• United States
larry chaffin
CEO and Chairman of Pluto Cloud Services

A conversation with Vyatta CEO Kelly Herrell

Jul 19, 201111 mins
Cisco SystemsCloud ComputingData Center

Herrell discusses how Vyatt'as software approach fits in with the cloud, compares to hardware switches and why the company hasn't engaged in more head-to-head product testing.

Vyatta believes that networking hardware is old school and that its Layer-3 virtual networking stack can do it all while being cheaper and greener than traditional gear. In my ongoing series with industry CEOs, I talked with Vyatta CEO Kelly Herrell for his viewpoint on where his company fits into the market today.

Where is the market when it comes to network virtualization technology and where do you still see growth?

As enterprises consolidate data centers and migrate applications to the cloud, they are finding that they are losing their ability to connect and protect those apps in the same manner they could in a physical, cabled infrastructure. This has produced an immediate requirement for a new way to deploy key network functionality like routing, firewall, VPN, and IPS within the virtualized architectures of enterprise and service provider clouds.

Vyatta delivers all of this functionality within a single network OS, which we deliver as a virtual machine. This enables Vyatta customers to deliver the same network topologies they had before virtualization – network topologies that are absolute requirements for their business. We saw the market for network virtualization emerge in 2009, ignite in 2010 and is now exploding.  It’s easily tripling or quadrupling every year now. (BACKGROUND: Vyatta readies for virtual machine explosion)

Who do you see as your biggest competitor and why?

Vyatta has always been focused on delivering a platform-independent software network operating system that covers routing, security and threat protection.  From the perspective of a software and virtual machine business model we see virtually (pun intended) no competition. Our main competitor is legacy hardware-based products.  But trying to use proprietary hardware routers in a virtualized data center or cloud is extraordinarily sub optimal – it’s an approach that is entirely inflexible and loaded with CapEx, which is the exact opposite of what virtualization and cloud architectures are supposed to offer.BACKGROUND: Vyatta pits new appliances against Cisco ISR.)

Cisco and Juniper have been slow to offer virtual machines and are both in the process of retooling basic virtual firewall products added through acquisitions.  But even then that will be a far cry from what customers need. (

Where do you see your product expanding to next and what new options will you add to the current product?

Recent surveys show up to 60% of virtual data centers rely on commercial use of more than one hypervisor. Understanding that, Vyatta plans to be ubiquitous across all hypervisors and cloud management environments. VMware use cases are there naturally, and Vyatta has extraordinary levels of interest from the Xen and KVM communities. Creating optimized virtual machines for these hypervisors, as well as cloud provider container images, is where we’ll continue. BACKGROUND: The network is built in)

We are also continually partnering to engage with other top tier vendors solving unique problems in the cloud and virtual data center worlds. We’ve recently joined the Open Virtualization Alliance where of the 70 member organizations Vyatta is No. 4 in terms of Web interest behind only IBM, HP and Red Hat. Citrix is an investor in Vyatta and a strong go-to-market partner. At the cloud management layer, Vyatta is already integrated into and Yunteq, and we have several other partner integrations in the works. (

I know many readers would like to hear where your products compete with other vendors. So if you could, by product, please tell us which vendor product it competes against and why you think yours are a better value.

Vyatta is the next-gen alternative to proprietary router/VPN/firewall devices that range in price from $1,000 – $100,000.  In the old world those products might include the Cisco ISR and ASA line of devices. What makes Vyatta the next-gen alternative is our platform-neutral nature – we deliver the same functionality as software running on any x86 server and all virtualization platforms. Because it runs on existing virtualized servers, a customer’s CapEx is slashed 90% by shifting to Vyatta.  Because it’s a virtual machine it can be provisioned, scaled, moved or de-provisioned with the click of a button. This flexibility matches the “On Demand” nature of cloud data centers.  In fact, software-based networking is the only way that “On Demand” can be delivered without massive over-provisioning of infrastructure.

Vyatta models. Source: Vyatta. Click to enlarge image.

Do you see consolidation in the market place or more companies starting up in this space?

I see both dynamics. The market is growing so fast it will naturally attract new competitors.  And as I write this, Citrix announced its acquisition of which is evidence of “stack consolidation” happening around us. So in the face of these dynamics, the extraordinary thing about Vyatta at this particular time in history is that we have a global software footprint delivered by years of our free download strategy and massive user community.  Vyatta is in test & dev in data centers around the world.

Let’s talk about the cloud, what is Vyatta doing in the cloud now?

Vyatta is now powering large cloud networks around the world.  If a cloud is delivering enterprise-class functionality with an on-demand model, they’re likely using Vyatta to handle a large part of the necessary networking functionality.  Enterprises must necessarily employ the same networking benefits they had before, but within a cloud IT architecture. Vyatta is the easiest and most flexible way to achieve that.

How are you helping large cloud providers manage their service by using your product?

