Vyatta, an open-source router company, has released the first beta version of its WAN router code. The company is looking to challenge the likes of Cisco and Juniper.

Vyatta's software is based on code developed by the eXtensible Open Route Platform (XORP), begun in 2002 as an open-source router software project. Vyatta's code combines a modified Linux operating system with XORP and runs on standard x86 PC hardware. The vendor says it is targeting small business and mid-size enterprise branch office networks with a product that can cost 50 percent to 90 percent less than alternative mid-range commercial WAN routers.

"XORP requires someone to download the code, compile it on a Linux machine, and then integrate a lot of different parts," said Dave Roberts, vice president of strategy and marketing for the company. "Vyatta is talking on that job, by pulling things together into a more user-friendly distribution."

The vendor also adds features not included in the base XORP code, such as Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP), SNMP, and other network protocols.

Users can build a Vyatta router by downloading a CD image from the company's website and installing it on PC hardware. The company works with partners such as Sangoma, which makes WAN interface cards for x86 PC systems, and plans to announce more hardware partners soon. Roberts said that although built on consumer PC technology, Vyatta platforms will be robust enough for business networks.

"For branch office to enterprise mid-range routing, a standard x86 PC will do a lot of what you want and more," he says.

Roberts said Vyatta's advantages over commercial router products included cost, flexibility and security. Using off-the-shelf Intel-compatible components allows users to deploy less-expensive hardware, while the software is free. Having access to source code and the ability to run different modules and processes on the Vyatta router is another advantage.

"It's great to be able to run Ethereal [a widely used free protocol analyser] directly on your network router," Roberts says. "That's not something that's possible today with Cisco or Juniper products."

The flexibility of open source is also an advantage in keeping the Vyatta software bug-free and less vulnerable to attack.

"It's not necessarily that the open source software never has security incidents," Roberts says. "It's that there are far more people to deal with incidents. In the proprietary world, you're hoping really that the code never gets out into hackers' hands. It's really security by obscurity."

Roberts says the shortcoming with that philosophy was exposed last summer, in an incident where Cisco took legal action to stop a security researcher who had planned to discuss his vulnerably findings at a security conference. "In an open-source environment, that would not have happened."

Roberts says Vyatta's approach to open-source routing will mirror the business models of Red Hat in Linux: the vendor plans to offer fee-based services and support for Vyatta router users, while the software will be freely available. A pricing model has not been developed yet, however. While the software is not yet ready for production deployment, Roberts expects version 1.0 to be ready in about six months.