Cisco Storms the Metro Edge
The moves are part of a coherent and potent strategy to shore up Cisco's position in the edge router market, stepping up a campaign that puts the screws to competitors, including Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR).
The new 12404 Internet Router, an addition to Cisco's GSR 12000 router family, offers the power of 10-Gbit/s interfaces in a small edge router. In the metro, Cisco is moving aggressively to market its own version of the emerging Resilient Packet Ring standard being developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) working group. The 10720 Internet Router, a low-cost access router, supports dynamic packet transport (DPT), Cisco's proprietary version of RPR.
Yesterday, the company hosted a live Webcast for its customers and the media to explain its metropolitan area networking strategy. These new products, along with other lower-end additions announced last month, form an aggressive campaign by Cisco to enter a market expected to go grow to $17.2 billion by 2003 from $6.3 billion in 2000, according to Infonetics Research Inc., an industry consulting firm (see Cisco Rounds Out the Edge).
“I am committed to making Cisco the number one player in the service provider marketplace as we’ve done in the enterprise,” CEO John Chambers said on the Webcast.“We are going through a period of tight growth that will be followed by a period of very expansive growth. The winners will be those that have been able to drive new product development forward and create new markets.”
Cisco’s push into the metro market for carrier routing products comes a year after its most menacing competitor, Juniper, entered that same market with its M5 and M10 routers (see Juniper Goes to the Edge). These edge routers use the same hardware and software and even the same ASICs as their bigger brothers, the M20, M40, and M160. But they only support 5 Gbit/s and 10 Gbit/s of throughput, respectively.
With a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet standard just around the corner and carriers boosting metro bandwidth capacity to OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s) and above, higher capacity routers will be needed at the edge to aggregate this data traffic into the core of telecom networks. Cisco’s new 12404 router, which supports up to 80 Gbit/s of full duplex throughput, is designed to fill that need, say Cisco executives. This four-slot chassis can handle four OC192 (10 Gbit/s) or four 10-gigabit Ethernet interfaces in a chassis that is only about a foot tall.
"Service providers need high-end routers at the edge where they didn’t before," says Dave Passmore, research director at the Burton Group. "Before, they were terminating DS3s and T1 lines, really low amounts of bandwidth. But now they will be terminating 10-GigE and OC192 interfaces."
The new router fits into an existing line of 10-Gbit/s products that includes three other models: the Cisco 12416, a 16-slot chassis that fits into a full 7-foot telco rack; the Cisco 12410, a 10-slot chassis that fits into half a rack; and the 12406, a six-slot chassis that takes up one-quarter of a standard telco rack.
But Cisco says it has done more than shrink the form factor. It seems to have learned an important lesson from watching Juniper scale down its core routers -- the core is about speed, but the edge is about services with speed. Because Juniper’s products all use the same ASICs, some analysts have criticized its edge products for not being flexible enough to accommodate a broad range of services. Juniper has shunned the software approach of adding features such as packet-forwarding and packet-processing software because it hurts the performance of routers.
To avoid this problem, Cisco has added a new line card to the 12000 series, called the IP Services Engine. It combines ASICs that off-load packet forwarding with programmable processors that offer deep-packet processing so that IP services like quality of service and access control lists can be turned on without sacrificing performance.
Currently, Cisco is the only company offering 10-Gbit/s interfaces in a chassis this small. Unisphere Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: UNSP), which offers three flavors of its product, maxes out at 40 Gbit/s and only supports interfaces up to OC12 (622 Mbit/s). Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN), another potential competitor, doesn’t yet support OC192 or 10-gigabit Ethernet interfaces.
More competition in the 10-Gbit/s range could be coming. Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), another high-end core router player, is expected to make a new product announcement next week. While some have speculated that Avici will also gravitate to the edge, the company denies that it is headed in this direction.
Cisco is also stirring up trouble in the metro access market with its new 10720 Internet Router. This small, inexpensive metro router supports DPT, a technology based on Cisco’s proprietary spatial reuse protocol (SRP). The technology has already been shipping on existing Cisco 12000 routers for the past two years with 13,000 ports deployed in more than 170 customer networks. The company has already proposed to the IEEE 802.17 RPR working group that its version be used for the standard. But several startups, along with bigger names like Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) and Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), have strongly opposed Cisco’s proposal (see RPR Divided and RPR: RIP?).
While some of the companies in the IEEE 802.17 working group say that the new 10720 router further validates the RPR market as a whole, others fear that this new product is simply another attempt by Cisco to flood the market with its proprietary technology. Cisco defends its actions by saying it is only offering customers solutions that they need now.
"Our tradition has always been to bring new technologies into the market and make the technology open to the standards process," says Robert Redford, vice president, marketing, public carrier IP group.
This product now puts Cisco more squarely in line with Ethernet boxes from competitors like Dynarc, Lantern Communications Inc., and Luminous Networks Inc., which are also building dedicated boxes with pre-standard RPR support.
Both routers are already available for shipment.
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading