Friday, November 30, 2007

Virtualization + Open Source = A Revolution in Networking

Rob said it, not me. Well, actually, I was discussing virtualization and networking with Rob before he said it, so I'm sure that helped clarify his thinking. His conclusion is spot-on.

During the discussion, Rob made a really good point that his blog post didn't state: In today's world, every IT purchase must be understood in light of virtualization. It's simply that big of a fundamental technology. When he first said that to me, I had to take a step back. Is that really true? I wondered. Yup, that is true. Wow. We have come a long way from a few years ago when nobody even knew what virtualization was.

Fortunately, it's fairly easy to see where Vyatta stands on virtualization, at least the current thinking. This is sure to shift in the future as our community drives forward with bigger and better virtualized ideas.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

x86 continues to dominate HPC

This morning, I saw that a new edition of the Top 500 Supercomputers list was released. This blog entry contains the highlights. Of note to me was the number of system that were using x86:

A total of 354 systems (70.8 percent) now use Intel processors. This is up from six months ago (289 systems, 57.8 percent) and represents the largest share for Intel chips in the TOP500 ever. The AMD Opteron family, which passed the IBM Power processors a year ago, remained the second most common processor family with 78 systems (15.6 percent), down from 105 systems (21 percent) six months ago. 61 systems (12.2 percent) use IBM Power processors, down from 85 systems (17 percent) six months ago.

If you total the Intel and AMD contributions, you'll find that x86 represented more than 86% of the Top 500 supercomputers. If there is any doubt that "commodity" hardware is conquering the world, this should set you back a bit. It's true that the #1 and #2 systems on the list are non-x86 systems (PowerPC-based IBM BlueGene, to be exact), but it's clear that systems based on mainstream processors are the norm for those optimizing the cost/performance tradeoff.

I think the situation in high-performance computing (HPC) is indicative of things to come in networking. The #1 position on the Top 500 list is a very purpose-built system using unusual hardware for the utmost in performance. As you go down the list, most of the systems become standard x86 boxes ganged together using Gigabit Ethernet or Infiniband.

In the networking world, we have a couple of different types of systems. We obviously have very high speed L2/L3 switching fabrics. These systems are "fast but dumb," and are all based on ASICs. They will continue to be based on ASICs, but the ASICs will continue to become more commodity, increasingly coming from the likes of Broadcom and Marvell. The other type of system is something I'll call "complex processing," for lack of a better term. These are systems that are "smarter, but slower." They perform deep packet inspection and generally handle higher-level application processing. While these systems may use dedicated ASIC functionality to accelerate specific subfunctions (e.g. crypto hardware), they will increasingly be dominated by x86 processors for the high-level processing.

Of course, Vyatta is developing the software to run those systems and we believe that software will increasingly be open source.

Monday, November 05, 2007

One more reason why Vyatta makes sense

Back in May, Brad Reese blogged about the The insanity of Cisco software relicensing on Network World's Cisco Subnet Blog. In it, he describes the pinch Cisco is putting on people who buy used Cisco gear.

Now, you'd think that buying used gear would be a reasonable thing to do if you're looking to save money on equipment. In fact, businesses buy used gear all the time. In the real world, I can buy a used car and I can still take it to a certified mechanic. In the real world, I can buy a used fax machine, used copy machine, or a used computer, and still buy a service contract. The act of purchasing the equipment and the service contract are two different decisions, and manufacturers generally honor a used equipment buy.

In Cisco-world, that's not true. Cisco forces everybody to "relicense" its gear when it's acquired on the used or gray markets. The relicensing charges can be as great or greater than the price of purchasing a unit directly from Cisco. Brad specifically says, "Purchasing a Cisco software relicense for a used Cisco 2621XM router costs more than purchasing a Cisco Authorized Factory Refurbished CISCO2621XM-RF unit from Cisco's inventory."

What's up with that? Well, what's up with that is that Cisco is a hardware company and they make their billions (with a B) selling hardware. No hardware sale = no 70% profit margin = no bonus for Cisco execs. In Cisco-world, the used equipment market is a bad, bad place. Consequently, Cisco is out to kill the used equipment market by making it economically unattractive to buy your gear from anybody but Cisco. Sure, they'll sell you a "Cisco Authorized Factory Refurb," but it's still going to cost you.

Several Vyatta customers have come to us after facing this insanity. They figured they could pick up some used Cisco gear fairly cheap and then call Cisco for a support contract. No deal. Before buying Cisco SmartNet, you'll have to "relicense" your gear.

Consequently, for less than the price of a Cisco "relicense" fee, Vyatta customers have been able to switch. Welcome to the real world. Welcome to Vyatta. If you have switched, you might want to write Cisco a Dear John letter.