Cisco and Vyatta: Competitive or Compatible?


Earlier this week, Vyatta raised another $12 million for its virtual network security technology.

In an interview with Vyatta executives on Monday I asked about their competitors. Vyatta CEO Kelly Herrell said they are far ahead of the market and comparison is difficult. He said the incumbent players, like Cisco do not sell open-source networking software to integrate into a virtual environment. That would be counter to its business model. Cisco makes its money selling hardware. More so, Herrell said Cisco and Vyatta are complementary services.

Here’s what he said in an interview last month on TechTarget:

What we find is that in these new architectures, Vyatta’s not replacing the incumbent gear; it’s complementary to it… Vyatta takes the next step and says you need a good portion of functionality inside of the server itself. We play nice in the sandbox with the incumbents.

That is true to some extent. Fo example, Calin Chiorean provides a detailed explanation for integrating Vyatta with Cisco GNS3.  He writes:

Why I would be interested in Vyatta when I can have Cisco devices and can emulate Cisco IOS with GNS3? I don’t have an evolved response to this question, but mainly because I was bored and wanted to try something new, but still related to Cisco. I arrived to the conclusion that I should test how Cisco can interact with 3rd party devices. I choose Vyatta as 3rd party device, because it is a turn key network solution. Of course, you can take all the included software in Vyatta and build your own box based on whatever Linux distribution you want, but why to do this if you have a free solution which already works?

See his post for the full details.

That’s one take and fits with what Herell says. But the reality? Vyatta has been targeting Cisco in its marketing for at least the past three years.

Here’s an excerpt from a white paper titled: “Why Vyatta is Better than Cisco”

Cisco’s reliance on special purpose hardware has created a situation where their business value is tied to that hardware. Most of their profit margins come from being in the hardware business, an unfortunate scenario that has left them unprepared for the day when commodity standard hardware would compete with and outperform their own specialized custom-built solutions. With Vyatta, that day has come.

Beyond the rhetoric, there is no doubt that the Vyatta approach is ideal for cloud service providers and enterprise customers embracing virtualization. Vyatta’s Vice President of Marketing told Network World last spring that its cloud and virtualization business has increased from 10% to 40% of the company’s sales.

For its part, Cisco says its ASA family of products are the most deployed security products in the industry with more than one million appliances installed. Its Virtual ASA runs the ASA feature set, which includes capabilities such as VPN, NAT, and firewall capabilities. It runs “on top of the Nexus 1000V virtual switch, fully leveraging the VM and traffic visibility provided by the Cisco virtual fabric, as well as optimal traffic steering to the security node from the VM and virtual switch.”

I respect Cisco’s run in the market. But is its legacy hardware a match for what can be done with software? Cisco’s approach often seems tied too deep to traditional enterprise infrastructure ideals. Its proprietary approach puts it in a camp with technology companies that are more focused on retaining market share than innovating.

That said, Cisco is showing all the signs of innovating for an open-cloud infrastructure. It is heavily involved in OpenStack, making a substantial investment in developing an infrastructure for anyone to build a cloud environment.

And that is a good fit with Internet culture.