Foundry Strikes at the Core

Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) is taking another shot at carrier core networks with a platform that promises to match Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) offerings at as little as one-tenth the price (see Foundry Launches Core Router).

The NetIron IMR 640, announced today, boasts the right kind of density -- 32 10-Gbit/s interfaces in one chassis measuring one third of a 7-foot rack -- and is targeted at supporting Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and virtual private networks (VPNs). But it's the price that makes the box stand out. For a configuration of 16 OC192 ports, for example, Foundry claims its box would cost $400,000, compared with $3 million or $4 million for corresponding Cisco/Juniper configurations.

"Service providers pay a high premium today if they want to go from a regular Layer 3 port to an IP/MPLS-enabled port," says Ahmed Abdelhalim, a product line manager at Foundry.

The price strategy is similar to what Foundry's done in 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, where the company has been battling Cisco in driving port prices down (see Foundry Drops 10-GigE Prices and Cisco Stretches 10-GigE Lead). Now Foundry could bring a similar price war to core router MPLS and VPN capabilities.

The price is "pretty compelling," says Stan Hubbard, analyst with Heavy Reading. "They've got a good story there. They just have to prove it in."

Foundry sees the IMR 640 as its ticket into carrier networks. Back in the days when Juniper's M40 and Cisco's 12016 ruled the day, Foundry tried its hand at a core box, the NetIron 1500. Analysts cast doubt on Foundry's plans from Day 1, and by 2001, with Internet stocks -- including Foundry's -- crumbling, the company backed out of its core plans (see Judgment Day for Foundry Core Router and Foundry Retreats from the Core).

Now, Foundry wants back into the carrier space. "It's a good time to do that, given the anticipated robust growth in IP VPN and Ethernet services," Hubbard says.

This time, Foundry is not claiming to compete in the very highest end of the market. That zone is left to the multichassis router designs such as Avici Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7) TSR, Chiaro Networks Inc.'s Enstara, Cisco's CRS-1, and Juniper's TX.

Instead, the IMR targets the next tier down, what could be called the mainstream core. The platform is set to compete with the Juniper T640 and T320 core routers, and, to some extent, the Cisco GSR 12000, although that platform doesn't match the density Foundry has targeted.

Table 1: Sizing Up the Core
Vendor Platform Port Capacity* Size
Cisco GSR 12816 320 Gbit/s 1 rack
Cisco CRS-1 640 Gbit/s 1 rack
Juniper T640 320 Gbit/s 1/2 rack
Juniper T320 160 Gbit/s 1/3 rack
Avici TSR 400 Gbit/s 1 rack
Avici SSR 200 Gbit/s 1/2 rack
Foundry IMR 640 320 Gbit/s 1/3 rack
* Theoretical maximum, based on number of slots multiplied by maximum throughput available per slot.
Source: Company reports

The IMR 640 also supports the main options for Layer 2 and Layer 3 VPNs: virtual leased lines, virtual private LAN services (VPLS), and Layer 3 VPNs based on RFC 2547bis from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Foundry claims to have a superior density for all three services. (See Edge-Router Evolution, Page 5.)

Cisco officials noted that they don't comment on competitors' product announcements. Juniper representatives declined comment due to not having seen the release.

The IMR 640 is definitely for the core, as it targets 1-Gbit/s interfaces and up. But its low price could make it a viable edge-Ethernet play, Abdelhalim says. That would give Foundry a bit of a foothold against other multiservice Ethernet players such as Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK). (See Riverstone Enters Edge Fray.)

The IMR will play to Foundry's enterprise and government base as well, and it's here that the low price could be a crucial factor. Many enterprise customers, in particular, find the idea of an Ethernet-based core attractive and are eager for the chance to put the technology to the test.

"They can get these Ethernet interfaces on the routers so much more cheaply than the Sonet/SDH interfaces," Hubbard says. "I saw some figures around one-tenth or one-twentieth the cost of [Sonet]."

The Cisco/Juniper wall will be tougher to scale on the carrier side, though. Foundry is hoping the price will help convince carriers -- which can be shy about introducing new vendors into their core networks and skittish when it comes to adopting new services (see VPLS: Very Painful, Long & Slow). But whether price is preventing carriers from moving to MPLS at all is debatable. "Sure, everybody wants to save money, but I haven't heard anybody say they aren't going to make an MPLS deployment because it's too expensive," Hubbard says.

