Router Project Aims for Open Networks

Open Linux Router wants to go beyond Open Standards for protocols to Open Source for the entire device.

A new Open Source Software (OSS) project launched recently called the Open Linux Router with a goal of replacing costly network routers with a solution based on x86 hardware. The group believes they can develop a solution that will allow users granular feature selection at an extremely low cost — a contrast to existing vendor offerings that tend to be all or nothing affairs.

When projects like this pop up it’s difficult at first blush to tell if they will get much traction. This is especially true for something as critical as a replacement for network routers. The biggest challenge for a project like this is convincing Cisco and HP customers — Cisco and HP being the global #1 and #2 networking vendors — that there’s something to gain by switching to a newly-hatched network appliance from four college students.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that a case study for replacing critical network infrastructure with an Open Source solution exists: Asterisk PBX.

When Mark Spencer conceived of Asterisk, Voice over IP wasn’t widely adopted and the thought of replacing a phone system with something you could download off the Internet was absurd. 99% of businesses consider their phone system a critical link in their operation and not something you mess around with. Fast forward several years and not only has Digium and Asterisk been successful in the marketplace but it has injected a level of openness never before seen in telecom — a ruthless, closed industry if ever there was one.

It might be a little premature to talk about the Open Linux Router given that the site just launched and no stable release is yet available but so far they’re on the right track. To quote Spencer, “Start with a project, a project you believe strongly in. And if it’s a great idea it won’t be a project for long — it will be a business regardless of the obstacles.”

One business based on Open Source routing on industry standard hardware already does exist. Vyatta’s OFR network appliance is an open solution running on a Dell PowerEdge 850. Vyatta’s solution uses the Extensible Open Router Platform (XORP), which the Open Linux Router project believes can be improved upon by removing some of it’s complexity.

Vyatta’s routing solutions have received quite a bit of praise in the networking industry so it will be interesting to see what the OLR comes up with. But regardless, Open Source is starting to creep into core networking and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the major vendors in this space try to capitalize on some of the work being done later in the year.

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