Sources say Cisco is working on a successor platform to the 7600 routers as competitive and technical pressures turn the screw

October 20, 2006

6 Min Read
Cisco Lines Up 7600 Successor

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is believed to have started development work on a successor to its workhorse 7600 series routers, according to industry sources.

The move comes as Cisco finds itself under increasing competitive pressure from its main IP rivals in the carrier router and Ethernet aggregation markets: Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR).

Juniper has just announced its first dedicated Ethernet product, the MX series, while Alcatel unveiled the latest versions of its 7450 Ethernet Service Switch and 7710 service router in a flurry of news announcements at the Broadband World Forum Europe event in Paris last week. (See Juniper Antes Up on Ethernet (Finally) and Quigley: IMS Won't Cure All.)

While Cisco is batting away questions about a 7600 successor with the expected "no comment," industry sources say Cisco is reacting to two key pressure points: the emergence of Alcatel as another troublesome rival; and the increasingly tough technical demands being made on metro routers and switches as service providers ramp up real-time data services, especially video.

Alcatel has shaken up the IP edge aggregation market in the past 12 to 18 months. Two years ago, the name Alcatel was hardly ever muttered in the same breath as IP, but following the development of the Timetra platform acquired in May 2003, sales ramped in 2005, and Alcatel has been winning business that previously would have been contested by Cisco and Juniper.

The French vendor even overtook Juniper to claim second spot in IP edge router market share during the third quarter of 2005. (See Alcatel Router Revenues Surge and Alcatel & TiMetra Seal the Deal.)

Rick Thompson, Senior Analyst at Heavy Reading, says news that Cisco is developing a 7600 successor is to be expected, especially as Alcatel has "proven itself as a formidable competitor in the edge routing space. It wouldn't surprise me if Cisco was to lose the odd battle here and there. It's a natural market ebb and flow as a new entrant penetrates the space" that might be worrisome for Cisco, but certainly isn't "dire straits."

He adds: "Not many people would debate that the 7600 is a bit long in the tooth."

Thompson expects that "like any other routing product successor from Cisco, it will push this into existing friendly accounts first to get a foothold, and then grow it from there as the platform matures and the feature set becomes more rich."

Specific details of the new platform haven't come out yet, and the anticipated timeline for a release stretches from 2007 to 2009. One thing is clear, though -- the market is expecting Cisco to develop and deliver a 7600 replacement.

Mark Seery, an analyst with Ovum RHK Inc. , believes the 7600 is falling behind the times in terms of features in the QOS and MPLS areas, and says the box isn't necessarily the best at handling small packets, though he notes it's debatable how important that really is.

He thinks Cisco will have to move on, following up the 7600 with something new that will require fewer tradeoffs among QOS, features, and density. "Apparently, it's going to take two or three years" to bring to market, he says.

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And the new product will need to be as versatile as the widely deployed 7600 to meet the needs of the installed telecom operator base. Cisco has shipped more than 30,000 7600 routers to carriers around the world, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS), China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA), Cox Communications Inc. , tw telecom inc. (Nasdaq: TWTC), and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD).

While the 7600 is often cited in metro Ethernet discussions, the box is a master of disguises, says Seery. "Its personality changes depending on what linecards you put in it," notes the analyst.

In fact, the press release announcing the 7600's introduction in February 2001 shows Cisco originally positioning the new product as… an optical networking box. (See Cisco Announces New Router.)

[Ed. note: Don't laugh. At the time, optical networking was a perfectly good market upon which to base a product... or even an online news Website.]

Other industry sources agree that the 7600 is heading towards the end of its lifecycle. One telecom executive with knowledge of the 7600 says the "platform is a bit long in the tooth" and needs a replacement that can "do interesting things."

The 7600, he says, can't be extended much further. "Cisco has been bolting new capabilities onto the side for some time," and the product is showing signs of strain, he adds.

The executive, who requested anonymity, believes Cisco needs a new "Big Brother" product to sit upstream from new Ethernet access and edge aggregation equipment, such as the recently unveiled ME 4924 Gigabit Ethernet Switch, a 10-Gbit/s switch being pushed as part of Cisco's Ethernet FTTH (fiber to the home) product set, and the ME 3400 access switches that sit in multi-tenant buildings. (See Cisco, ADVA Push Ethernet Access.)

Another industry source, who also asked not to be identified, says recent carrier Ethernet RFI and RFP responses suggest that Cisco is winding down further development and additions to the 7600 as it concentrates on the new platform, which is expected to be announced in 2007 or 2008.

He believes Cisco has realized that with more and more capabilities being added to the platform, particularly those geared towards IPTV service delivery, the 7600 is reaching the limits of its capabilities, especially as it runs on the vendor's mature Internetwork Operating System (IOS) that was not originally designed to run carrier-grade infrastructure and is regarded as cumbersome by network operations teams. (See Cisco Updates 7600.)

The good news for Cisco and its customers is that the vendor has a new operating system: the IOS XR designed to run the CRS-1 core router. XR has already been extended onto other Cisco platforms and is expected to become the company's standard router OS. (See Cisco's CRS-1 Gets Edgy, Fujitsu, Cisco Unveil Routers, and Cisco Shrinks CRS-1 – Again!)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, and Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to our upcoming conference, Ethernet Expo 2006, a conference and exhibition focused on the evolution of Ethernet as a ubiquitous enabler of next-gen services in telecom networks, targeting residential and enterprise users. To be staged in New York City on October 23-25, admission is free for attendees meeting our prequalification criteria. For more information, click here.

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