Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"I'm not dead yet!"

Last month, we saw Juniper and Cisco battling to announce that they were going to open up their networking systems. In a desperate bid to remain relevant, 3Com just recently announced that they are shipping the first two major applications for their OSN routers, a 3Com-branded Asterisk-based PBX and a WAN optimization solution from Expand Networks. My hunch is that this was 3Com's equivalent of yelling, "I'm not dead yet!"

To give 3Com credit, it did (pre-)announce its OSN initiative in early 2007, far ahead of either Juniper or Cisco, but far behind Vyatta. Also to be fair, 3Com's OSN really isn't all that interesting. The OSN Flexible Interface Card (FIC) takes the tired route of simply attaching a PC to your router backplane and charging you lots of money for it. In the case of 3Com's OSN, the company wants more than $3000 for a 512 MB RAM, 80 GB HDD system. 3Com's datasheet doesn't tell you the processor speed or type, but rumors are that it's a low-speed Celeron processor. That's a lot to be charging for that.

By the way, that's all before you buy the chassis, any router modules, etc. To compare apples to apples, this would be like buying Vyatta, then buying another $3000 system on which to run these other applications. But yes, you do get the comfort of having it all wrapped in sheet metal and connected with a backplane.

Personally, I'd rather integrate at the software level, not the hardware level. With Vyatta, you can run any open source application on your system. At last count the Debian system had more than 10,000 different packages. Now, in truth, you might have no desire to run MySQL or Emacs on your router, but the fact is that you could do so. And things like Snort, Asterisk (pick your distribution, not just 3Com's), or SpamAssassin are interesting.

So, while OSN uses Linux, it really doesn't give you an open source solution. In most ways, it's the same closed-community country-club offered by Juniper's PSDP. Joining the program and getting the API still requires you to sign paperwork with 3Com.

When will the proprietary boys learn, you simply can't equal the innovation and creativity of a true open-source community. Rather than simply repeating the words "open source" at every opportunity, let's see the code! It is gratifying to see everybody repeating the Vyatta message, though. If you thought that open source networking wasn't going to amount to much, all these Juniper, Cisco, and now 3Com announcements ought to set you thinking. This is such a powerful concept that all the big boys are scared to be left out of the action.

Well, not only is Vyatta not dead yet, we haven't even begun to live. Watch out world, here we come!

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