One of the themes of my posts is that the overall ONE strategy, including virtualisation, would create an environment for network systems development that would meet the expectations of systems developers accustomed to the “enterprise” style of software development.

An enterprise systems developer expects the required systems resources for software development to be readily available for development and test purposes. When those resources constitute web application servers and databases, this is trivial with virtualisation, and generally unremarkable in today’s enterprise environments.

When those resources constitute expensive, high-end, routing and switching platforms, though, life is not that straightforward. A major part of a network engineer’s time is spent on obtaining, connecting and configuring network equipment for demonstration and test purposes. You can’t just try an idea out when it occurs to you, as the required network platforms often can’t be available when, and in the configuration, you want.

But imagine what you could do if those network resources were available at a click of a button. What if network engineers had the same capabilities as software engineers to create virtual environments of near perfect fidelity? Well, with the technology of the Virtual Internet Routing Laboratory (VIRL), that we are demonstrating at Cisco Live in Florida, that possibility is getting closer.

VIRL is a network simulation system based on OpenStack and virtual instances of our core network operating systems (NOSs). With the VMMaestro GUI, one can create, with drag-and-drop, network topologies, and have the configuration auto-generated. Then, with a single click, one starts the simulation engine. The network topology is realised as a running network of VMs, each of which is an instance of a Cisco NOS representing a switch or routing platform, orchestrated by OpenStack.

These are early days, to be sure. We are still working hard on perfecting and hardening VIRL and its associated tools. Even so, it has already proved a lifesaver for my colleagues Gunter Van de Velde and Bertrand Duvivier. When Gunter and Bertrand wanted to demonstrate the new BGP based DDoS mitigation feature for Service providers, released in IOS XR 4.3.1, they faced an impossible task.

As Gunter explains: “We were given a last minute opportunity to demonstrate the DDoS features at a RIPE meeting in May, but with nowhere near enough time to create an actual lab of IOS-XR devices. It would normally have taken over a month to get something up and running!”.

Luckily, Gunter heard from Joel Obstfeld and his team, working on VIRL in the Cisco CTO office. As Gunter recalls: “When Joel explained what he could do, my first instinct was disbelief. This was a Friday, the demo was due next week, and I had spent days trying to track down the kit I needed. Little did I know …”.

Little did Gunter know of the power and simplicity of VIRL, as he witnessed: “The first thing that Joel asked me was what setup I wanted to build. So I provided the details. Within the next few hours, I heard from Joel that the network setup was created, and that the baseline BGP and IGP setup was configured. Hours, compared to the many weeks it would have taken with a physical network!”.



Result: With a lead-time of only seven days, from the confirmation of a speaking slot at RIPE66, Gunter had a lab with seven IOS XR routers with the configuration and topology he needed. That’s less time than it would typically take to ship one box.

Gunter was surprised and delighted: “Without the existence of VIRL, I would not have been able to execute the presentation at RIPE so successfully and so quickly. Without VIRL, It would’ve taken more than a month of lead-time just to reserve the required XR routers, and I would have spent days to physically connect the equipment and upgrade the software versions.”

You can see VIRL for yourself, and talk to Joel, Gunter, Bertrand and the team, during Cisco Live, Florida, in the ONE Intelligent Network area or in the “BRKRST-3371 – Advances in BGP” breakout session, Thursday, Jun 27, 08:00-09:30 AM.