Router newcomers take on Cisco, Juniper

With their souped-up engines and buckets of cash, two new router players debuted this week with ambitious plans to break the two-headed tyranny of Cisco Systems Inc. and Juniper Networks Inc.

Procket Networks Inc. and Caspian Networks Inc. feel they can sway service providers now beholden to Cisco and Juniper to their wares, built, they say, from the ground up to accommodate the millions of hosts and astounding growth of the Internet. Through financial incentives and the stability of their own funding, Procket and Caspian feel they have a good shot at grabbing some mind and market share.

Procket, which has raised close to US$300 million in four years, unveiled programmable products and a portability plan designed to put its routing smarts on the platforms of some influential and symbiotic partners.

The company’s PRO/8000 series of routers includes the PRO/8801 and the PRO/8812. The line supports a range of interfaces, from OC-3c to Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet and OC-192c. The half-rack PRO/8812 core router is the showcase of the line, featuring 960G bit/sec of total capacity and a 1.2 billion packet/sec forwarding rate in a full-rack configuration.

This compares to 640G bit/sec for Juniper’s T640 and 160G bit/sec for Cisco’s 12416 in full-rack configurations.

All PRO/8812 chassis are designed to be clustered for scale, Procket says.

Procket says these densities are attainable via its custom very large scale integration chips, which are designed in-house. These chips are programmable, which means they can support new features through software downloads rather than requiring the hardware upgrade of ASICs, Procket says.

Procket’s chips include a 40G bit/sec processor, a terabit-capable switch fabric, and a single chipset that can scale from 80G bit/sec to 960G bit/sec, the company claims.

Procket’s software – the PRO/1 Modular Service Environment – is platform-independent code based on a lightweight, real-time kernel, and modular in nature so IP software upgrades can be performed without interrupting network operation. The software also includes a “system manager” to enable self-monitoring, correcting, configuring, and protection features for automatic recovery, Procket claims.

A big part of Procket’s strategy is to license PRO/1 to strategic partners to enable new applications – such as blade server virtualization and low-end enterprise routing. The company says it already has “significant engagements” with big server vendors, among others.

Procket hopes the licensing strategy will attract buyers who feel Cisco’s software is old and unwieldy, and Juniper’s has already been surpassed by the growth of the Internet.

“Customers are tired of the fact that they have to continually upgrade,” Procket CEO Randall Kruep says. “They’re sick of all the churn. They’re tired of all the software stability issues, and the 25 to 30 different versions” of the same code.

Caspian also has raised close to $300 million in four years, and has an aggressive incentive program to entice carriers to consider its Apeiro “flow-based” router.

The Caspian “CORE” (Capex/Opex Reduction Enhancement) trade-up program allows network service providers trading in existing routers or ATM switches from leading manufacturers to receive credit towards purchases of Caspian’s Apeiro routers. Competitive products must be currently deployed in production service provider networks to qualify for credit.

The amount of credit varies, and depends on the purchase price of the original equipment, the length of time it has been in service and the volume of Caspian equipment committed to under the program.

Like Procket’s PRO/8812, the Apeiro is targeted at the core of carrier IP networks. It is a modular, multishelf system that scales from 120G bit/sec of I/O per 1/3-rack shelf to 360G bit/sec per rack.

Twelve of the Apeiro’s 17 slots are used for line cards, while the other five house shelf supervisor, switch fabric and application – or route – processor cards. Four switch fabric cards per shelf can be deployed for redundancy and load sharing.

The system supports 36 10G bit/sec Ethernet or OC-192c ports per rack, as well as 144 OC-48cs and OC-12cs, 288 1G bit/sec Ethernet and 432 OC-3c interfaces. Each line card adds additional capacity to the system and houses its own switching, forwarding, routing and management logic, making the Apeiro a fully-distributed router, Caspian says.

The router is designed to provide the scale and performance of IP with the deterministic behavior of ATM, Caspian says. Apeiro identifies flows from packets with identical source/destination addresses, stores flow routing and forwarding state information in memory, and then attaches bandwidth, jitter and delay guarantee information to those flows, the company says.

Traffic is divided into four ATM-like service classes that are analogous to constant, variable, available bit rate and composite bit rate, which provides guaranteed bandwidth with bursting capabilities. Apeiro can support 500,000 to 1 million flows per second on a 10G bit/sec link, vs. the 150,000 flows per 10G bit/sec pipe offered by competing platforms, Caspian says.

Apeiro also offers a capability called “Logical Router,” in which IP and Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) are separate domains within one physical router. This capability allows a service provider to place a single switch in different routing/MPLS domains and perform routing functions as if it were separate multiple switches, Caspian says.

This separation ensures that existing routing/MPLS or hierarchical core/regional network architectures can be maintained. It also simplifies network-wide upgrades, isolates control traffic and contributes to overall network stability, and eliminates the need for service providers to waste ports on the interconnection of switches, which reduces capital and operating expenses, Caspian claims.

Apeiro is available now. It will enter field trials in four to six months with 10 carriers, Caspian says.