Cisco VIRL is in the wild and there are some good and bad things about it. Let’s jump right into some of the features with a comparison between VIRL and GNS3.  Also, in no way is this intended to be a complete comparison, rather it’s just a gathering of my thoughts between the two.
The “Legality” of it all
Ease of Use
VIRL is a pain to setup. It seems like you have to just through a ton of hoops. NTP sync, License server, interface setups, and so on. Aside from adding IOS, GNS3 is pretty easy. There are some extenuating circumstances where you would add loopbacks or tap interfaces but that’s a little more advanced than the functionality the two products have from the get-go.
Where Are the Serial Interfaces?
First thing that stands out is serial interface support. VIRL doesn’t support serial interfaces, but Serial interfaces are a possible option for future releases. The inability to support Serial interfaces right now is a major downfall to CCIE candidates. GNS3 has support for serial interfaces.
Additional Device Support
VIRL supports IOS-XR, IOS-XE, NX-OS, and Classic IOS. VIRL ties to a flat network which allows you to bridge to other machines (sky’s the limit). GNS3 supports IOS, and a number of other flavors of things. It has an internal Frame-Relay switch, ATM switch, L2 switch, hubs, clouds to bridge to VM’s and physical networks, IOU, Virtual Box, and QEMU integration. It seems to be a bit more weighted toward GNS3 in this case, but because of virtualization capabilities I think it’s a close one. The downside I would say of VIRL is that the VM’s would be created separately and added to your topology through the Flat network. So, really that is a limitation so this round goes to GNS3.
There are a few vendors who are packaging or allowing the packaging of their products into the install of GNS3. Solarwinds Response Time Viewer is packaged into GNS3 along with a free download of NCM. There are tutorials on how to get Arista integrated with GNS3. Wireshark is packaged in the install to capture on any interface (a HUGE plus for learning). VIRL doesn’t advertise integration with anyone, although it might be possible. GNS3 wins again.
Both VIRL and GNS3 support OOB access to the CLI. It seems that its a little easier to do in GNS3, but alas, they both support it. This one’s a tie so I’ll give them both a mark!
Auto Configuration of Interfaces and Routing Protocols
Here’s something GNS3 doesn’t do! With AutoNetKit VIRL can spin up a topology with IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, routing protocols and all.
Yep- Cisco charges almost 200 bucks for VIRL and GNS3 is free. GNS3 did do a crowdfunding campaign a while back and many people contributed, so there was some financial backing behind the current release, but I’m sure its nowhere near what Cisco has available.
And the Winner Is…
Well for now I think the ease of use and extent of capabilities goes to GNS3, however I don’t think this will be true long term, provided Cisco takes the product seriously and continues to get BU buy in and additional support. GNS3 is a much more mature product and while it has a strong community backing, it doesn’t have an all-access-pass to everything Cisco. If Cisco integrates more products directly into the VIRL interface such as ASA, IPS, WLC, IP Phones and so on, it could be the Gold Standard in study tools. For now I think there is some initial interest in VIRL since it’s new and shiny, but some who purchase it will likely struggle and give up for a while, going back to their familiar GNS3.
So, I’m not bashing VIRL at all here, and I recommend you grab it and take it for a spin if you have the means to do so.
There are of course other areas to be considered, but as mentioned in the onset of this article, it’s not intended to be a complete comparison. I just touched on a few areas here that I immediately noticed.
So todays winner is…
- For purposes of this article when I refer to GNS3 I mean GNS3/Dynamips. ↩