Open-Source Routers

Many large IT operations are widely used open source technology – operating systems, applications, development tools and databases. Why not in the routers, too?

It is a question Sam Noble, senior network administrator for the judicial system of New Mexico Division of the Supreme Court of Information, thought while looking for a way to link the state courts for a new centralized system of case management.

Noble wanted an affordable and customizable ADSL router, but found that ISP-provided modems lacked the ability to remotely control the local link state, a key demand of the courts.

Alternatively, the addition of ADSL cards for 2600 series routers, Frame Relay, Cisco Systems Inc. used in some courts, as long as the key features, but the aging devices lacked the power to support the performance of firewall.

A third option, Juniper Networks Inc. ‘s SSG20 NetScreen Firewall / DSL router with a choice “, it lacked many of the features we wanted, as the command line with all the functions and interfaces unlimited tunnel,” said Noble.

Frustrated, Noble decided to investigate another possibility: open source routers. The technology is emerging, but still not a favorite among corporate IT managers.


Noble first download open source software distributed router, with the support of Belmont, California, Vyatta Inc. in a laptop and made some preliminary tests. “I was especially interested in whether the administrative interfaces were incomplete and full of functions,” he said.

Impressed by the initial results, Noble has created a prototype site in Santa Fe to study the performance of the technology, profitability and ability to work with other technologies used in court. “We had to bring a DSL connection inspection and find the best configuration of our network without impacting production,” he said.

Tests Noble convinced that open source router could provide what he wanted. He noted that the VPN concentrator, support for the Border Gateway Protocol, and URL filtering and has the packet capture security “would have been nonexistent or expensive to add Cisco or NetScreen team.”

In April 2008, Noble began to deploy Vyatta router devices to an average of two sites each month. When completed the project during the next year or so, routers – 514 in total – will connect 40-50 sites throughout the state to the case system of centralized management.

Potential Problems

Analysts and users note that IT managers to explore the use of open source routers must be aware of potential support and compatibility issues that may arise with any open source product. “Care must be taken during the deployment,” said Mark Fabbi, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “Not ready to take over the world yet, but it is and it is an interesting basis for discussion.”

Trey Johnson, a member of IT staff at the University of Florida in Gainesville, said the choice of a technology business with a limited history at the enterprise level could pose problems for managers. “That’s a tough sell to get into a business model with it,” Johnson said.

The university uses an open source router from Vyatta support. “[The] router actually has a company backing it – you can buy support for it, making it more viable,” said Johnson.

Others say that the support of the community, a hallmark of open source, you can cut two ways in an enterprise environment. Communities do not usually respond as quickly as IT managers want and not give inexperienced users one-on-one instruction.

Noble and Johnson are two of a small but growing number of IT managers avoid property routers for open source alternatives for a variety of reasons.

Noble, for example, says customization without pain is the greatest benefit of technology. “The flexibility of having a stack of free software built into our routers will allow us to make a small change – a pinch – or a sum, and be able to continue with minimal impact on long-range plans.”

Barry Hassler, president of Hassler Communication Systems Technology Inc., a provider of Internet and network designer in Beavercreek, Ohio, said he uses iproute, one based on Linux open source routing technology Linux distributed by the Foundation for provide users with your company’s large enterprise level Internet access at an affordable price. “I am using the PC hardware, Linux, with integrated routing functionality,” he says. “What we’re doing with these boxes is routing between multiple interfaces, which is pretty standard routing, but beyond that, we are also able to make the management of bandwidth.”

Hassler believes that a comparable Cisco router would cost more than twice the iproute router based on Linux you chose. “This helps keep [costs] generally low,” he says.

CMIT Solutions IT consulting firm in Central Rhode Island has installed the open source firmware DD-WRT on both Linksys wireless routers for additional functions, said Adam Tucker, a network engineer in the company. “We wanted a robust wireless system that allows us to manage the quality of service to prioritize voice over IP [and] things like that, and add some of the most advanced filtering and firmware things [old] just do not support,” says.

Tucker said the routers have worked without problems for over a year.

Fabbi said he sees significant potential for open source routers, especially in food services and retail industries, where companies large and often must link thousands of sites without breaking the budget. “You think of a McDonald’s or Burger King [where] there are tens of thousands of local franchise type, but still want online,” he said.

In other industries, open source technology is well suited for application server-based routing, including virtualization, Fabbi said. He noted that the router virtualized applications are limited only by the imagination of developers. “Sometimes it’s something as simple as a distributed print server, sometimes it is caching video distribution.”