virtual x86 environment. The HP VSR1000 runs HP Comware software, developed by H3C and enveloped by HP when it purchased 3Com in 2010.
Focus: The focus here seems to be enterprise and SP-managed CPE rather than service provider infrastructure, as the feature set contains everything you would need for enterprise and SMB routing, including support for MPLS and VPNs. [Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the VSR1000's support of MPLS and VPNs.]
Platform: As with the other offerings, the HP VSR1000 runs on VMware ESXi version 4 and above and the Linux KVM. No mention of Citrix XenServer or Microsoft Hyper-V.
Feature set: The HP VSR1000 provides static IPv4 and IPv6 routing with Routing Information Protocol, BGP, intermediate system-to-intermediate system routing and open shortest path first. The VR offers both IPsec and generic routing encapsulation-based VPNs, as well as firewall capabilities. Quality of service is offered with a range of traffic classification and traffic policing options based on port, media access control address, IP address, IP priority and MPLS traffic classification.
Pricing: Pricing is based on how many virtual CPUs are supported. Options are one, four and eight vCPUs with routing and VPN performance growing as CPU resource is increased. HP says IPSec performance, for example, increases from 268 Mbps to 580 Mbps when comparing one vCPU to four vCPUs with routing performance improving less dramatically. The message here: Don't expect four vCPUs to quadruple your performance. Downloadable demos are available for each of the three possible vCPU configurations. Contact a reseller for pricing information.
In our last, but not least, virtual router review, let's discuss Juniper Networks. The supplier has positioned its vMX virtual router as a software version of the Juniper MX Series 3D Universal Edge Router, in the process of offering enterprises the same capabilities the router now delivers to carriers.
Focus: While Juniper is clearly marketing the vMX toward the enterprise, carriers may be interested as well. Juniper's MX series of (physical) routers range in throughput from the MX5's 20 Gbps to the MX2020's impressive 80 Tbps.
The vMX is rated at 160 Gbps -- double the throughput of the MX104 physical router and just below the 200 Gbps capability of the MX80 physical device.
Platform: The vMX runs on standard x86 servers and VMware's ESXi hypervisor platform.
Feature set: The vMX encompasses a wide range of carrier-class features, including IPv4 and IPv6, VPN support and multicast support. Bottom line, the vMX is an easy way for enterprises to provision sophisticated edge functionality without investing in dedicated router hardware.
Pricing: Juniper prices are based on throughput desired, in increments of 100 Mbps chunks. Contact Juniper for more information.
Virtual routers: What are the features that are most important?
Brocade, Cisco routers: What makes them tick?
The increasing role of virtual routers