November 11, 2008
With the release of yet another router this year, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) might finally be starting a long awaited refresh of its telecom edge portfolio.
The Nexus 7000, introduced in January, didn't do it: That's a box aimed at data center virtualization. Neither did the ASR 1000, introduced in March: Its early incarnations are too small, and it's intended to serve enterprises as well as carriers.(See Cisco's Nexus Targets Data Center's Future and Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge.)
But the ASR 9000, being introduced today, could be the eventual replacement for the Cisco 7600, an older platform that makes up a good chunk of Cisco's installed base and which, Cisco contends, may not have enough gas in the tank as telcos start handling larger volumes of video traffic.
Even if you don't want to view it as a 7600 replacement, the ASR 9000 is at least a heck of a lot bigger. "The ASR 9000 is a blockbuster machine -- it's a 'Viking' that obliterates the 7600 predecessor in capacity and, potentially, in smarts," says Infonetics Research Inc. analyst Michael Howard, referring to the box's code name.
Some of the big numbers, such as the possiblity of more than 5 Tbit/s of switching, were revealed on Halloween when a pretty accurate description of the router leaked via Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. analyst Ittai Kidron.(See Cisco Plans Edge-Router Splash.)
Possibly the most important stat is that the ASR 9000 is built to handle 400 Gbit/s of traffic per slot. That's a huge number -- even the CRS-1 gets only 40 Gbit/s per slot.
It's going to be a while before you can use all that throughput, though, as the ASR 9000's first linecards will handle just a few 10-Gbit/s lines apiece. Bigger cards will be available when the 100-Gbit/s Ethernet standard gets finalized, says Pankaj Patel, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s service provider technology group.
Cisco has also taken the opportunity to pile features into the box, including content delivery technology acquired from Arroyo Video Solutions in 2006. (See Cisco Snatches VOD Vendor Arroyo.)
And, to get the most obvious question out of the way: No, the ASR 9000 doesn't use yet another new operating system like the ASR 1000 and Nexus lines did. It runs on IOS XR, the same software powering the CRS-1 core router but not the same as the IOS XE variant running on the ASR 1000.
Cisco says the ASR 9000 was four years and $200 million in the making, with the Arroyo blade tacked onto the project midway. Light Reading heard about the development in October 2006. (See Cisco Lines Up 7600 Successor.)
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Cisco admits the ASR 9000 is better suited than the 7600 for handling enormous loads of traffic -- officials are kicking around the word "zettabyte" to describe global Internet traffic -- but they're adamant that the 7600 and its massive installed base aren't considered obsolete.
"It's alive and well, and we have announced very recently some major innovations on that," Patel says. (See Cisco Shares Another Big Day .)
Competitors that happen to have fewer platforms to work with are taking the opportunity to pile on about Cisco having not just a huge installed base of 7600s and GSR 12000s, but a growing swath of new edge devices, too.
"As a supplier, you just can't maintain that many platforms -- even a big company like [Cisco]," contends Jeff Baher, director of product marketing for Redback Networks Inc. , now a part of Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC).
Cisco has mentioned it's hoping to winnow down the number of operating system variants it uses, and the ASR 9000 does seem to be a step towards putting more routers on IOS-XR. Still, that's just one small move in what's going to be a long process.
"I'm sure that's the direction they've been trying to get to for many years," Baher says. "They had set a lot of these strategies in motion 10 years ago. It just takes time."
As for the competition, it would seem Cisco needed to do something to battle back against upcoming competition at the edge.
In a report issued Sunday, Morgan Keegan & Company Inc. analyst Simon Leopold noted that market share numbers "suggest share shifts within the sector, with Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) gaining the most share and Cisco losing the most market share."
Specifically, Leopold figures Cicso's edge IP/MPLS market share was 45 percent in the calendar third quarter of 2008. That's down from a 47 percent share averaged over the past four quarters, based on Ovum RHK Inc. data, he wrote.
Juniper, meanwhile, gained two percentage points to get an 18 percent share in the third quarter, and the company did well "even if we back out $20 million of revenue recognized from Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)," Leopold wrote.
Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), which has gained a lot of ground in the past few years, held steady with a 17 percent market share.
Cisco is throwing the ASR 9000 at pretty much every hot market. Video is at the top of the list, naturally.
To that end, Cisco is essentially integrating its Cisco Content Delivery System (CDS) -- the rebranded Arroyo platform -- into the router, while still making the usual noises about why this doesn't mean the end of the CDS as a separate product line. "Arroyo's offering will stand on its own as an appliance," Patel says.
The Advanced Video Services Module, as Cisco is calling the Arroyo-based blade, gives the router video-on-demand (VOD) capabilities. The blade includes 4 TBytes of hard-drive storage for streaming videos, the goal being to let service providers store content at points closer to the user. Advert insertion software and a sizeable buffer, for accommodating fast channel changes in IPTV, are also included.
Next on the buzzword list is wireless backhaul, particularly for WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks. To that end, company officials say the ASR 9000 has home-grown technology for generating the synchronization clock, a crucial backhaul feature lacking in native Ethernet and IP. (See Anything But Convergence in Backhaul Synchronization.)
Of course, no router announcement is complete without some measure of "greenness" coming up. Cisco designed the ASR 9000 with modular power blocks; you don't have to install all of them if you're running a partially empty chassis.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading
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