New GNS3 – Redesign changing networking again

GNS3 has been a crucial tool used by many network engineers to emulate computer networks.  It has proven to be fundamental  studying for all network certification levels such as CCNA, CCNP and CCIE. It has been crucial for network design validations within many companies.  With the news of Cisco’s VIRL, many said that GNS3 will disappear, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. GNS3 is going through a major redesign and needs the help of all the engineers that it helped over the years.

Recently, Stephen Guppy from GNS3.net contacted me about some of the changes coming to GNS3. He was very excited to share with me the new direction they are heading and the croudfounding campaign going on. These new software improvements incorporate:

  • Switching
  • On Demand Cloud Processing
  • Automation of Configuration
  • Lab Deployment and Training Programs
  • Integration of Other Vendors

Switching

Switching has been a major feature preventing network engineer from exclusively using GNS3 for their certification study. The difficulty in supporting switching platforms is that most of their ASCIs were build on proprietary hardware and can’t be easily ported. With the new GNS3, switching will be supported using L2IOU. Some features are not supported in L2IOU, which include L3 Etherchannel, Private VLAN, SPAN/RSPAN, Port-security, Voice VLANs, MLS QoS and QinQ. The addition of switching to GNS3 will be very significant.

On Demand Cloud Processing

Using the cloud is a new concept for GNS3 as a new addition. Currently the software is stand alone and installs on your local computer. The problem the GNS3 team identified is with the newer OSes like IOS-XE or IOS-XR, these will require a lot more RAM just to run one instance of a router (4 GB each vs 64 MB or 256 MB). Using GNS3 on a laptop with large topologies might not be very feasible. Similarly to Cisco’s VIRL products (recently renamed to Cisco Modeling Lab) and Juniper’s Junosphere, GNS3 will have an option to create virtual topologies in the cloud relying on the vast performance of cloud computing for the necessary resources. I could see this being targeted to companies to validate their designs. Cloud hosting will be a revenue stream and will be a paid service (more on cost later). Another benefits of developing the cloud GNS3 is that licensing could become a lot easier. Instead of having each user acquire their own version of the IOS, GNS3 could strike a deal with the vendor to license software in the cloud. I think that would be a significant benefits, once more vendors sign on to utilize GNS3.

Automation of Configuration

The goal of automating configuration is to get the base configuration up and running in no time, instead of wasting time configuring IP addresses, enabling OSPF or setting up full mesh BGP sessions. I think this type of a feature will be very interesting to see. I’m curious how it will work with other vendors. What will be the underlining mechanism? Will it be NETCONF, XML, SNMP or custom based scripting for basic features? If GNS3 plans on being more vendor neutral, it will have to use some standard protocols instead of just automatically typing commands.

Labs Deployment and Training Programs

The goal for the new version is to include official labs for GNS3. These would help in studying for various vendor certifications. As of today the plan is to have labs for: CCNA, CCNP, CCIE, Security labs and Juniper labs. I’m not sure how they would be integrated with the software or if the website gns3.net would store them as training materials for purchase. This seems to be another direction that the company is going, to produce training materials that you could be used within GNS3. I’m a little caution about this direction. There a number of very reputable training vendors that have a lot of technical experience developing programs like that. But the more competition there is the better for the community.

Integration of Other Vendors

Not all vendors can produce their own VIRL or Junosphere of their networking equipment. There are others that would benefit from porting their network devices to work within GNS3. GNS3 would like to take advantage of that and work with other vendors to make GNS3 a vendor neutral network emulator. This is something that VIRL and Junosphere will probably never be able to do. It might not be a difficult as it sounds. Virtual appliance of all sorts of vendors are available and it wouldn’t be hard to integrate them with GNS3.

 

Where does the network engineering community come into play?

To accomplish all of these ambitious  goals, GNS3 is having a crowd-funding campaign. They will need to hire full time developers, GUI designers, a lab creation team, etc. and that’s where they need the help raising money. If you think about the amount of money GNS3 has saved you from renting lab equipment or buying hardware, I think you can see the benefits of contributing to the projects. If you contribute early, you’ll have access to the early releases. The crowd-funding campaign has multiple levels of support and benefits and will only last until December 7th 2013. To contribute go to https://gns3.crowdhoster.com/become-an-early-release-member. By contributing you’ll be able to see the early releases and have a voice how the new GNS3 develops.

Cost

Cost is one of the most asked question about the new GNS3. Will the software cost money to download? The quick answer is that it will not for the stand alone version. Individual will be able to take advantage of all the stand alone features for free. More features might be implemented in the cloud hosting version or as a paid plugin, but that’s still something we’ll have to see. Cloud based emulation will have a fee. It will be hosted in a cloud provider like Rackspace and require hosting fees. I asked Stephen what will be the pricing model for it, this was his response:

We have multiple ways of going about pricing this and incorporating it into GNS3 – but we are going to turn to the community to help decided the best way to approach this. Two major methods would be a user pays a fixed monthly fee and gets access up to a certain limit. Or, the much more transparent way of doing it is to provide a connection path to the individual’s cloud account, and they are able to track and maintain their own costs. It is something we will test to find the right fit.

 

Worries about Cisco

There were concerns on Twitter that once GNS3 will have a commercialized product, Cisco will close them down with lawsuits. I can see that as a very flawed argument. First of all GNS3 does not distribute copyrighted software. It is a GUI to a virtual emulation software only, just like KVM on Linux or VMWare uses other operating systems to emulate. Second of all, Cisco enjoys the befit that GNS3 provides for their company. Certification, training and emulation is not a cash cow for Cisco. It is mainly used to sell network equipment. There is a high learning curve to use these networking products. The more engineers know how to use Cisco over Juniper or HP, they more networks will run on Cisco. GNS3 gave access to IOS for a lot of people. Cisco knows that it is their best marketing tool. This is just my option but also the option of many Cisco employees I talked to during CiscoLive.

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As you can see this post doesn’t have a lot of technical details, screen shots or anything like that. The goal of their announcement was to inform everyone of their goals and  raise the funds to produce this new version. Throughout the year as the project progresses, I’ll be able to post more details and have access to early releases. I’m excited to see how the final product will look, which is schedule for release end of Q4 2014.

For more information on timeline and funding go to: http://new.gns3.net.