AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers

Not to be outdone by its fiercest rivals, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) is today announcing a major router upgrade, giving a long-awaited boost to the 7750 Service Router and 7450 Ethernet Service Switch.

A new processor gives the boxes a capacity that crosses into the "terabit router" range -- though that boast can only be achieved by counting both the ingress and egress traffic, each of which has a maximum rate of 500 Gbit/s.

AlcaLu is also adding features to the boxes, most notably deep packet inspection (DPI), firming up the vendor's heritage as a pioneer in the "service router" category.

The 7750 hasn't had a major upgrade since its introduction in 2003. And the competition has been on the move with new routers -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) with its new ASR 1000, and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) with the MX family that was first introduced in 2006. (See Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge and Juniper Antes Up on Ethernet (Finally).)

So an upgrade to the 7750 and its derivative, the 7450, isn't a particular surprise -- in fact, many people have been expecting it. (See AlcaLu's Edge Upgrade.)

The interesting part is that the upgrade doesn't require a new router. It's just a matter of new line cards for the 7750 and 7450, as the switch fabric that's been in the 7750 since 2003 can absorb the extra traffic.

"We originally had told all our customers they weren't going to have to change the switch fabric to get to these speeds," says Basil Alwan, president of AlcaLu's IP business, referring as far back as Alcatel's 2003 purchase of his router startup, TiMetra. (See Alcatel & TiMetra Seal the Deal.)

Alwan adds that those customers are probably going to be surprised to see this actually happen.

AlcaLu's product launch parallels the recent launch of Cisco's ASR, in that a processor is the star of the show. (See Cisco Touts Chip Breakthrough.)

In this case it's called the FP2, and it's a chip AlcaLu designed itself, just as Cisco designed its QuantumFlow for the ASR, and Juniper designed its own chips for its MX and EX systems.

The FP2 can handle 100 Gbit/s of traffic (using the double-counting that's conventional for routers). With 10 slots in the 7750 SR-12, the largest system of the family, that adds up to what could be called 1 Tbit/s of capacity.

And in a bit of one-upmanship, the FP2 packs 112 processors compared with 40 on the Cisco QuantumFlow. (It's like neighbors competing with their barbeques and lawn mowers, isn't it?)

Cisco boasted of integrating services into the ASR, and AlcaLu isn't being left behind on that front either. Its Application Assurance card announced today adds deep packet inspection (DPI) to its routers, mirroring one of Cisco's ASR moves. An additional card for IPSec encryption is being announced for the 7750 and its smaller cousin, the 7710 Service Router.

The usual problem with these features is that, once they're activated, the router slows down substantially. Cisco's ASR 1000 demonstrates this, as the data sheets show. The QuantumFlow can normally process 20 million packets per second, but the activation of services and encryption can bring that figure to 2 million.

AlcaLu says the 7750 has been built from the start to keep routing and services running at line rate. "We didn't build a CRS, which does blazing fast core routing but little else," Alwan says, referring to Cisco's biggest router. "We continue to focus on the fact that highly classified traffic, or traffic with a lot of features turned on, should run at speed."

AlcaLu is also jumping on the "single OS" bandwagon. Juniper prides itself on having only one version of Junos in all its routers, but it's still got separate operating systems in other product lines. Cisco made a big deal of the ASR running multiple services on one OS, but competitors love to point out that Cisco's Internetwork Operating System (IOS) has dozens of versions scattered around its customer base. AlcaLu, whose IP portfolio is based entirely on the 7750, wants to point out that it's really got only one OS out there.

