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Open source routers, not Cisco, winning over some IT managers

Jack Loftus, News Writer
IT managers are actively exploring ways to strip out Cisco Systems Inc.'s routers and replace them with open source routers. Open source routers are less expensive than market-leading proprietary products, but equally capable, said these IT pros when responding to a recent SearchOpenSource.com article on routers.

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More on open source routers:
Open source router on par with Cisco, users say

Open source router challenges proprietary networking market

IT manager Miles O'Neal, of the Austin, Texas-based Intrinsity Inc., said his firm was considering replacing its Cisco routers with an open source alternative. After reading the accounts of Sam Newnam and Lance Knox, two consultants who had completed Vyatta implementations for their respective clientele, O'Neil was all but convinced Vyatta is a self-described open source router company that targets Cisco customers with its Open Flexible Router (OFR).

"I am seriously considering replacing our Cisco router with open source," O'Neal said. His company originally brought in Cisco routers to replace a Linux and iptables-based firewall/router.

"We never really used [the Cisco router] fully because we don't have the in-house expertise or time to learn it, and management doesn't want to pay what Cisco consultants charge to configure it," he said.

To address that issue, O'Neil said he will more than likely ditch the Cisco router within the next month and either integrate Vyatta's OFR application or build an in-house BSD application of his own.

Even so, O'Neil dismissed dumping Cisco entirely, and said there are no plans to get rid of the company's Cisco VPN concentrator -- for now. "Come time for maintenance renewal, we will consider whether to stick with it as well," he said.

Ricardo Falcão, a networking analyst with the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission, said he was "delighted" to finally hear more about open source networking. If anything, he said, it shows that open source is a real option for corporations and government agencies like his.

Clayton Falter, a networking administrator who did not name his employer, also saw a huge potential for open source networking technology. "There is no reason open source will not eventually compete, [but] it may take longer than a year to flesh out and debug a full-featured stable version for general corporate use," he said. Falter said this process would include the need to implement for large networks where routing protocols are typically different.

"The real drawback is that real commercial routers are 85% hardware acceleration in ASIC and even optical memory. For open source to compete, [it] will need a major vendor to make that hardware available," Falter said.

Falter believes that open source networking will have a good chance of displacing proprietary networking kit on border network security appliances. There, specialized hardware plays only a minor role -- killing ever-changing spam or malware, he said.

But perhaps the most interesting use of a custom router set-up was by Brian Misinick, a former systems administrator with Digital Equipment Corp. (Now Hewlett Packard). While working for Digital, Misinick and his team would use old Unix minicomputers as routers.

"I can distinctly recall an instance where the router between our Unix workstations in the development groups and the primary network backbone at our engineering facility in Nashua, N.H., was managed by a lowly MicroVAX II running a customized and cut down flavor of ULTRIX," he said.

Eventually, when Digital moved to beefier networks, Misinick did use some commercial networking gear. But even then, he said, the shop had a firewall that was used only to pass software back and forth between the open source world and the Unix world.

"We were engineers, and we did things our own way. But the fact of the matter is that it is not a big stretch at all to believe that someone could put together a pretty nice, inexpensive router, firewall or combo networking system and base it on either a Linux system, a BSD system or even some cheap commercial system.

"Frankly, that's all Cisco did, and they built up its capabilities over the years, but it does the same stuff for much more money," he said. "Granted, Cisco has some well proven tools and it has been built up over the years based on customer needs, but I believe you could put your own router, firewall, hub or other network component together using commodity hardware and software for next to nothing."


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