Since it launched its first open-source routing platform late last year, Vyatta has sold multiple deployments worth more than $100,000 each. Vyatta chief executive Kelly Herrell said these yields are a sworn testimony to the willingness of enterprise to aggressively leverage open source.
Q. Pound for pound, how much cheaper is a Vyatta mid-range routing platform than a comparable Cisco system?
A. Fairly clearly, twice the performance for half the price. We actually had [third-party verification firm] Tolly Group verify that for us last quarter.
Q. So is cost the main driver for open-source deployments?
A. There are two fundamental things: economics and choice. The economics are pretty clear and are largely derived form the fact that we use standard x86 hardware. We enable people to use whatever x86 hardware they want, which comes at a radically reduced price than proprietary hardware.
The choice driver is that we enable them to deploy the kind of solution that they want where they want. The same Vyatta software works at the edge of the network and at the center of the network. And that software has multiple functions; they can choose to use one of those functions or choose to many of those functions.
Instead of making a single software choice they have the flexibility of deciding what they want to deploy and how they want to deploy it.
Q. Networking specialists in IT shops aren’t all that common, let alone ones who are comfortable in a Linux environment. Has that been a problem?
A. Vyatta’s taken specific steps to enable network engineers to interface with Vyatta the way they’re used to interfacing with networking products. So you don’t have to be a Linux guru to use Vyatta. You can mange it the way you manage your existing network equipment. The way that you manage the Vyatta device is the same way you manage a Cisco or Juniper device…with a command line interface. It looks like a tradition CLI, so when you use Vyatta you don’t drop down into Linux. We also have a graphic user interface for managing the system.
There is the open to do custom coding, should a user desire that path. But to deploy Vyatta, you boot it, configure it like a regular network device and walk away.
Q. Why is there a resistance to open source in the US?
It’s a question of the adoption pattern, as with any technology. There are type A, B and C adopters. And open source has clearly penetrated type A adopters, those who aggressively pursue technological change in order to get strategic benefits. And it’s moving well into the type B, who are kind of middle of the bell curve. And there are type Cs out there that are still using very old technology…and have a tendency to be laggards. But it’s difficult to walk not to into an enterprise and not see some open source.
Q. What’s the biggest barrier you face in selling?
A. Usually making sure we identify that we’re talking to the right customer type. If there’s an enterprise that
Is not using Linux anywhere in their environment then they’re probably not going to be using open source in their networking. It’s a generality but it stands to reason.
Q. What can a Cisco system do that a Vyatta system can’t?
There are classes of network equipment like very, very expensive, very, very high throughput service-provider core networking gear that’s out of our current reach of performance. But in the mid-range, which is about an $8bn or $6bn market, our performance is typically the same or better than Cisco.
Really, the one thing you can’t do with Vyatta is use very old and not-widely deployed protocols that are propriety to Cisco. But we haven’t seen that as an issue for us because IT network build out is largely based on open standards now, like SIP or just IP-based protocols, instead of some of the old propriety protocols.
Q. Getting back to the California municipal deployment, it became public that the city’s administrator received dire warnings about using open-source when serving taxpayers. How can the open-source community in the US mitigate this kind of thinking, which also happens in enterprises?
A. I think that’s largely just going to be a function of time as people get comfortable with the fact that open source is powerful and secure. There are some segments of the world that are already comfortable with that. And some segments that need more education with that. I don’t know that there’s a vertical segment, as such. I think it’s the psychographic profile of the adopter: Do they have the attitude of adopting and leveraging technology to gain strategic benefit or do they take a wait-and-see attitude?
Q. How many customers does Vyatta have now and are they mostly small, mid-sized or enterprise?
A. We’re closing in on our first 100 customers since the fourth quarter of last year when we first began selling.
It’s been a really broad adoption. We have service providers, like hosting and co-location providers; we have small to mid-sized enterprises, which range from startup businesses to organizations with 1,000 people in them. And we’ve begun closing our first enterprise accounts, which we probably will announce later this year.
Q. And are you seeing any open-source competition out there yet?
To our knowledge, we are still way out in front and we have not seen a Vyatta alternative emerge. Any market that’s as large as the one we’re addressing will eventually attract more than one vendor. But it is a challenge to be a No 2 in the open source space.
A. The nature of leadership comes from being first because you get the most experience with how to manage the development, with what the customer really wants and what your name recognition really is in the industry. I think if you look at Linux and during the early days the competition between Red Hat and SuSe and look at what a wide divergence occurred in terms of the companies market share; I think that’s a good example.
Q. What’s next for Vyatta?
A. Just to continue the growth pattern and pour more fuel on the fire. We’ve taken the firs half of 2007 to get a better understanding of how customers adopt Vyatta and what they valued about it the most. And now we’re concentrating on some of those areas and anticipate that we will be able to have some public examples, which will help people understand the value and the low-risk of adopting Vyatta.
There has been some very interesting discoveries. For example, a very large percentage of our deployments were virtualized on VMware. That was not something we’d planned for but was not a huge surprise…so it allows us to put more focus on the areas that are being driven by customers.
Before joining Vyatta, Kelly held executive roles in strategic operations and marketing with MontaVista Software, Cobalt Networks and CacheFlow. Kelly holds a BA with honors in marketing from Washington State University, and an MBA from Cornell University.