The enhancements to the 7750 and 7450 are due to ship in the third quarter, but AlcaLu won't tell the press what the prices are. "Pricing is upon request, but you have to have a check in hand," Alwan says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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websterd 12/5/2012 | 3:44:12 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers We did not use a third party core. Rather, we leveraged the instruction set architecture (ISA) of Tensilica -- Cisco then did a clean sheet in-house implementation of the ISA to deliver the QFP's multi-core multi-threaded processor array. You can think of this like making a choice on the architecture for a combustion engine or a jet engine. We chose the jet engine architectural approach and then designed and built the engine from the ground up, incorporating a number of innovative capabilities in the process to make it work faster, more intelligently, and more power efficiently than any other chip in the networking industry today.
Craig, if youGÇÖd like to dig into this further, weGÇÖd be more than happy to as we believe our engineers have developed something quite innovative that will greatly benefit our customers. Just let us know. Thanks,
Doug Webster
Cisco Systems
boofritz 12/5/2012 | 3:44:35 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers Would the 7600 be the logical assumption for the ez solution?

Any ideas when we may see an update/refresh/relaunch of the 7600?

Would ez be included in new linecards in new boxes or would there also be an upgrade path for the installed base?
desiEngineer 12/5/2012 | 3:44:35 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers EZChip has said that Juniper and the world's largest network vendor are using NP-2 and NP-3 for CESR, which for Juniper means the MX. Does that mean 7600 for the WLNV?


Juniper's website says they use their next gen Internet processor ASIC so I guess that's the IP-2.

Putting two and two together...

desiEngineer 12/5/2012 | 3:44:35 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers Craig,

You said: "I was writing under the belief that the FP2 was a single chip, not a chipset."

Does QuantumFlow have packet processing and traffic management functions in the same chip? E.g., from what I remember EZChip breaks out packet processor and traffic manager into two chips.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:44:36 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers Another mea culpa -- yes, I was writing under the belief that the FP2 was a single chip, not a chipset. Which of course was wrong. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, light-headed.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:44:36 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers As for EZchip -- You guys are right; I got my wires crossed between the MX (based on M-series chips plus, although I don't think juniper's officially admitted it, EZchip) and the EX.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:44:36 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers You do dilute the central processor capacity. It's just that the main processor has enough cycles to keep performance (supposedly) reasonable.

Which isn't much of a "trick," i'll grant you. But to make the processor fit inside a router, especially in terms of power, probably wasn't that easy.

Didn't realize QuantumFlow used Tensilica cores. Although... hm. If you buy silicon cores from the outside and knit them into your own chip, does that still count as "home-grown?"
opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 3:44:37 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers Yeah, it looks like the story I heard was wrong.
The question is how close the AlcaLu/Timetra network processor is to the Treseq/Nortel one.

Of course, all startups are run by groups of people who got their experience elsewhere. Nortel certainly didn't create the idea, and it seems somewhat of a miracle that AlcaLu seems to have kept the environment that allows the team to continue their successes.
tmc1 12/5/2012 | 3:44:37 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers gocowboys,

you are only partially correct. Basil and Joe and some of the key developers/testers were rapid city. Sri was never part of rapid city, he was synoptics/bay and took over the rapid city development at bay/nortel.

Ken and Mike and the chip guys were not rapid city either, although they were not founders, they were important enough that they might as well be. They came from a NPU company called Treseq(sp?) that Nortel acquired.
tmc1 12/5/2012 | 3:44:38 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers Tera,

What you "heard" is a myth, a story, an untruth. It is not even close to accurate. The founders all worked together at Bay Networks and Nortel and many of the key guys came from the enterprise switching group that Basil was GM over. The total funding was VC and investor money of ~50M. If you look at the product design, all three boxes used the same chips, linecards, etc.

When you have super-smart and dedicated guys like Mike Noll in hw and Joe Regan designing sw features and providing the technical "glue" to make sure everything is going to work together it saves you millions. You also had Sri and Ken making sure every single penny counted and went into the product. One of the best design teams in SV and they deserve to be recognized for it along with solid leadership from Basil, Kevin, et. al.

Where most startups burn/waste money is with jr. engineers in over their heads, high priced design consultants and chip contractors, outsourced design, no one that understands the "big picture", bad financial leadership, etc.

sound like any companies from the bubble???
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