SAN FRANCISCO — It may be a surprise to some that Cisco has been designing and building its own chips for its networking gear for more than 25 years. The company hasn’t talked about that in the past, just about the systems that the silicon enabled.

That has now changed – and so has the silicon. At its Internet for the Future event, Cisco announced Silicon One, a single chip family that can handle both the complexity of routing and the high-speed, power-frugal requirements of switching; in the past, those extremely different functions have been performed by separate silicon architectures.

Cisco says that the first generation of the architecture, Cisco Silicon One Q100, designed for service providers and web-scale providers, provides twice the network capacity of other high-scale routing ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits), supporting a fixed switch or router with throughput from 10.8Tbps in network ports to large non-blocking distributed routers with petabit scale. Future products in the line will serve other segments.

Its development cost almost US$1 billion over five years, according to Cisco chairman and chief executive officer Chuck Robbins.

The Q100 is available in multiple forms – it’s the technology behind Cisco’s new 8000 series routers and is also available to providers who want to incorporate the chipset into their own hardware.

“We wanted to provide our technology to our customers in whatever way they would like to consume it,” Robbins said. “Some of our customers will buy the 8000 systems, many of our customers will take our software and perhaps run it on their hardware, and then today in what many probably never thought we’d do, some of our customers will buy our silicon and they’ll build their own products if that’s what they choose to do.”

“It’s not a vision,” added David Goeckeler, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco’s networking and security businesses. “Products are orderable.”

David Goeckeler, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco’s networking and security businesses. Photo by Lynn Greiner.

Ben Havey, vice-president of the technical innovation group at the Walt Disney Studios, is excited about the new products, noting, “When you think about the network, it is basically a river that runs throughout our business.” It delivers dailies to the cloud for editing, enables collaboration, and gets content to theatres and to consumers. “The network is critical. We’re all in,” he said. “We need what they’re building.”

Along with Silicon One and the 8000 series came a new version of Cisco’s IOS software: IOS XR7, described as the first carrier-class cloud-enhanced network operating system. It is designed to benefit from enhanced real-time analytics and operational insights delivered directly from Cisco Crosswork Cloud and can be integrated with automation systems for more reliable management. Automated software pre-qualification and cloud-based test procedures will reduce implementation time for new equipment. It will be available to all customers with NCS 540, NCS 560, NCS 5500, 8000, and ASR 9000 series routers under maintenance contracts, not just systems containing Silicon One.

“Silicon One is clean sheet architecture,” Goeckeler said. “We put all prior work aside. We believe this will be the network engine that will power innovation for the next several decades. It is the core infrastructure for the additional demands of 5G and Wi-Fi 6.”

“We waited a long time to share this with you. We waited because we wanted to make sure all the pieces were ready to go; because we believed there would be people in the industry who wouldn’t believe us,” added Jonathan Davison, senior vice president and general manager of the service provider business. “We’re well past the point where people can’t believe us. It’s here, it’s now.”

One more surprise emerged from Cisco’s optical systems group: while it will continue to offer chassis-based and pluggable systems, the company is qualifying its optical components to run on both Cisco and non-Cisco hosts for customers who want to build their own systems.

“Cisco is changing the economics of powering the Internet, innovating across hardware, software, optics and silicon to help its customers better manage the operational costs to function on a larger scale for the next phase of the Internet,” said Ray Mota, CEO and principal analyst at ACG Research, in a statement. “As we move to 2020, the timing of delivering operational efficiency will be vital.”

Lynn Greiner attended Internet for the Future as a guest of Cisco. Her travel and lodgings were covered by Cisco, but the company did not review this story prior to publication.


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