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May 13, 2002
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is preparing to launch upgrades to its core routers to counter the recent announcements by Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR).
The two new products are called the GSR 12810 and the GSR 12816, and they will be built on the existing GSR 12000 architecture and have maximum respective capacities of 800 Gbit/s and 1.28 Tbit/s. They are slated to ship to customers in the second half of this year.
Whether Cisco's new products mark true terabit routers will, of course, be a matter for debate -- the capacity of each box is calculated by adding up the switching capacity and then doubling that number for bi-directional traffic. But they appear to match the capacity of Juniper's new lineup, which is measured in the same terms.
The news emphasizes the different approaches the two core router players are taking. With its recently announced T640, Juniper moved to a multi-chassis architecture that can interconnect several routers using an optical backplane (see Juniper Goes Terabit With the T640). Cisco, meanwhile, is taking a more incremental approach, choosing to upgrade the capacity of its existing architecture before it moves on to multi-chassis designs. Unlike the T640, the new GSR 128XX switches won’t be designed to scale to a multi-chassis configuration.
"This is an intermediate step for Cisco," says a spokesperson at one major service provider, who didn’t want to be named. "The current architecture can’t scale to multiple boxes, so they’ve decided to go with an upgrade until they can announce the scaleable solution.”
While the GSR 128XX products have not been officially announced to the public, Cisco outlined the product strategy in a presentation it posted on its Website from a meeting in Amsterdam this past February. The presentation is still available at http://www.cisco.com/global/NL/events/ngr/pdf/ngr_pres4.pdf.
The 12810, like the 12410, has 10 interface slots, and fits into half a standard telecom rack. It has a switch capacity of about 800 Gbit/s. The GSR 12816, like the GSR 12416, has 16 line card slots. It will have a total switching capacity of 1.28 Tbit/s and fit into a full 7-foot telecom rack.
In terms of capacity, these new chassis are a big leap forward for Cisco. The GSR 12416, the highest capacity box the company currently has available, supports 320 Gbit/s worth of capacity in one full rack. Juniper’s latest router, the T640, supports 640 Gbit/s in half a rack.
Cisco declined to comment on the new routers. But the approach outlined in the presentation fits in with the company's stated core routing strategy. Last month, Robert Redford, vice president for marketing in the public carrier IP group for Cisco, told Light Reading that Cisco was much more focused on developing denser line cards and expanding 10 Gbit/s to the edge of network. With the capacity of the GSR expanded, the new 128XX chassis will be able to support a variety of new line cards. For example, Cisco will be able to offer a 4-port OC192 (10 Gbit/s) card, and eventually, when interfaces become available, it will be able to offer a 1-port OC768 (40 Gbit/s) card.
While the new routers will be a significant improvement in technology for Cisco, it's also evident that the GSR 128XX isn't the long-awaited "HFR" product, a terabit, multi-chassis router that has been rumored to be in development since 1999.
Rumors have it that the HFR project has been cancelled and revived at least two times in the past three years. Some sources say that the central problem has been the software, which would require Cisco to come up with a brand new version of IOS (see Cisco Prepping Monster IOS Upgrade). That project was reduced sometime last year as a result of budget cuts.
The HFR was at one time thought to be revitalized, after Cisco completed the Growth Networks acquisition in 2000. But last summer it looked like the idea might not work, and some key individuals from Growth Networks left the company, according to sources familiar with the project. Other engineers on the project were transferred to other product lines.
While Cisco may be keeping its HFR developments quiet, many in the industry believe that the company is still working on some sort of scaleable solution, even if the team working on it is small. No one has seen the new HFR product in customer trials so far, but most experts are expecting to see more activity by Cisco later this year.
The delay in the HFR rollout may not be a bad thing anyway. Sam Wilson, an equities analyst with Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. says that the core router market isn’t expected to pick up significantly until at least the beginning of 2003. A faster, denser GSR router could be enough to satisfy current Cisco customers until the HFR is ready. And with carriers still watching their wallets, they may be just as happy to buy a set of new line cards and a new switch fabric rather than buying a completely new system that will require a forklift upgrade.
But new potential customers -- like the RBOCs -- that are trying to break into the long-distance market and will use core routers to build out their IP data infrastructures, are looking for a long-term investment and will likely go with scaleable solutions.
“The fundamental problem is that the cost per bit is dropping,” says Steve Kamman an analyst with CIBC World Markets. “Equipment providers need to rethink how to build the network. And that means that a band-aid solution just won’t work.”
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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