There has been a lot happening around VIRL the last few weeks. A new release of VIRL just got released and today the VIRL team announced that they are adding support for running VIRL in the cloud.

Cisco has chosen to work together with Packet, a bare metal cloud provider. This is how Packet describes themselves.

The following picture summarizes why Cisco has chosen Packet.

Packet Bare Metal Cloud
Packet Bare Metal Cloud

Compared to Amazon AWS, Packet is a bare metal cloud provider which means that the resources you rent will be dedicated to you. Packet does not run any hypervisors, meaning that the workloads are not virtualized.

If you have an existing install of VIRL, you can use Terraform by Hashicorp to provision your new VIRL server at Packet. I had never heard of Terraform before, this is how Hashicorp describes Terraform.

There is currently a promo at Packet, if you sign up you will get 25$ of credit accredited to your account.

The following picture shows the pricing of Packet’s services.

Packet pricing
Packet pricing

It’s likely that you will want to have the Type 1 install to run a decently sized topology. One nice thing about running VIRL in the cloud is that Cisco will double your allowed nodes according to the following quote.

I want to make something very clear about running VIRL at Packet. This is a bare metal solution, your workload is not virtualized. The resources you rent are dedicated to you. From the moment you start the install of VIRL until the moment you destroy your build, you will be billed for the usage. This means that it is not enough to simply shutdown the server and then resume it at a later time. You MUST destroy the build or you will be charged! The Type 1 install is 0.40$/hour and it takes roughly 30 minutes to install VIRL. I communicated with the VIRL team and they are working on reducing this to around 15 minutes. If you want to lab 4h, this means that you will be billed at least 4.5h including the install. This means that you can lab 2h each day for around 30$ per month. That is pretty competitive pricing for dedicated resources. Keep in mind though that if you forget to remove your build so it has been running a month, you would in theory be charged 24*0,4*30$ = 288$ which might not be what you expected. Luckily though there is something called the “Dead mans timer” which is by default set to 4h. This means that the server will be terminated after 4h. I’m not sure if the server will always terminate after 4h or if it’s after 4h of inactivity, my guess is the former. Here is how Cisco describes the “Dead mans timer”.

It is possible to disable it but I wouldn’t recommend that. If 4h is too low, then try setting it to 6h or 8h or for the amount of hours you expect your longest lab sessions to last.

Always check in your Packet account that your build has been terminated even if Terraform reports that it has!

To get started with Packet, Cisco provides two detailed step by step instructions. The first instruction is for users with an existing VIRL server. The second instruction is for users that want to run VIRL without an existing server. There is also a video that describes the steps involved.

The basic idea is to install Terraform, register with Packet, spin up the server and the connect to it via OpenVPN. Do keep in mind that the install takes around 30 minutes so you should start the install before you need access to it.

I really like the idea of hosting VIRL in the cloud. My main concern is with the install time and the risk of people getting large bills when they keep their server running. The dead mans timer should take care of the second issue though. The Cisco VIRL team is working on making a faster install which is needed in my opinion. I would also like to see some form of tool where the server would get deployed for you to be ready at a certain time. Let’s say that you want to start labbing at 20.00, then the install would start 19.30 at the latest to be ready for you at 20.00. I’m sure this could be scripted together with a cronjob but it may be better if the VIRL team comes up with an official solution than for individual users to reinvent the wheel.

Cisco VIRL is making a lot of progress. This was the next natural step. The GUI is getting better and better and the new web GUI is a welcomed addition to start to get away from the VM Maestro client. Tools like packet capture are now available and the increased node limit has made it a much more useful product. My only wish for now is that some of the Cisco BU’s would commit to developing the images that are included in VIRL. The Nexus BU is lagging behind the teams supplying the IOS and IOS-XR images. Do keep in mind that VIRL only runs the images, the BU’s are reponsible for supplying them. If you want to see more and better images in the future, put pressure on your account team.

Network Simulation – Cisco VIRL Now Available in the Cloud
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4 thoughts on “Network Simulation – Cisco VIRL Now Available in the Cloud

  • February 19, 2016 at 1:35 am
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    This is a intresting concept but even at that price point it feels a chunk of hassle if you want to just get small bits of testing in place when you add in rebuilding everytime. I would argue online rack time could be better value. It is very exiciting to getmore options though!

    Reply
    • March 11, 2016 at 2:04 am
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      Nathan,

      What are you using for online rack time?

      John…

      Reply
  • February 24, 2017 at 10:51 pm
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    Followed tutorial via youtube, this is great. Still want to get beefy enough server to do this locally.

    Reply

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