Vyatta – Cisco on a shoestring?

We use Linux extensively at bit10, for DNS, front line mail handling, proxying, web hosting, development platforms, you name it we probably do it in Linux or have at least had a good go…

Probably the most important job it does for us though is for our firewalling, core network routing and traffic management for both bit10s internal systems and for the ISP hosting side of the business.

Our implementation is a highly bespoke customisation of Debian using things like iptables, IMQ, vconfig, etc. all good stuff and happily handles the routing and traffic management for our entire colocation and ISP services, however we would be the first to admit it isn’t the easiest to maintain and look after. The options in the commercial club (Cisco/Juniper) are simply way to expensive and don’t offer the flexibility we require.

A couple of months a go a client came to me needing some fairly significant network reorganisation. They had multiple offices around the world, at each site they had a very unsegmented ‘flat’ network, between the offices they had a mixture of MPLS and VPN tunnel solutions, and a number of single points of failure.

What we needed to do was to segment up each site into sensible subnets and bring additional resilience to the firewalls and routers.

Our initial reaction was to simply do another custom Linux configuration similiar to our own setup, however we were concerned about the time to get this right and the implications of future maintenance, so we look off the shelf and very quickly discovered Vyatta.

Vyatta for the uninitiated of you punts itself as ‘ The dawn of open-source networking’, personally I think this is a bit of pessimistic afterall we have been doing routing and firewalling with Linux as long as I can remember, its more of a ‘The late afternoon after a good siesta of open-source networking’.

However here at bit10 ‘Loving Doing Digital’ headquarters we can’t really criticise people on their taglines… 🙂

So why is Vyatta different?

The answer is simply its relatively easy to get to up and running, has a pretty web interface for those who have command line fear, and above all fantastic support.

Vyatta comes in two flavours, the fully open-source free ‘community edition’ and the ‘supported edition’. The community edition will suit you down to the ground if you have relatively simple requirements, basic routing/firewalling/etc., however if you have pushing the envelope you are going to the need the supported edition, which comes in two flavours ‘$647/£325’ for web only support, and ‘$897/£450’ for full telephone support, both supported flavours include free updates with the lastest fixes.

The telephone support is superb.

Vyatta does have limitations, especially if you are used to getting under the hood and having the full flexibility of Linux based routing, however the payback is a solution thats far simpler to manage.

Things we didn’t like:

  1. We couldn’t configure the built in firewall to transparently push traffic to a Squid proxy server. We got around this by going under the hood and having a custom rc.local file that tag and forwarded the traffic (I will post our script on followup blog).
  2. VRRP over VIFs. Vyatta supports VRRP (Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol) and VLANs out of the box, however you can only run VRRP on real ethernet inferfaces, which is troublesome if you are doing a ‘router on a stick’ solution. We have spoken to Vyatta about this and they have pencilled the functionality in for an upcoming build – good stuff!
  3. The CLI, in a nutshell the CLI isn’t like IOS, its good and fulfill its job, its just that mental switch you have to make from IOS mode to something different.

Things we really liked:

  1. VRRP (Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol) out of the box… VRRP was so simple to set up (on real ethernet interfaces), the village idiots really stupid cousin could have done it.
  2. The separation of configuration from installation. Take a clean server, insert Vyatta CD, one line to install it to the local hard drive, copy your configuration onto it. Job done.
  3. Support. The Vyatta team are passionate about their product, both on the telephone and on the web, and they know its limitations and will tell you so, so you don’t waste any time trying to make it do something it won’t.

Top Tips:

  1. Unless you are doing something dead basic, go for the supported package, this ensures you get the latest version, you get the support and frankly you support Vyatta.
  2. Don’t mess around trying to deploy it on that 5 yr old bodge of a server you have sat in the corner gathering dust, your firewall/routers will be business critical, so splash out on some decent hardware, we deployed on Dell 860s (<£1,000 each), which is all supported hardware and had no hardware related issues.
  3. Think about what you are trying to achieve, plan it first.
  4. Make sure you actually know a little about networking, while making life as simple as possible for the user, its not dumbed down to the level of a £50 ADSL router from PCWorld. If you don’t know the basics about routing, firewalling, etc. get someone to help you.

Performance:

I haven’t done any formal performance testing on Vyatta, however we have deployed it in bandwidth heavy environments, with upwards of 200 of LAN users across 10 network segments, and a single processor Dell 860 is running well under 10% load…
So is Vyatta Cisco on Shoestring… in my opinion if Vyatta can do the job you want, its definitely preferable to the Cisco option, probably the strongest reason beyond just price, is that Vyatta abstracts the software from the hardware, i.e. within reason you can redeploy a Vyatta configuration on any server with enough interfaces.

All in all well worth looking at.

Author: Ben King

My name is Ben King, I am a director of an Internet solutions company called bit10 ltd. My ultimate responsibility is to bring in the work that bit10 delivers. However I also do a myriad of other things, for example system design, and administration. Outside work I go out, I drink, I socialise, I cook, I have fun, oh and I play a little bit too much World of Warcraft!

2 thoughts on “Vyatta – Cisco on a shoestring?”

  1. Thanks for the great write-up and nice comments about our products and support (we think our support folks are great too!). Please continue to give us feedback as we’re constantly looking to improve on the product. Thanks!

  2. No problem Allan, its a pleasure working with you guys…

    Get my VRRP on VIFs sorted and I will be well happy little networking bunny!

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