Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dumb and Dumber

When you're a big networking company and all your competitors are talking about open networking platforms, you have to do something... fast. Unfortunately, charging oodles of money for a low-performance x86 blade that you can stuff into your router seems to be the typical response. Hang with me for a moment and I'll explain.

Our story starts way back in January 2007 when 3Com announced its Open Services Networking initiative. At the time, 3Com said that it was "opening up" its routers by allowing you to run Linux on an x86-based blade that plugged into its systems. Since that time, 3Com has announced a few partners and applications that have been developed. Back in early 2007, most people yawned. Frankly, this was a pretty obvious innovation in the industry and hey, it was from 3Com, so who cares?

Next, Juniper got into the act when it announced the piss-dip (PSDP) on the first day of Cisco's yearly analyst conference in December 2007? The piss-dip, as you'll recall, is a program to allow a group of country-club ISVs to implement interesting functionality on top of Juniper's products using some nifty APIs. In return for a development fee and some legal paperwork, Juniper sends you a software development kit (SDK) and you're good to go. Notably, Juniper did not announced an overpriced x86-blade for its routers as part of the program. That may be because Juniper already sells overpriced x86-blades (they're called "Routing Engines" to make you feel more comfortable paying that much).

Now, Cisco couldn't take all that laying down. They had to respond. And fast. When asked at the analyst conference, they waved their hands and said, "...someday..." But this was embarrassing. Here we have nearly-dead 3Com and now arch-rival Juniper going where Cisco has never gone, and flaunting it in front of Cisco's not-nearly-skeptical-enough analyst corps. That's not good.

So, enter the Application eXtension Platform (AXP). Basically, Cisco aped 3Com's approach: with the AXP, you can pay wads of money for a low-performance x86-blade that plugs into your Integrated Services Router (ISR).

Let's look at the numbers. 3Com was trying to sell us a 1.4 GHz Pentium M, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB HDD system for over $3000 street price. Now we have Cisco trying to sell us a 1.4 GHz Pentium, 2 GB RAM, 160 GB HDD for over $6000 street (NME-522). Okay, so they did double the RAM and hard disk size. But in today's world, that's worth a grand total of about $79 (per, 80 GB ($50) vs. 160 GB ($62) Seagate Barracuda SATA HDD, 1 GB ($77) vs. 2 GB ($144) Crucial PC3200 DRAM). Even at the low end of the three modules that Cisco announced, they're trying to charge $1700 for a 300 MHz Celeron (AIM-102)! Yup, you read that right, MHz, not GHz. Frankly, I didn't realize that you could still buy something that slow from Intel. I think that processor was completely obsolete nearly 10 years ago.

Now, realize that neither of these x86 blades is expandable in any way. If you don't like the performance or RAM or HDD size, you have no options. You can't upgrade them, short of buying a whole new module in Cisco's case. If you already bought the fastest one (NME-522), you're screwed. No expansion slots. No multi-core. No options. Bluntly, you're trapped in Cisco World™ and 3Com World™.

Does anybody else feel like we're watching the movie Dumb and Dumber here?

Of course, for both 3Com and Cisco, you also have to buy the router to plug these underpowered, overpriced x86 blades into. Presumably, you have already made that decision, so the $4000 to $15,000 of sunk cost shouldn't bother you.

At this point, I have to hand it to Juniper: the piss-dip looks pretty good when compared to these options. Juniper at least lets you run piss-dip applications on the Routing Engine you already paid for instead of charging you oodles more for another blade.

The point of this rant is simply that this is what you get from proprietary networking companies. Even when they serve up completely open technologies like Linux running on x86, it's going to be terribly expensive with lock in not far behind.

In contrast, Vyatta runs on standard x86 systems. You can buy those systems with Vyatta software preloaded, directly from Vyatta, or you can buy the hardware from your favorite hardware vendor and your software subscription from us. If you want a hybrid of the two approaches, that's fine with us, too. While Vyatta does mark up the hardware we sell, we try to keep that markup small and appropriate.

Importantly, with Vyatta, you aren't stuck with no options if you want to make a change to the system. Need to run faster? There are oodles of vendors with blazing multi-core systems available today. Want more memory? Fine, you can purchase it from just about anybody. Need a bigger hard drive? No problem. Want to add different applications to your system? It's pretty easy since Vyatta is Debian-compatible. Want to extend or hack the system? The source code is on the Internet and you can download it for free, without any legal paperwork.

The other guys will go on and on about their proprietary hardware. "You just can't do networking on standard x86 systems," they'll say. "You need our sooper-dooper ASICs to run fast, and well, you know how much those cost..."

But the fact is, it simply isn't true. With Vyatta and an IBM x3550 quad-core server, available for about $4000 or so, you can whip a $35,000 Cisco 7204/G2. With Vyatta and a $1000 Dell PowerEdge 860, you can demolish a Cisco 2821 ISR. Check out Vyatta's 3rd party testing if you don't believe me.

Once you're done doing that, you can use all those MIPS to run whatever applications you want, including many of the sorts of things that Cisco and 3Com would charge you for (remember that the x86 blades are just the hardware--you still have to buy applications from other vendors).

At the end of the day, the key point here is that the other guys charge you a lot of money to open up a closed system. And when you pay that money, you still find yourself stuck in an alternative reality called Cisco World™, Juniper World™ or 3Com World™.

