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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opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 3:44:38 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers "TiMetra managed to develop 7750 at a fraction of what everyone else spent on products that never worked!"

The story I've heard is that Timetra was a privatization spinoff of a spinoff of a large telecom company. If this is true, the actual amount of money they spent is probably a lot higher than the VC money spent during their last incarnation.

It is true that they didn't spend a lot of money during the telecom boom, when everyone else was spending as much money as fast as possible.
gocowboys 12/5/2012 | 3:44:38 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers tmc1,

The founders were originally part of Rapid City and acquired by Bay Networks. Rapid City was building a Switch/Router at the time.

The VC environment is very different from the inception days of TiMetra. I spent some time making the rounds recently and here are a few observations:

First, there is precious little money for telecom. There are some point investments in the valley. But many VCs are still stinging from the telecom/internet bubbles. In addition, it is excedingly difficult to sell to the carriers as a startup. So, that is a huge issue. In addition, none of the VCs will fund you based upon a plan that relies upon a single potential acquirer.

Second, funding is generally smaller. Most VCs don't want to even put in money until there are prototypes and customers. Clearly, that is not a model for developing big iron.

I am sure that Basil could get a position with a VC based upon his star power, but I doubt that a new startup would be in the offing. All things being equal, that team is doing just fine with ALU and they will probably be better served just to stay there.

The fact that ALU is beating the drum so hard about their IP products seems to indicate that everything else is probably not doing too well. But of course, Pat has a plan. :-)

tm1_queen 12/5/2012 | 3:44:38 PM
re: AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers "Timetra was a privatization spinoff of a spinoff of a large telecom company"
You heard it REALLY WRONG!
TiMetra was a regular (OK, not regular, but similar) VC-funded start up, just run by very smart people that kept their eyes on a ball and their egos out of the game... funded by Accel and Redpoint with the usual suspects on the Board, Wagner and Dyal. Check it out... they still take credit for it :-)
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.
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?"
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...

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