Virtual routing startup Volta takes on Cisco, Juniper and others

Startup vendor Volta Networks debuts its virtual routing platform. (Pixabay)

Volta Networks is seeking to shake up the router sector with its cloud-based virtual routing software.

On Thursday, Boston-based Volta Networks took the wraps off its Virtual Elastic Routing Engine (VEVRE) that it said could reduce the total cost of ownership by 90% when compared to legacy routers.

VEVRE can scale up to 255 virtual routers per switch at a fraction of the cost of routers from traditional vendors, according to Hugh Kelly, vice president of marketing at Volta Networks. Volta's cloud-native approach separates it from the pack while reducing cost by putting processing in the cloud instead of in routers.

"We are a cloud-based software application that basically takes the software that typically would run in a routing engine, or a route processor, in a conventional legacy router and we move that to the cloud," Kelly said. "Then we put a small agent that runs on white box switches. We are basically turning those into carrier-grade routers.

"The big advantage of running it in the cloud is we're not limited to the processing that's on an individual white box. Our customers can create lots of virtual routers, as many virtual routers as they need, which is not something that's possible with the traditional network operating systems, whether you're buying a routing stack and the operating system or buying an integrated one. So we're fully standards-based and we interoperate with all the major legacy routing vendors. We're really a platform and not a network operating system."

VEVRE's control plane runs on any public, private or hybrid cloud to give customers the flexibility to find the lowest cost option. Volta uses cloud-native container technology to spin up and spin down different applications on virtual machines or virtual network functions (VNFs) based on demand.

Volta's virtual private routers (VRPs), which are the equivalent of routing engine, are hosted on VEVRE and are unique to each customer, application or service. The VRPs are assigned to a set of physical or logical ports on white box switches.

Volta's software agent runs on each white box switch to communicate through an API to the associated VRP. The lightweight software cuts down on processing overhead on each switch while Volta's route compression technology optimizes the performance

Volta uses a GRPC API, which was developed by Google, and interfaces with OpenDaylight-based platforms. The bulk of the protocols that Volta uses are from the Linux Foundation's Free Range Routing open source community.

"We can implement YANG service models through NETCONF so it's a pretty standards-based approach, but it's clearly oriented at more of a carrier automation rather than a data center automation," Kelly said.

For ASICs, Kelly said that Volta supports the entire Broadcom product lineup.

"Broadcom accounts for about 90% of the white box market, so all we have to do is really just test the drivers for any variation," he said. "So really anything that will run open network Linux, and that's Broadcom-based we can run on right now.

"We're able to expand that based on customer demand so customers ask for different switching ASICs. We have actually built a platform where we have a hardware abstraction built into it. It's fairly easy for us to add support for new hardware without changing the software up above."

VEVRE is slated for availability this month. Kelly said there were about nine operators that have it in trials or labs. While Kelly said he couldn't say what operators were trialing VEVRE, Dorian Kim, vice president of IP engineering at NTT Communications Global IP Networks was quoted in the press release.

Cisco and Juniper also have virtual implementations of their virtual routers and switches that use Cisco's IOS and Juniper's Junos operating systems.

"Typically, when we are compared to the legacy vendors it's really a two-step process," Kelly said. "Customers are saying 'Can I really save a lot of money by going to virtual? Going to open networking?' And the answer is clearly yes. The cost comparisons that we have done at Cisco and Juniper's typically deep discounted prices versus our total cost, which is the hardware, the software, and the cloud costs, we are generally 10% to 15% of the cost of Juniper and Cisco for the same number of ports and that's pretty consistent. So that's the first comparison.

"And then the second comparison is a lot of that is due to the lower cost hardware. The second decision point is really 'Do I want to continue to use more of an appliance model where all the protocols run on the box, or do I want to run less software on the box and run a software in the cloud?' the way we're doing it. You simply can't run multiple copies of a network OS on most of the white box switches. They just don't have a big enough processor."

For virtual routing, Kelly said Cisco and Juniper typically run virtualized copies of either Junos or IOS as a virtual machine, or VNF on X86 platforms servers.

"The big problem with that is that the cost," Kelly said. "If you look at the cost of a white box switch with 48 ports of 10 gigabits with 600 gig uplinks, that's going to cost a little over $5,000. A server with two 10 gig NIC cards that's capable of running Junos, IOS, Nokia's or anybody else's, the VNFs will cost you over $4,000.

"So there's clearly a role if you need that or it may work very well inside the cloud where everything's running as virtual machines, but where we're really focused is in service provider networks, particularly at the edge where there's a need for higher speed ports at a lower cost."

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Volta also competes with IP Infusion, Cumulous Networks and 6WIND. Volta, which also has an office in Barcelona, is privately held and doesn’t disclose who its investors are, or the number of employees it has.

Volta makes the grade with TIP

At this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Volta Networks was announced as a finalist in the Telecom Infra Project’s (TIP) Disaggregated Cell Site Gateway technical specification based on an RFI issued by Vodafone, Telefonica and TIM Brasil.

Volta was picked after an independent technical evaluation of all RFI responses based on solution architecture, functionality, scalability, availability and solution roadmap. Volta's next step in TIP is lab and field trials with the three operators.