Is that "open?" Not in the Real World™

Update: Okay, a commenter pointed out that I pulled the wrong prices for the Cisco AXP modules. I had incorrectly used the WAAS version of the NME-522. Apologies for that. It's the same hardware, but a different software load, and therefore a different price. Looks like list on the AXP version of the NME-522 is about $3500. More than 3Com, but reasonable given the doubling of memory and disk capacity. That said, I still stick with my main point that this is an expensive, underpowered PC with no flexibility, and that's after you purchase the router to plug it into. Rather than titling this post "Dumb and Dumber," maybe I'll have to change it to "Dumb and Dumb."


Blogger peterb said...

I'd just like to observe that it's completely awesome that in this post about "enterprise-class" networking, the word "reliability" doesn't appear even once.

Sat Apr 12, 11:57:00 AM 2008  
Blogger kajtzu said...


While this was a nice and entertaining rant to read, I think the prices you refer to is for WAAS NME:s, not AXP.

GPL lists AXP as:

AIM-APPRE-102-K9 Application Runtime Engine AIM S $1,795
NME-APPRE-302-K9 Application Runtime Engine - (512MB RAM 80GB HDD) S $2,000
NME-APPRE-522-K9 Application Runtime Engine - 3800 ONLY (2GB RAM 160GB HDD) S $3,500

While WAAS as:

NME-WAE-502-K9 WAAS Network Module For 2800, 3800 ISR - 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD C $6,500
NME-WAE-522-K9 WAAS Network Module (For 3800 ISR ONLY) 2GB RAM, 160GB HDD C $9,000

Also, - - has the AXPs list price as $1,795, $3000, $5000 respectively.

I'm probably preaching to the choir but you probably know that nobody pays list prices.

Sat Apr 12, 04:02:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous huittinen massive said...

I can apt-get quagga for free, however,I seem to be unable to apt-get even the slowest PC. If we want to do sensational journalism, we could use same argumentations to tell that 3com, csco and jnpr has very high markup, but vyatta has infinitely large (assuming you're stealing your internet connection and not paying for the bytes you apt-get).

I'm all for open source, but lets face it xorp and quagga bdg, yvetta would do well to back up it's proclaimed love for open source by starting new BSD license open source routing suite that matches the quality of jnpr's or csco's routing suite (we all know that junos and ios are way more than just routing suite, but that would be good start). Or alternatively stop claiming they're not the same as every other vendor, trying to screw you from your money with as little work as possible.

Mon Apr 14, 12:17:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article! There is nothing that these modules can do that can't be done with a standalone Linux system.

Mon Apr 14, 06:30:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Dave Roberts said...


You're right, I pulled the prices on the wrong modules. Apologies for that. I'll post a correction.

-- Dave

Mon Apr 14, 10:04:00 AM 2008  
Blogger kajtzu said...


Thanks for the correction ;-)

Mon Apr 14, 10:39:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dumb, dumber. but dumbest?

the VP of marketing of a company that exists solely because an open platform existed that was prime for packaging and marking up with value-add railing on another, larger company taking an open platform, adding it to their existing line of products, and marking it up with value-add.

i don't dispute the former model works and has its place. it works for fonality/trixbox just as much as vyatta. would you compare fonality to real SS7 hardware? no. can you run mpg123 or quake on a fonality branded linux box and not real SS7 hardware? yes. does that mean fonality's solution is "better"? depends on what you want to do: marvel as you play quake while terminating phone calls on the same machine. fonality makes a great product. don't dispute it. if Lucent came up with a comparable daughterboard there might be a place for it as well.

what it really boils down to is the difference between running a router and a server or one integrated device that is more costly than the sum of its parts.

sure they're selling you a marked up PC leveraging work others have done. isn't that exactly what vyatta, fonality, etc. essentially are doing though? yes, those companies contribute back. juniper has to FreeBSD and others too.

in all cases (big v. small), people are weighing risk v. reward, paying for the quality and ease of tech support, available consultants, company stability.

so lets view this post for what it is... a comparison of the Big Guys hardware v. OSS+X86 rebranded hardware.

a cisco 7301 (essentially a fixed port NPE-G1 with one port/service adaptor), the X86 based juniper j-series J2350, J4350, J6350 (expandable with their [E]PIM interface), and comparable products from comparable companies are all in that $4k-$10k range you mention.

those devices can push some serious bits too. they can also terminate some circuits that the vyatta approved hardware catalog doesn't even come close to.

for people who know they can just add a right-priced machine right next to their router, they will and won't even think about buying an overpriced underpowered CPU just because it fits into an open slot on their router.

for people who might be colo space limited, ${vendor}-only shops by contract to client, have four hour hardware replacement needs, and/or who have an application that would do well running directly in the router in some edge case.. now a solution exists.

once one company does it, it's good business for the others to be ready to move quickly (as quick as companies the size of 3com, cisco, and juniper can). an underpowered cpu can be offset by a backplane connection, but that's a whole different discussion.

if your router is already OSS based (quagga, xorp, vyatta) and you are happy with the performance, you know the options available and aren't going to buy a cisco router just so you can slap an overpriced X86 into it.

not all good ideas make it. not all bad ideas are stopped. what's good for me, may be bad for you, etc..

what audience was this article targeted to? seems more like an advertisement or whitepaper well disguised as a technical rant.

[ i work for none of the companies or industries mentioned here. i just operate networks & systems professionally. ]

Mon Apr 14, 04:44:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Hellgod said...

i think this comes down also to support, and failrate, and how easy the waas integrate. by the way i have a new sealed waas 522 for sale :) for $1300, so no one pay's list price.

Mon Sep 15, 01:38:00 AM 2008  

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