Vyatta talks about “On Demand Networking.” One of our large customers, Carpathia Hosting, offers cloud services under an “On Demand” brand.  By including Vyatta virtual machines in their customer deployment processes, our cloud customers get the benefit of deploying their network services as effortlessly as they deploy their virtualized servers and storage.  As far as they are concerned the network is an application that can be provisioned and billed the same as any other they are providing. Being able to present their customers a completely isolated and secure cloud environment that meets compliance standards like PCI and HIPAA provides them with a more complete product offering and a larger addressable customer base.

Let’s talk green. Many companies talk about it but they really don’t do it. Can you tell us what Vyatta is doing to be environmentally friendly and how customer can save money in this way?

Green benefits naturally accrue to well-designed virtualized and cloud infrastructures. Vyatta is a part of that. For every Vyatta VM deployed, the customer eliminates the majority of space, power and heat produced by a physical networking device.  A 2U traditional router has its own power draw and heat production, whereas a Vyatta VM can take as little as 1/5th of an x86 1U – that’s a massive reduction in space and power. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands of units in a data center and the green benefits are very significant.

Right now we are at 10gbps, moving to 40gbps and beyond. Where do you see Vyatta moving to and how fast?

Two clarifications:  First, it’s critical to separate Layer 2 switching from Layer 3+ routing and security.  The speeds you mention are the latest speed limits on switching; production environments for enterprise routing and security are still largely in the 1-10Gbps arena. Second, the speed requirements of a network VM are paced by the throughput requirements between application VMs, which are relatively modest.  It’s one thing to ask how fast packets travel across the data center floor; it’s a completely different thing to ask how fast they need to go into and out of a specific VM.

That said, Vyatta today has production customers running 10GbE networks on single-socket x86 servers. Very soon those same servers will deliver staggering throughput and port density. Intel is serious about owning a large percentage of the new network workload.  Vyatta has improved 100X in throughput in the last four years via Intel, and the pace of advancement isn’t slowing anytime soon.

What is the one question when meeting with potential customers that you get the most and why?

It’s changed over the past year. Before virtualization the question was, “Can low-cost x86 servers really handle packet processing?”  But after interest in virtualized networking took off, that hardware question has totally disappeared.  Now our most common question is, “What are the best practices among Vyatta customers?”

Many vendors I talk to bring up customer purchasing terms, many have moved from 15-30 days to 60-90 days. Do you think this is getting out of hand or is the power in the customer hands?

Vyatta is a software company, so our customer engagement model is very, very different from the legacy hardware days.  For example, we offer our cloud providers a Service Provider Licensing Agreement that allows them to pay based on usage, so their networking costs are in line with their customer usage.

Do you see Vyatta doubling in sales within five years?

We’re more than doubling sales this year alone; it’s accelerating past that.  We’re dealing with a multi-billion-dollar market going through a phenomenal technology disruption.

What is the biggest misconception about Vyatta that people believe or hear?

The one we get the most is that people believe we’re already a huge company. This comes from the amazing Vyatta community – a quarter of a million registered members around the world and growing rapidly. So many people are talking about Vyatta, becoming certified on Vyatta, using Vyatta in their test/dev environments, and rolling Vyatta out in production networks…  it’s unreal.  User groups are forming around the world.  We’re casting a shadow ten times larger than we are tall.

It has been a while since we have seen some head-to-head testing against your competitors, when will we see more?

We don’t have any scheduled!  Back in 2008 when people still questioned whether x86 servers had the chops to do packet processing, we had Tolly do some head-to-head testing against Cisco to prove that we were right.  But Intel’s advancements have crushed that now.  Today, an $800 Intel server with Vyatta on it can easily displace a $20,000 Cisco box.  That part of the game is largely over, so we don’t bother any more.

If you could partner with one company right now to expand your product line or sales who would it be and why?

IBM is a logical choice given their focus on cloud and need to get off of Cisco gear now that they compete in the server space with them.  But expect to see more of the virtualized software vendors on our partner list – the kinds of companies that are winning the next-gen IT architectures.

iPad, iPhone or Android?

The white cables in my office give me away as an iGuy.  The upside is all of the integration between the iThings; the downside is having to wrestle them out of the hands of my 8-year-old son – only to find he’s discovered more functionality than I probably use!

What kind of songs are on your MP3 player? 

My iTunes looks like a musical meatloaf – a little bit of everything.  Pearl Jam, Jack White and Soundgarden share space with Diana Krall and Debussy.  I need music that matches my moods.

Being an executive like myself you have to have a release. Mine is golf or my handheld satellite radio. What is yours?

I’m a ski nut, but that’s too seasonal.  As it turns out, my favorite all-season activity is cooking.  We’re a cooking family and the menu ranges widely.  But there’s nothing quite like hanging around with family and friends while some Memphis ribs are smoking away for hours…

Fly, drive or train; which would you take the most if you had the chance?

Trains are incredibly underrated.  I take them every chance I get.  You can see the real world as it whizzes by.  Life’s too full of tactical distractions to drive, and too many cushions from reality to fly ;-).