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The OPEC of networking

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Vyatta isn't the biggest dog in networking gear — but it's a wee terrier with a distinct mean streak. The firm got its teeth planted firmly into Cisco's hindquarters from the get-go, and isn't about to release any time soon.

The company claims its open source router/firewall/VPN code put into x86 systems beats out Cisco on price. We can appreciate such forthrightness. Witness the Vyatta web site where customers are encouraged to write public farewell letters to Cisco CEO John Chambers. How sweet.

Today, Vyatta put out a press release pitting its merchandise against Cisco's and claiming a 10x price/performance advantage. It also said its software now can scale to 10 Gigabit Ethernet networks.

Vyatta paid The Tolly Group to compare an IBM System X3550 (that's a two-socket Xeon-based server) hosting Vyatta software against the largest of Cisco's edge routers, the 7200 series.

Hardware-to-hardware, this is perhaps not the fairest comparison ever devised. Vyatta's game depends on the machine its installed on, and they've picked a slick IBM box that can run on Intel's latest and greatest four-core chips.

Tolly Group testers upgraded the RAM on each router to its maximum capacity. That gave Cisco's 7204VXR NPE-G1 router 1GB memory and its 7204VXR NPE-G2 2GB of memory. Meanwhile, the IBM box took a total of 4GB of memory even though it supports up to 32GB.

Yes, memory has a direct impact on router table capacity — which is exactly what they compare first. Vyatta tossed this variable into the mix to show that while boosting RAM to 4GB on a x86 box costs $259 retail, upgrading the proprietary NPE-G1 memory is $7,000 and the NPE-G2 is $8,000.

It must be noted, however, that Tolly seems to pick very expensive memory for the Cisco units. Our research shows web sites discounting $8,000 memory down to just $400! Other sellers provided $300-$400 prices from the get go, while others did in fact ask for $7,000-$8,000.

Let's go to Tolly's score board: The tests indicate that Vyatta supports a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing table size of 4.5 million routes. That gave Vyatta's system a 1.5x size advantage over the NPE-G2 (at about 3 million) and a 3x advantage over the NPE-G1 (at about 1.4bn).

The next category in the pageant is BGP convergence time, which measures how fast the systems respond to network changes. The Vyatta system took 13 seconds to converge 250,000 routes between two router peers. The Cisco NPE-G2 and NPE-G2 reported 30 and 41 seconds, respectively.

In Layer 3 Throughput tests, Vyatta did wire-speed in a 3-port full-mesh configuration while handling 512 byte packets or higher. Neither of the Cisco routers were able to match it. For smaller packet sizes, the Cisco NPE-G2 in fact performed best — to which Vyatta responds - BUT PRICE!

And there's the hook. All told, the cost for the Vyatta system (including memory upgrade) was $7,952. Retail price for the NPE-G1 with 1GB of memory was $30,756. Retail for the NPE-G2 with 2GB of memory was $35,756.

"Our fundamental premise is that the x86 ecosystem beats proprietary networking," said Vyatta boss, Kelly Herrell. "We're bringing Moore's law economics to the market where Cisco has been using OPEC-style economics."

Vyatta also said its software has successfully handled 10Gb/s Ethernet speeds. Scalability tests were performed using IBM X3550 servers and Neterion Xframe E 10 Gigabit Ethernet cards.

The full report is available in this direction (PDF warning). ®

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