The IMR 640 uses a new generation of network processors developed within Foundry. The chips are based on Foundry's Direct Routing Technology, which chooses the route without the help of an external microprocessor -- that is, all the work is done in hardware, without consulting software programs. The same technology has been in the NetIron 40G since last summer, Abdelhalim says.

In addition to the IMR 640, Foundry today is announcing the NetIron 2404, a smaller router with OC3 and OC48 interfaces. One key target for the 2404 is the multitenant unit, where the box could sit in the basement and aggregate traffic from all tenants.

List prices for the IMR 640 run $25,000 and up (that's the blank chassis without linecards, which cost $18,000 to $25,000 each). The system is set for general availability this month, with some modules not available until May. The NetIron 2404, priced at $20,000, is due to ship in May.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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opticalPassion 12/5/2012 | 3:23:38 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core I feel happy to see the arrogant monopoly CSCO get beaten up eventually!
tsat 12/5/2012 | 3:23:38 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core
Does not appear to support SONET interfaces, is
this correct?

materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:23:38 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core If routes are decided 100% in hardware, how does the system adapt to change, either in the network or in services provided, say different MPLS standards or something of that ilk?
tsat 12/5/2012 | 3:23:37 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core
Software manages the hardware routing tables.

What this means is that hardware determines the
route of each individual packet without going
though a time-consuming software routine.

materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:23:36 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core tdat,
That is where I am confused. I do not see what is done in hardware that is new. If the routing function is done in hardware, it seems to me that no software or routing tables would need to exist. If the speed and cost advantage come from doing route decisions in hardware, the price you pay is manual control adaptation to change over time. It seems that you pay now or pay later somehow.
reoptic 12/5/2012 | 3:23:36 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core Carrier business relationships and carrier class experience mean a lot and does Foundry have that? What about support for millions of routes and protocols like V6? Isn't an all ethernet core really after the market that Force10 is after?
dadofamunky 12/5/2012 | 3:23:36 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core I think this is exciting. Just from the price point alone they're bound to get some more attention. Whether that translates into exponentially greater sales in that segment is another question.
light-headed 12/5/2012 | 3:23:35 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core No News... Re-badge existing enterprise gear and do some feature locking based on EEPROM. 3com wrote the book on this years ago. The federal space must be drying up and they are getting desperate.

Limited selection of real router interfaces and features. YAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWN...

Foundry Networks... NO CORE for YOU!


(the Router Nazi has spoken - apologies to Seinfeld)
beowulf888 12/5/2012 | 3:23:35 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core Are they OSMINE compliant/certified? If not, what's their roadmap for this. Cheap is good, but Telco's won't be buying this equipment if they can't integrate it into their network management systems...

blackstar 12/5/2012 | 3:23:34 AM
re: Foundry Strikes at the Core materialgirl,

there is nothing new/unique here that is done in hardware. all performace-oriented routers on sale today do as much as is feasible of the packet forwarding role in hardware, usually meaning firmware running on custom chips, for performance reasons.
Packet forwarding always needs a way to figure out where to send a packet, hence the tables. All routers have tables that control where to send traffic, though these tables may be implemented in suprisingly dissimilar ways, and might be nothing like a table in the conventional sense.

Routing protocols are never implemented in hardware since routing protocols are much too complex, buggy, and subject to change to be burned into silicon (other issues there too).

You are correct that a trade-off exists here. For example, a company might sell line cards that whose chips will never be able to support, say, IPv6, because the chips were designed only for very fast IPv4 processing. Such a company would need to sell completely new line cards to support IPv6 or for certain new features (this can make customers unhappy).

Other vendors' line cards are more programmable, and wouldn't have such a severe issue, though the flexibility sometimes at the expense of performace, e.g. can't do line rate with particular combinations of features enabled.

Most vendors that I'm familiar with are going with something more like the more flexible approach, because development on a flexible platform is cheaper in the long run and because customers don't like buying all new hardware every time they want to implement a new protocol or feature.
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