Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

The new 7950 Extensible Routing System (XRS) from Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) has launched the usual round of competitive sniping, but one criticism rankles Basil Alwan, president of AlcaLu's IP Division, like no other -- that it's not really a core router. (See Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper Get Core-Router Upgrades.)

"The 'core router' announcement they made is an edge router, not a core router," said Rob Lloyd, senior vice president at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), during the company's recent Cisco Live event. "It doesn't have multichassis. It doesn't have the scale and the capacity that's used in core routing today."

Not true, Alwan says.

Alwan is in charge of AlcaLu's IP and optical divisions, but he's also the former CEO of TiMetra, the acquired startup. He's certain his team -- which has focused on the same architecture for about a decade and watched its baby grow up to be the industry's No. 2 edge router -- has built a core router. And he's damn proud of it.

"It's been eight years since I've done anything this meaningful in the industry," Alwan says.

Counting past one
Announced late in May, the XRS is like a giant version of the successful 7750 Service Router, in that it uses the same packet-processing chip and the same software.

Its most obvious difference over the 7750 is size. The XRS-20, a single chassis taking up a seven-foot telecom rack, can theoretically support 16Tbit/s of traffic (8Tbit/s if you're not double-counting), with each of 10 slots able to handle a theoretical 1.6Tbit/s (800Gbit/s).

But what about Cisco's "multichassis" dig? Well, AlcaLu has announced a two-chassis version, the XRS-40, due to come out next year. Larger multichassis systems will be available when AlcaLu ships a switching shelf, an extra piece of equipment that would be the switch fabric connecting all the other chassis. No shipping date on that has been announced yet.

So technically, AlcaLu has no multichassis XRS shipping at the moment. But Alwan points out that that never stopped anybody else's marketing team. "Every Cisco and Juniper platform that I know of came out with a single shelf first, and they were still considered core routers," he says.

He's got a point. In 2004, Cisco made a huge deal out of the potential for a 72-chassis CRS-1 router, even though it wasn't clear that 72 of the boxes had ever been built at the time of the announcement.

Along those lines, Alwan also challenges the idea that carriers want dozens of routers hooked together in multichassis fashion in the first place. Eight chassis seems to be the maximum so far, and only in rare cases. The 72-chassis version is "a crazy spreadsheet exercise that's never going to be built," Alwan says.

Cisco officials correctly point out that they've led the multichassis core-router market. The thing they expect will trip up AlcaLu, Juniper and others is the scaling of the control plane to work across so many boxes. Alwan says that's hogwash and AlcaLu already knows its control plane will scale just fine.

But Cisco still expresses doubts.

"I would love to find out how that works, with an operating system that's 10 years old," says Suraj Shetty, a Cisco vice president of marketing.

Juniper doesn't think the scalable control plane is they key problem for anybody's multichassis router. "The control plane doesn't really have anything to do with that. It's the interconnect technology, bringing the switching in and out [from one chassis to another]. That's the gating factor," says Luc Ceuppens, vice president of product marketing. He adds that the task has been made easier by the introduction of pluggable optics.

Then there's the factor of density -- how much traffic the router can deal with. AlcaLu says the XSR has an industry-leading density and blows away Cisco's in particular.

Naturally, Cisco disagrees. Here's one way to sift through the numbers.

The full-rack XRS-20 is a 20-slot box. It's designed to let that port capacity grow to 20Tbit/s eventually, but the first available cards will have only two 100Gbit/s Ethernet ports per slot. That multiplies out to 4Tbit/s of port capacity per rack.

The largest Cisco CRS-3 has 16 slots. Even at 200Gbit/s per slot (a 20-port 10Gbit/s Ethernet card, which appears to be the highest-density card available), that's a port capacity of 3.2Tbit/s.

Cisco counters this one by comparing the XSR to the ASR 9000, an edge router that actually has higher density than the CRS-3. The ASR 9922 has 20 line-card slots and an available card with two 100Gbit/s ports, matching the XRS-20. Of course, the ASR 9000 isn't a core router. Even Cisco doesn't call it one.

So, whether the XRS's density is a big deal depends on which category you want to put it in -- as a core router, against the CRS-3, or an edge router (as Cisco would prefer), against the ASR 9000.

(It's worth noting that density comparisons are always tricky, because every vendor wants to compare different things. Feel free to offer up your own comparisons on the message board below.)

Fuzzy logic
In part, the arguments just reveal that the lines between core and edge networks are getting fuzzier. Carriers themselves have different ideas about what has to be in the core or the edge. Virtualization and video traffic (think CDNs) are making the metro network a bigger and busier place, needing core-like densities in some cases.

And every major vendor has a plan to handle it all. Cisco is still in the leader's position for now and doesn't think any of these trends will change that.

"How many of the competitors you have asked us about have maintained sustainable market share from Cisco?" Chambers told the press at Cisco Live. He added that Cisco managed to gain eight points of market share in edge routing during the past 12 months, a sign to him that AlcaLu is "really exposed, make no mistake. We're going to go after the edge router, because we don't see very many customers that can put this in the core."

AlcaLu sees it differently.

"The gap between the XRS and the competition is, I think, the big story," Alwan says.

For more

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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yarn 12/5/2012 | 5:29:42 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

Even so, IOS-XR already dates back to 2004 (8 years) and Junos years before that. So you can hardly call SR OS "old". You can call it mature and time-tested though. Consider the alternative; what if ALU would have written a brand new OS just for this product? Then the critique would (rightfully) be that it's unproven and immature. So I think ALU made a good call on this one. Besides, software doesn't age the way hardware does.

