Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has unveiled a new router product line that, it claims, is a major power and space saver.
But what's more interesting is the way the new Aggregation Services Router (ASR) family, which will be commercially available from April, puts the vendor and the network more in control of applications.
And that's not the end of the eye-catching marketing: The launch of the ASR 1000 family features a wacky Web campaign that Cisco has been pushing for weeks. It discusses the network needs of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and some kind of unicorn lady. (See Cisco's Big Splash.)
Cisco's new family
The ASR 1000 comes in three versions: the three-slot, two RU-high box that can process up to 15 million packets per second (MPPS); the eight-slot, four RU-high product that can process up to 20 MPPS; and the 12-slot, six RU-high box that also can process up to 20 MPPS.
Spearheading Cisco's new vision for the edge network, the ASR 1000 can incorporate a host of functions, including deep packet inspection (DPI), a session border controller (SBC), and a firewall. But beyond that, it also enables carriers to program additional applications themselves.
The new line is intended to upgrade Cisco's edge network to the video age, adding some oomph that the Cisco 7200 and 7600 router lines can't match. Cisco is quick to note, though, that it intends to continue selling and supporting those products.
The launch continues what's been a hot season for switch and router announcements. A little more than a month ago, Cisco and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) launched their Nexus and EX switches, respectively; Juniper followed that with the introduction of a new control-plane box. (See Cisco's Nexus Targets Data Center's Future, Juniper Storms Into Ethernet Switching, and Juniper Splits Out Its Control Plane.)
Here's the ASR's trick: Rather than drop features such as DPI onto linecards of their own, the router runs all of them from a central processor, the QuantumFlow chip Cisco announced last week. (See Cisco Intros QuantumFlow.)
The 12-slot ASR includes two QuantumFlow chips, while the smaller versions use just one.
"All of these things, which typically used to be on a blade or a chassis, you can program on this chip," says Suraj Shetty, a Cisco director of marketing.
That helps to make the ASR relatively small. Combined with all the functions it can handle, it all adds up to potential space and power savings for a carrier.
The ASR 1000 certainly modernizes Cisco's edge networking portfolio, but the box isn't yet able to replace all the attributes of the 7200 or 7600.
"It doesn't have the performance of the 7600 at the higher end, and it doesn't have the price point of the 7200 at the lower end," Shetty admits. Moreover, he notes the ASR isn't a carrier Ethernet platform like the 7600. (See table below.)
Table 1: Big, Medium, Small
(Millions of packets per second)
Call to war
In a sense, the ASR is an extension of the Integrated Services Router (ISR), a customer-premises line introduced by Cisco in 2004. The ISR handles functions such as security and VOIP, establishing the router as the point of origin for certain services. (See Cisco Takes Apps on Board.)
That boosted Cisco's importance in the network. Cisco boxes now control some applications that would otherwise have been the domain of servers, or of specialized appliances.
The danger Cisco faced with the ISR is that routers typically slow down if more functions are activated; CoSine Communications Inc. is held up as an example of the pitfalls there. (See CoSine: 'Come & Get Us'.)
But Cisco has managed to get the processors in the ISR to juggle routing and applications smoothly.
"The ISR proved everyone wrong in that area, because the chipsets took care of that," says Ray Mota, an analyst at Synergy Research Group Inc.
That makes it likely the ASR can likewise deliver on performance. "There are going to be providers that say they want the separate boxes, but little by little, if there's no degradation, I think they'd be very open to it," Mota says.
Cisco's badge of honor in that respect is the announcement today of NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) as an ASR customer. "You know NTT is freakin' hardcore," Mota says.
The ASR, then, primes Cisco to take control of applications in the edge network, continuing the work started by the ISR. And while Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) might not consider that a declaration of war, maybe it should, says Deb Mielke, president of Treillage Network Strategies Inc.
"What people are beginning to ask, especially guys like Cisco, is: Where are voice and video going to live?" Mielke says. "In the end, although Microsoft and Cisco talk nice to each other now, it's going to be: Does Microsoft control voice and video, or does Cisco?"
Enterprises will ultimately make that decision based on politics and other non-techy issues, Mielke thinks. Still, the ASR and ISR have at least given Cisco a serious chance in that fight.
But that's not necessarily what Cisco wants to talk about with the ASR launch. What seems to be more on the company's mind is the chance for power and space savings with the box.
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