Alcatel-Lucent is virtualizing a router, as other vendors have done, but it’s taking a different approach. Rather than just move the router into software form on an x86 chip, AlcaLu is virtualizing the services that the router would be enlisted to perform.
The resulting Virtualized Service Router (VSR), then, is really an applications suite that AlcaLu is pitching as an example of network functions virtualization (NFV). It’s being announced today at the company’s annual Technology Symposium, being held this year in old Lucent territory, in Basking Ridge, N.J.
The strategy makes sense when you consider the heritage of the 7750 Service Router. Startup TiMetra, ultimately acquired by Alcatel-Lucent, stressed the “service” part of the product’s name, as running many services on a router was an unusual idea back around 2003. At the time, services were too much of a performance hit.
So it’s fitting that AlcaLu would put effort into virtualize routing for particular applications. “This is the hard part: full-on services,” says Manish Gulyani, an AlcaLu vice president of product management.
The down side for AlcaLu, and all other router vendors, is that a virtual router has to be cheaper than a hardware router. The margins might actually be better with software, but top-line sales are going to take a hit.
AlcaLu considers this inevitable, so it’s diving right in. “Let’s bit the bullet and be leading the charge,” Gulyani says. Eighty percent of our R&D is in software, so let’s monetize it.”
The varieties of VSR that AlcaLu is offering include:
- VSR-RR: a route reflector, available now.
- VSR-SIM: a router simulator, available now.
- VSR-PE: a Carrier Ethernet router for the provider edge, available for trials now and shipping in the first half of 2015.
- VSR-AA: virtualized application assurance (deep packet inspection, in other words), available for trials now and shipping in the first half of 2015.
- VSR-SEGW: an IP security gateway, available in the first half of 2015.
- VSR-WLGW: a virtualized wireless LAN gateway, to be demonstrated in the second half of 2015.
- VSR-BNG: A broadband network gateway, to be demonstrated in the second half of 2015.
Of course, the VSR runs on the same management system as the 7750.
These virtualized functions are all targeted at the edge of a service provider’s IP network. The aggregation network and the core are still the purview of ASIC-based routers, AlcaLu says, echoing the sentiments of Cisco and Juniper.
Running the Numbers
To produce the VSR, AlcaLu worked with Intel to codify the 7750’s routing ASICs into a form that x86 processors could run. It involved running tables in parallel, with multiple parallel threads in each one, Gulyani says. The control plane in the 7750 consists of two cards; in the VSR, it takes up two virtual machines, one of which can serve as a backup for hitless failover.
As is customary in the router camp, AlcaLu offering up a speed metric, claiming it’s gotten the virtual router to run at 160 Gb/s. The number matches what Juniper claimed for the vMX virtual router it launched a week ago, and both companies seem to best the 80 Gb/s that Brocade reported for its Vyatta 5600 vRouter — but be aware that there are a lot of ways to fudge router math, and all of these cases represent maxed-out speeds that probably aren’t useful in everyday situations.
For what it’s worth, AlcaLu says the 160 Gb/s was achieved without double-counting — that is, without simultaneously counting the traffic going into and out of the router. So the company is claiming that a full 160 Gb/s can be pushed through the router, in one direction, all at once. AlcaLu also says the 160 Gb/s was achieved on one server with two x86 sockets.
“We’re talking about a provider edge application — not just base routing. We’re talking about running that performance with services turned on,” Gulyani says. But he adds that even for a virtual router, speed depends on which services are turned on; in real-world usage, it’s more realistic to expect less than 100 Gb/s per server, he says.