Does Open-Source Software Threaten Cisco’s Routing Dominance?

On Monday, a San Mateo-based networking startup called Vyatta released what it bills as the "first enterprise-grade, open-source router platform."

While Linux distributions, running atop industry-standard x86-based servers, are not new to routing — the Quagga routing suite is a notable technical example, though its market penetration has been modest — Vyatta suggests that it is making unprecedented strides beyond initial community-based efforts. Its intention, it is clear, is to become the open-source world’s routing equivalent of Red hat in computing, Asterisk in IP-based telephony, and Sourcefire in intrusion prevention.

Vyatta has a long way to go. The company says its 10,000 copies of its beta software have been downloaded during the past few months, and the first official release (1.0) of its Open Flexible Router (OFR) just occurred this week. According to the company’s strategy VP, initial interest in the routing code has come primarily from small- and medium-size enterprises, though some large ISPs are said to have downloaded the code. About half of its beta users are US-based, but there has also been interest in France, as well as users in Russia, China and Japan.

Formed in April, 2005, Vyatta has about 20 employees. The company has repeatedly refused, in multiple interviews and on its website, to disclose how much funding it has raised. According to a Red Herring article, investors include JP Morgan Partners, Arrow Path, and ComVentures. Seed-stage financing was provided by Panorama Capital, one of whose venture partners, Allan Leinwand, founded Vyatta and now sits as its chairman.

Vyatta’s software combines a modified version of Linux with code developed using the eXtensible Open Route Platform (XORP), an open-source routing-software project that Vyatta supports with funding and equipment. To put together a Vyatta router, a user downloads a CD image from the company’s website and installs it on an industry-standard, x86-based server, with minimum hardware requirements specifying a PC with at least a 500-MHz processor, 256 Mbytes of RAM, 500 Mbytes of free disk space, and a PCI-based T1 interface card.

Now that OFR 1.0 is out the door, the product roadmap calls for incorporation of new functionality in areas such as IP multicast routing, additional firewall capabilities, IPSec VPN support, WAN optimization (which makes a lot of sense), intrusion prevention and detection, and server load balancing. Vyatta is taking enhancement and feature requests on its website.

The business model, explained on another page at Vyatta’s site, involves selling value-added services and support to OFR users, mimicking a tried-and-true approach for major Linux distributions and other open-source success stories. Depending on customer requirements, service subscriptions — comprising software upgrades, maintenance, and support — are priced between $497 and $647 annually.

In addition to the VC funding, the company has a seasoned management team, including a mix of executives who have experience in the open-source world as well as at routing kingpin Cisco Systems.

To succeed, and to attain its aspiration of becoming the next major open-source business phenomenon, the company must continue to enhance the functionality of its software, which it seems to be doing through regular consultations with its user community and prospective customers. It also needs to focus on markets and users where it is likely to achieve success, namely midsize and smaller enterprises as well as regional offices of larger firms.

It should forget, for now, about the large enterprise headquarters and the service providers, and don’t even think about the carriers, who have the capacity and the predilection to drain small companies of all their resources while offering little in return.

Vyatta also need to wrap its software in an appliance, which it has plans to do. The company has indicated that the appliance will carry the Vyatta brand and will be resold by a hardware vendor, much as IBM resells Red hat software running on its appliances. IBM would be a natural partner, since it already is committed to open-source software in so many other areas of its business. Neither Vyatta nor IBM, however, would be likely to pursue an exclusive arrangement.

An appliance is absolutely essential, though, since network managers and IT administrators would have a difficult time justifying the decision to run their company’s routing infrastructure on a discarded or recycled piece of hardware. The optics aren’t good, and perception matters when one’s bosses are asking questions and wondering about one’s critical judgment.

Is Vyatta a threat to Cisco? No, at least not today and not for a while.

However, if the company focuses on its early adopters in mid-size and , smaller enterprises, avoids distractions (such as carriers), establishes an good channels program, and gets its software running on hardware appliances — preferably in business arrangements that also provide it with the marketing and sales muscle of an IBM or an HP — it could make gradual inroads into the approximately $4-billion market for routers sold to midsize and smaller enterprises and deployed at regional offices of larger enterprises.

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One response to “Does Open-Source Software Threaten Cisco’s Routing Dominance?

  1. Pingback: The Data Center Journal Vyatta Acquisition Helps Data Center Enhancement

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