Soupafly 12/5/2012 | 5:29:40 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

The age of the software is completely irrelevant because in every case cited (JunOS, IOS-XR, SR-OS) your only refering to the original build/ kernel release.

Every single 1 of those systems has been updated beyond any recognition since and all are built on a modular software architecture that uses multi-core &amp; hyper-threading capabilities in modern silicon to deliver a inter-locking set of functions/features. Alu &amp; Cisco use of FPGA tech would be interesting to understand. They all still claim to use ASICs but that can present silicon threshold challenges.

The key OS similarities are just the naming conventions. The level of original baseline code, is debateable but skewed by coding conventions &amp; definitions. I would guess its low single digits, at best.

So we should skip the origin date discussion. Its completely irrelevant.

It is ALL about $$ and the percieved risk/ reward. Cisco are very good at "sweetheart" deals when they detect meaningful competitive pressure, there incredible "hospitality" spend/ CRM profile and the technical resources they can bring to the table, they are always very difficult to beat.

desiEngineer 12/5/2012 | 5:29:40 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

True.&nbsp; IOS-XR came out in 2004, but from what I can remember, ENA, the pre-cursor to IOS-XR, was started around 2000.&nbsp; Then came the Procket acquisition, and I don't know how much that impacted IOS-XR.


maxwell.smart 12/5/2012 | 5:29:33 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

You seem to be over simplifying. Just by using multi-threading and multi-core processors does not make these operating systems equivalent. Do all of them support the same level of per-feature modularity and restartability ? Do all of them support distributed state onto line cards ? I have not studied all 3 in detail to know for sure but I doubt that they are equivalent.


Soupafly 12/5/2012 | 5:29:32 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

@ maxwell;

My point is not whether they all support the same features or graceful restart / non-stop routing capabilities or what the line-card capabilities are.

Its also not that multi-threading and multi-core makes them equivalent.Its not helpful to see them that way.

All of the above elements (multi-core/thread, NSR, GR, etc) are merely indicators.

My point is that stating when a OS was built (originally assembled &amp; released) and then equating that with what the vendors are delivering today is simplistic and facile.

Under that logic Huawei's VRP would have zero deployments. 7 years ago VRP (in its current form) didnt exist! In reality its a reverse engineered Hybrid build of Juniper &amp; Cisco OS builds. The question of core stability &amp; capability on such a platform are un-answered, because they have not matured long enough to assess. My view is a western perspective because those are my core markets. Go to Eastern Europe or the Middle East and you may get a different answer.

The level of feature density, modularity, reliability &amp; maturity a modern global vendor OS has to deliver is enormous. That's why we use the phrase carrier grade (amongst others) to describe and define them.&nbsp; And even that metric is now redundant &amp; going to move to something akin to "Cloud Caliber" to denote a never-fail platform.

So no they are not all equivalent. We can agree on that, at least.

macster 12/5/2012 | 5:29:30 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

"My view is a western perspective......"


Soupafly 12/5/2012 | 5:29:28 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

I call it plain &amp; simple macster.

Its interesting that you deliberately chose not to comment on VRP and its maturity and just selected a single sentence.

You work for Huawei, you claim to have traveled all over the world and have industry expertise.

So why not offer a view?&nbsp; ..... Maybe you don't have one? ..... Maybe your boss has not authorized you to post?&nbsp; Who knows..

In my view, and I am calling it directly. Huawei has a long way to go. The VRP OS is relatively stable but immature and probably has a huge numbers of techs making very fast "hot patch" adjustments, on a continual basis.&nbsp; Maybe even the customer does not always know how a issue might have been fixed.

So if that's all wrong &amp; my post is nonsense - what your version of the "truth"?

Or are you still claiming every poster who says anything against Huawei is a racist bigot with a agenda?&nbsp; (Which by the way would include the LR Editorial team. UBM Tech clearly has strategic focus because Huawei is spending BIG money with them! Just check the sponsored video clips, banner ads, etc)&nbsp;&nbsp;

And (for balance) conversely that those who support Huawei are virtuous globalists?&nbsp; - Would it be inappropriate to ROFL at the use of virtuous &amp; globalist in the same sentence?!

macster 12/5/2012 | 5:29:28 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

Wow! Touchy touchy!

You wrote something. I found it funny. I pointed out the funny bit. I laughed. Why do you need to make everything about Huawei?

Remember, when you remove the impossibles, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth :p ROFL!!!

StartUpGuy1 12/5/2012 | 5:29:26 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

I cannot believe that Cisco is calling out someone else over their "10 year old operating system".&nbsp;&nbsp; At least the have ONE operating system that works on both the edge and core routers.


Unlike the koolaid drinkers at Cisco that have never found a software release train that they did not like.&nbsp; XR-IOS, IOS, CATALYST-IOS, NX-OS,JC-OS,BS-OS.....



Soupafly 12/5/2012 | 5:29:21 PM
re: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Clash Over Core Routers

@ macster; Its a shame you continue to chase &amp; troll my posts. You clearly have allot of free time.

The reason Huawei came into it my post is because they are relevant to the topic, been commented on. Alcatel Lucent &amp; Cisco core routers...

If you want to always make personal comments, then that shows your mentality. And it reflects on the company you work for.

Your continued quoting of Sherlock Holmes is very topical. Perhaps you were referencing this? - http://www.rsa.com/rsalabs/res...

Although, in answering my own question. I doubt that very much...



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