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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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.

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
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