One Router to Rule Them All

Most of what we offer in Breaking News are roundups of the day's news — a convenient place to find the most important developments and have a chuckle at the same time. It's not that often that I get to do first-hand, on-the-scene reporting, so I was somewhat surprised last week to open an email from one of Cisco's PR reps, offering the opportunity to report an announcement of interest to the Linux and Open Source community. Being the curious sort, I couldn't pass up such an opportunity.

So, what's all the fuss about, you ask? Cisco announced today that they are opening up their line of Integrated Services Routers (ISRs) — a popular line of routers that include integrated modules for a variety of services — to third-party development. The move, dubbed the Cisco Application eXtension Platform (AXP) brings outside applications to the ISR via Linux-based open modules that allow developers to integrate their software more closely with the network than ever before.

Developers have access to a downloadable software development kit and application programming interface as well as an interface to the previously-closed off Cisco IOS software that runs the router. Modules, which are capable of running more than one application at a time, will allow programmers to develop software to run on the ISR and provide enhanced functions they way they want them to run, unlike in the past, where the only available modules were those Cisco approved. Among the services capable of running on the ISR are VOIP, wireless and WAN networks, security tools including intrusion detection & prevention, content filtering, network access control, and virtual private networking.

I spoke with Dave Frampton, Vice President of Product Management for Cisco's Access Routing Technology Group along with Dave Bornstein, a Cisco Project Manager and Linux Team member prior to the announcement, and asked about the Open Source implications of opening the ISR. I asked specifically about Cisco's willingness to embrace Open Source developers on the ISR and was told that Cisco is excited by the opportunities the Open Source community presents on the ISR, and that Open Source developers will most definitely be welcomed.

Asked about Cisco's intent to exercise control over what modules could be run on ISRs, they set out a multi-tiered approach, with customers free to run whatever modules they desire on their ISR, and developers wishing to provide applications on a wider scale being invited to partner with Cisco, and the crème de la crème being identified and sold as OEM, along with packaged support. I asked if this meant Cisco would be controlling third-party ISR modules in the same way that Apple is controlling iPhone applications, and was assured that while Cisco will be vetting their partners to control the spread malware, it will be the partner, not their intended modules or code, that will be reviewed.

So, why is this so exciting? Several reasons. It's further proof that Linux can do just about anything, and do it better to boot. It's opened one more resource to Open Source developers, one that helps give Linux more of a foothold in enterprise computing. It means better performance and security for customers/clients/users, as it's been demonstrated over and over that many eyes equal a better and more secure product. In short, it's a triumph for just about everybody.

A special thanks to Fred Richards, CCNP for acting as a technical consultant.

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Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.

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