Vyatta speeds up its software-based routing with vPlane

The company is testing a system for greater data-center scalability and phasing out its dedicated appliances

Virtualized router pioneer Vyatta plans to increase the performance of its software by 10 times or more later this year, eyeing large data centers with virtualized multicore servers.

At the same time, the company is phasing out dedicated appliances designed primarily for small and medium-sized enterprises and branch offices. A growing number of those types of customers now choose to run Vyatta software on the same servers that run their applications, CEO Kelly Herrell said. Vyatta expects to sell its last appliances around the middle of this year.

Vyatta sells software that performs higher-level network functions such as routing and security, which traditionally have been carried out by dedicated equipment. The Vyatta vPlane technology that the company announced on Tuesday is designed to take advantage of servers based on powerful, multicore x86 architectures such as Intel's Sandy Bridge, which offer as many as 24 cores per CPU. Doing so increases packet throughput and makes it easier to scale out routing performance to handle growing traffic loads, Herrell said.

With vPlane, Vyatta will separate the software for its control plane, which makes traffic-handling decisions, and for its forwarding plane, which carries them out. In Vyatta's current software, those appear as a single workload and have to run on the same core. Once they are separated, they'll be able to run on separate cores, and enterprises will be able to implement the forwarding software on as many cores as they need to scale out performance, Herrell said. The vPlane technology is being tested now.

The new forwarding plane's performance is more than 10 times higher on each core it runs on, so with additional cores, it can boost Vyatta's speed even more. On an Intel Westmere-class system, Vyatta with vPlane can deliver more than 8 million packets per second per core. Across a single 1U rack server based on Westmere, the new technology can handle 35 million packets per second, the company claims.

Vyatta doesn't replace the Layer 2 switches that link one server or rack to another with simple packet forwarding, but the intelligent routing decisions it makes can reduce unnecessary trips from one server to another, according to Herrell. That function is growing more valuable as enterprises run more applications on virtual machines spread across many hardware servers, he said. Traffic among those VMs may not have to leave the immediate server or rack, where Vyatta is running alongside other applications.

Since it hit the market in 2008, Vyatta has focused on turning routing into an application for standard x86 servers, promising to help customers avoid the high cost of dedicated routers. Customers can choose their own server platforms on which to run the software. Traditional data-center routers cost about US$10,000 to $20,000 per gigabit per second of forwarding performance, while Vyatta with vPlane will cost only $100 per gigabit per second, Herrell said. Vyatta also gives enterprises more flexibility in planning, because they can add standard computing hardware over time instead of having to buy a traditional, dedicated router with enough capacity to handle future needs, he said.

As recently as a year ago, Vyatta itself was introducing new models of dedicated appliances based on standard x86 boxes from a manufacturer in Taiwan. In April 2011, it announced three routing and security appliances designed for customers ranging from small and branch offices to midsized enterprises. The company priced the products from $997 to $3,397 and positioned them against Cisco's ISR (Integrated Services Router) line. But those products are now being phased out.

"That was just a tactical issue to get around any buying objections if someone was used to buying a box," Herrell said in an interview on Tuesday. Appliances never made up more than 20 percent of the company's sales, he said. Herrell would not disclose how many of the appliances Vyatta had sold. Channel partners can still build and sell such systems, but Vyatta is now focused on the idea of networking as software, he said.

"I've been very, very careful to not let Vyatta become a hardware product, because we believed that the trends were going to be toward the adoption of software-based networking," Herrell said. "We didn't want a business model that was predicated on selling expensive hardware when the hardware portion of the sale, we believed, was going to go away."

With virtualization and centralization of computing workloads, more small, medium and branch offices are now running Vyatta's software on existing or new multipurpose servers, Herrell said. About 1,000 such customers have already taken this approach, he said.

Meanwhile, large enterprises and cloud service providers are a growing part of Vyatta's business, and the company has a customer base of large data centers "in the low dozens," Herrell said. "We have seen a really significant jump in large accounts and data center interest."

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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