Looking at OpenWrt as an option for Enterprise Routers

With the Internet of Things gaining popularity, embedded devices are getting more attention. An operating system that’s also getting its share of attention is OpenWrt, an OS that’s primarily for embedded networking devices. It’s based on the Linux kernel and primarily used on embedded devices to route network traffic – essentially a Linux distribution for your router.

If you are developing an application, OpenWrt gives you the framework to build an application without having to build a complete firmware around the application – giving you the ability to fully customize devices in ways you never imagined. While OpenWrt isn’t the ideal solution for everyone, OpenWrt is flexible and can be installed on various routers. OpenWrt has a web interface, but if you just want more than a web interface, you’re probably better off with another replacement router firmware.

Having a modular Linux distribution available on your router gives you lots of opportunities, including setting up a proper VPN on your OpenWrt router; running server software such as a web server, IRC server, or BitTorrent tracker on a router to use less power than on a computer – perfect for lightweight servers; create a special wireless guest network for security purposes; or capturing and analyzing network traffic.

OpenWrt is being adopted in many consumer grade and small business products, but out of the box, OpenWrt lacks many of the functions required for an enterprise class router to make it ready for larger enterprises or carriers to use.

An enterprise class router needs many functions such as a CLI management interface; multiple native routing protocols; multicast; traffic management (queuing, policy based routing, etc.); security (NAT, ACL, VPN, AAA, etc.); interface to manage L2 switch; flow control; OAM for hardware; statistics such as RMON and others; flash image management; and much more.

Some of the key features OpenWrt lacks are hardware monitoring; storing two or more firmware images (for rollback etc.); CLI; extensive statistics; traffic management; some AAA (TACACS+, Radius); and many multicast features. Extensive development is required to build out OpenWrt for use in an enterprise router. In addition, extensive QA would be required to ensure proper operation and robustness in an enterprise environment.

For one customer we looked at whether OpenWrt (release 14.07) would be a suitable option for their enterprise router. The goal was to adapt OpenWrt to meet their needs, taking consumer grade quality and completeness and converting it to enterprise grade quality and completeness. We identified 51 features in the customer’s requirements which weren’t supported in OpenWrt along with a unified CLI needed to cover all features for L2 switches and L3 routers. We would need to apply our experience and support to new development work in the customer’s infrastructure, management interfaces, native protocols, multicast, encapsulation, traffic management, routing IPv4/IPv6, L2, security, and L3 OAM.

Though OpenWrt is not suitable for all environments, it may be time for you to start thinking about what’s possible with OpenWrt for your applications. If you’re hit with challenges and we’ve been there too, we can help develop a solution that takes advantage of the flexibility OpenWrt has to offer.