Cisco draws back the curtain on carrier-class router

Cisco Systems Inc. has unveiled a new carrier-class router that the company claims will address service providers’ need for bandwidth today and years in the future.

The San Jose-based network equipment vendor on Tuesday unveiled the Carrier Routing System (CRS) 1, a router capable of network speeds anywhere from 1.2 Terabits per second (Tbps) to 92Tbps.

The platform offers an OC-768 packet interface, and uses a application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) capable of 40Gbps. Known as Cisco’s Silicon Packet Processor, the vendor says it’s the “most sophisticated” ASIC in the world.

CRS-1 also offers an XML-based interface, the Craft Works Interface, for users less familiar with the intricacies of Cisco’s IOS, a network equipment operating system. CRS-1 employs a variation of IOS called IOS XR, which, according to Mike Volpi, general manager of Cisco’s routing technology group, lets IOS processes “self-heal” without human intervention.

During a product launch at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., Cisco’s representatives said the company designed CRS-1 to be highly scalable, so it would meet carriers’ demands for years to come. A service provider could start with the 1.2Tbps version and add capacity as required.

“Once we put it in place, we don’t want to move it for one or two decades,” said CEO John Chambers.

The firm’s spokespeople also said the new routing platform presents “continuous system operation,” which means carriers can upgrade software and hardware without taking the device offline.

Cisco demonstrated that the CRS-1 could handle a high-definition video link, 4,000 simulated users downloading music from Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes service, 125,000 simulated online video-game players, 2,500 simulated IP-based set-top television boxes streaming video, and 1,000 simulated video-telephone calls.

Chambers suggested the CRS-1 is Cisco’s way of proving to carriers that his company is capable of providing equipment targeted at the service provider community. Garnering confidence in this part of the market is “something we gotta earn,” he said.

Chambers also said the CRS-1 taps into a trend among carriers: he figures these companies are moving away from using equipment from multiple vendors, and standardizing on one or another equipment maker’s wares.

A carrier representative that Cisco invited to the CRS-1 launch seemed to disagree, however. Wolfgang Schmitz of T-Com, a division of Deutsche Telekom, pointed out that his company uses both Juniper Networks Inc. and Cisco routers. In the data centre, “a little competition is healthy,” Schmitz said.

He added that T-Com might consider using the CSR-1. Schmitz said the firm expects to have 10 million broadband Internet service subscribers by 2007; T-Com will need a large routing platform to support so many customers.

Other carrier representatives that the equipment vendor presented at the CSR-1 launch indicated that they would likewise need a scalable system like this. Sprint Communications Co.’s Kathryn Walker said her firm has a CSR-1 up and running, while Jonathan Crane of MCI Inc. said his company is beta-testing the device.

A Cisco Canada representative said there are no Canadian carriers testing or piloting the CSR-1 yet. The platform will be available in July at a base price of US$450,000.

Alan Freedman, a computer-industry analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, pointed out that carriers often keep their eyes peeled for equipment that would make their networks more efficient to run, but they’re wary of devices that require serious infrastructure changes. Since Cisco’s CSR-1 can grow from 1.2Tbps to 92Tbps, it might mitigate the service provider’s fear of forklift upgrades, he said.

He also said Cisco “has been under siege from other equipment makers” such as Juniper, Extreme Networks Inc. and Foundry Networks Inc., and further contenders aim to steal Cisco’s thunder in the network technology business. The CSR-1 “certainly is a way for Cisco to solidify its position as a carrier-class provider,” Freedman said.

Cisco has faced a public relations concern lately as reports say code from the IOS operating system was stolen, leading some people to speculate that the very fabric of the world’s data infrastructure is in jeopardy. Cisco routers are so popular that if a hacker used the stolen code to devise a way to infiltrate Cisco equipment, the global information network could be compromised.

Freedman said some carriers might wait to see how Cisco handles the situation before going ahead with CSR-1 acquisitions. However, he added, it’s early days yet for the router. The device won’t be available until July, so it’s too soon to say the alleged theft will cause service providers to hold back on CSR-1 purchases.

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