Optical/IP Networks

Cisco Rounds Out the Edge

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is beefing up at the edge. The company announced earlier this week at the N+I tradeshow in Atlanta, GA that it’s introducing three new routers into its 7000 router series (see Cisco Unveils Next Generation Routers).

Brand new to the mix is the 7300 router. This router has a backplane of 16 Gbit/s and can forward 4 million packets per second even at peak loads with additional IP services turned on, says Brendan Gibbs, senior manager of product marketing.

The company also introduced two new versions of the 7600 router, which was introduced earlier this spring (see Cisco Makes Metro Move ). The new 7603 and the 7606 routers round out that family with form factors that support three slots and six slots respectively. The 7609, the first of the 7600 routers introduced, has nine slots.

The new routers were built to provide enterprise and service provider customers with a more scalable solution for their edge applications, says Gibbs. The 7200 and 7500 routers have long been the flagship routing series for Cisco. But the 7200 only scales to OC 3 (155 Mbit/s) interfaces. The 7500, which supports 2 Gbit/s backplane, can only support interfaces up to OC 12 ( 622 Mbit/s). The new routers will scale to OC 48 (2.5 Gbit/s).

At the other end of the spectrum Cisco has high-end routers including the 10,000 router and GSR 12000 series. Gibbs says these new routers fill that gap between the high-end routers and the low performing general purpose routers in the 7000 router family.

“There was no way to scale the 7200 or the 7500,” says Gibbs. “So we had to build a new router.”

Cisco’s 7000 routers has been criticized because they can’t perform at wire rate with all services turned on. Jon Mischel, director of product management for the ERX for Unisphere Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: UNSP), which makes a competing product, says he suspects that the new Cisco routers may still face some of the same performance problems that plagued the earlier generation.

“I don’t see that they’ve done anything new technically,” says Mischel. “It’s just different packaging.”

Even though Cisco has expanded the backplane and added new Parallel Express Forwarding (PXF) IP Services processing technology specially designed for fast packet forwarding, Mischel says that the new routers still have a centralized architecture. He says that the routers will not be able to forward at line rate with additional services like QOS turned on.

“We’ve done quite a bit of testing of the Cisco routers and they are not wirespeed,” he says. “When you turn on access lists and QOS, performance drops off.”

Gibbs of Cisco denies that performance will suffer on the new routers and says that the routing and filtering features are done in ASICS, which allows the product to forward packets at line rate. He also emphasizes the importance of the new processor by Cisco that allows the routers to still forward packets at line rate when additional services are turned on.

While Cisco still dominates the edge router market, competitors Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) and Unisphere are hot on the networking giant’s heels. Juniper started shipping its high performance edge routers, the M5, M10 and M20 routers last year. And Unishpere’s ERX, which comes in three different flavors ,5 Gbit/s, 10 Gbit/s and 40 Gbt/s, is gaining steady traction in Asia.

Cisco's new routers will be available for customer deployment in October 2001.

- Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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