Have you ever noticed that networking vendors rarely address the subject of emulators built with their router software? To some degree, network engineers seem fine with this. As long as Cisco looks the other way, engineers can continue to use Dynamips router emulators using shadily licensed IOS. As long as Juniper looks the other way, engineers can continue to build Olive emulators using JUNOS.
However, Cisco isn’t looking the other way as much as it used to. As blogger Aaron Conway noted today, Cisco is making it harder and harder to download Cisco software without support contracts. Networking bloggers have been squawking about this for months. The actions by Cisco prompted blogger Greg Ferro to start a petition back in July asking Cisco to create an IOS educational licensing option (the petition is currently not working).
Juniper hasn’t made any moves to make it harder to work with Olive as far as I can tell, but the company would be well within its rights to do so. Cisco has a perfect right to crack down on IOS licensing, too. But it sure would be nice of these vendors to address the issue of emulators directly.
Even though Cisco has made it harder for engineers to run an IOS emulator in a lab, I haven’t seen Cisco actually acknowledge that these changes are aimed at Dynamips and other emulators. I’ve never seen Cisco even acknowledge the existence of something like Dynamips. If you run a search for the word Dynamips on Cisco’s web site, you get back just one result: A transcript of a panel discussion at Cisco Live 2009 entitled “Insiders Guide to Cisco Career Certifications.” In the transcript, Cisco employee and NetworkWorld blogger Jimmy Ray Purser describes Dynamips as the “best way” to do IOS emulation at a zero cost.
Other than that, Cisco has never really addressed Dynamips or other emulators directly. Even when Jessica Scarpati asked Cisco to comment for a story she did on the Dynamips crackdown, the vendor chose not to address the emulator’s existence directly in its response.
Why do vendors like Cisco and Juniper avoid discussing these emulators directly? Wouldn’t some clarification on the tools help everyone? Wouldn’t a formal educational licensing structure be good for vendor’s customers?
Other vendors have made their operating systems much more readily available for learning. Startup Arista Networks has released a free version of EOS, the software it runs on its switches. Meanwhile, open source vendor Vyatta has built its whole business around making its routing software free to everyone. There’s no question that engineers can learn a lot about networking with this free software. Perhaps other vendors should follow their lead.
Regardless of whether vendors like Juniper and Cisco want to ignore or restrict the use of emulators like Olive and Dynamips, I think the community of networking pros who use these emulators to learn the technology and grow in their careers could benefit from some clarification on this issue. Just tell engineers where they stand. Listen to their request for educational licenses. Don’t let them go on working in this legal gray area.