Cisco bolsters its routing software

A week after Cisco Systems Inc. CEO John Chambers trumpeted the importance of network resiliency at the Networld+Interop conference, the company announced a major upgrade of its routing software that’s aimed at reducing the number of network failures.

Cisco said the network resiliency features that are being built into the new release of its Internetwork Operating System (IOS) software include protections to guard against the loss of any data packets, the ability to circumvent failed devices and faster rerouting sequences when network problems occur.

“It’s a definite step forward in terms of resiliency,” said Joe Fusco, product manager for private IP network services at data network operator Infonet Services Corp., a Cisco user in El Segundo, Calif. “Right now, it’s a matter of making sure we feel it’s ready for deployment, but the new features certainly interest us.”

Fusco said he’s particularly intrigued by the zero packet loss features. “If you can get from 99.3 per cent throughput levels to 100 per cent, that’s a lot of packets,” he said. “We move millions of packets a day.”

Tim Smith, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said the Cisco IOS release “represents another step in the maturation” of IP. Surer handling of data packets and consistent uptime are critical for moving voice, video and storage data across corporate networks, he said.

At the N+I conference in Las Vegas, Mike Volpi, a senior vice-president in Cisco’s enterprise group, asserted that a more resilient backbone would allow IP-based networks to handle increased traffic as well as more complex kinds of data.

For example, Volpi said, storage installations are “an absolute shoo-in” to run on IP if the networking technology can be made as robust and reliable as Cisco thinks it can be.

Cisco’s IOS software can also work with hardware from other vendors. However, “the most benefit from these capabilities will still be felt when it’s all Cisco working on the back end,” Smith said. “There’s some standardization that needs to happen to make this a better fit for enterprises with heterogeneous networks.”

The first wave of resiliency features will become available next month, Cisco said. In the second half of the year, the company plans to add a protocol that lets users operate a standby wide-area network connection even when the primary link is in use, plus the ability to rebuild encrypted virtual private network tunnels when a primary router fails.

Smith said demand for such services is high, leaving Cisco with little leeway for shipment errors. “There is absolutely no room in the market for missed dates [or] for rolling out stuff that’s not rock-solid,” he said.

Fusco noted that early adopters, such as Infonet, will likely spend a few months testing how resilient the new features are before they put them into use. “This is new stuff, and we want to see how resilient it really is before we put too much trust in it,” he said.