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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Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:44:42 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers checaco:
> Well, firstly, double counting is not really conventional for all routers but for Made in Cisco.

Eh, i'd say it's become conventional. Put it this way: The headline AlcaLu sent out this a.m. has the word "Terabit" in it.

>And when calculating aggregate throughput one need not to forget about the backplane.

Yes, and thanks for calling me on that. Always true. In an effort to keep the story concise, I left out that part of the analysis.

Still, I think AlcaLu's point is that the box was ready-made for this step from the beginning. If it ain't true, we'll find out.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:44:42 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers > can anyone guess, what's going to happen with the startups? are they any room for the startups to do anything posh?

If you're talking about system-vendor startups, I'm wondering the same thing. Any complex or sizable (think CRS) system is going to take more $$ than anyone's going to pump into a router startup. At least for now; maybe the pendulum swings back in 5 or 10 years, who knows.

One problem is, you'd be pumping tens of millions of $VC into a product that Cisco, juniper, Alcatel, Redback (i should have mentioned them in the story!!) and a couple others are ALREADY building. It's a tough haul, and that's why you're not seeing an explosion of switch/router startups.

That said, it may get to a point where the hardware becomes very commidified, and it's possible for a software startup to produce an interesting switch/router. Something like the Vyatta model. That's a total guess on my part and might not even be possible, but it would be interesting.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:44:41 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers "catching up," if it's the part i think you're referring to, was meant in a marketing sense. Everyone else has put out upgrades or new families (including Redback; I should have name-checked the SE 1200 in there) ... so where's the 7750 upgrade? That's what I was talking about.

Re: Cisco, I'm pretty sure they're referencing 64 byte pakcets but would have to check.
timjjjj 12/5/2012 | 3:44:40 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers I agree double counting is unfortunate. ALU didnGÇÖt do it for 5 years. However if an increasing majority of folks donGÇÖt understand the discrepancies, being holier-than-thou becomes a negative. It sucks but sometime conforming just saves time.
yarn 12/5/2012 | 3:44:40 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers Craig,

The thing I didn't understand from the ASR launch coverage you did was that the article talked about how using a central processor (QFP) was the "trick" to scaling performance.
In hindsight this seems counter intuitive as the more cards you'd plug, the more you dilute that central processor capacity, while a distributed approach with processing on line cards performance would grow linearly. So as the 3 and 8 slot version both only have one QF processor would it be correct to assume that the best performance would be gained on the 3 slot chassis with only one line card equipped and the worst on a fully equipped 8-slot chassis? I don't know the answer, just wondering what your thoughts are on this and under what conditions you would be able to get the advertised 20 mpps.
kaka 12/5/2012 | 3:44:40 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers Where does all this chip innocations (40 cores, 112 cores) with service level processing functions leave switching chipset companies such as Broadcom/Marvell? Their chipsets are no where near to what these giants are touting?

tm1_queen 12/5/2012 | 3:44:39 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers "One problem is, you'd be pumping tens of millions of $VC into a product that Cisco, juniper, Alcatel, Redback (i should have mentioned them in the story!!) and a couple others are ALREADY building. It's a tough haul, and that's why you're not seeing an explosion of switch/router startups."

Make sense, but....
TiMetra managed to develop 7750 at a fraction of what everyone else spent on products that never worked!
Pull Alwan + 20 key eng's from ALU and 7750 is dead in 2 years, OK, maybe I'm too pessimistic... give it 3 :-)
Once those 20 are out, you won't find a person in ALU that can spell "IP". "Pump" just a little of VC$ in those 20 people and watch ALU buy it again....
tm1_queen 12/5/2012 | 3:44:39 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers I guess, you have to wait and see; Q3 is not far away...
light-headed 12/5/2012 | 3:44:39 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers quote the press release: "unique new FP2 chipset"

A "set" of new chips I think not one processor like quantum flow. If you look at the picture it appears to have fewer but larger chips than previous linecard and some big heatsinks. Quite an impressive achievement as fewer chips for more performance.

Either Craig did not get briefed properly, did not pay attention or just needs to improve his reading comprehension. Typical product of USA education system maybe. ;)

No offense Craig... just keeping you on your toes.
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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