Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has unveiled a new router product line that, it claims, is a major power and space saver.

But what's more interesting is the way the new Aggregation Services Router (ASR) family, which will be commercially available from April, puts the vendor and the network more in control of applications.

And that's not the end of the eye-catching marketing: The launch of the ASR 1000 family features a wacky Web campaign that Cisco has been pushing for weeks. It discusses the network needs of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and some kind of unicorn lady. (See Cisco's Big Splash.)

Cisco's new family
The ASR 1000 comes in three versions: the three-slot, two RU-high box that can process up to 15 million packets per second (MPPS); the eight-slot, four RU-high product that can process up to 20 MPPS; and the 12-slot, six RU-high box that also can process up to 20 MPPS.

Spearheading Cisco's new vision for the edge network, the ASR 1000 can incorporate a host of functions, including deep packet inspection (DPI), a session border controller (SBC), and a firewall. But beyond that, it also enables carriers to program additional applications themselves.

The new line is intended to upgrade Cisco's edge network to the video age, adding some oomph that the Cisco 7200 and 7600 router lines can't match. Cisco is quick to note, though, that it intends to continue selling and supporting those products.

The launch continues what's been a hot season for switch and router announcements. A little more than a month ago, Cisco and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) launched their Nexus and EX switches, respectively; Juniper followed that with the introduction of a new control-plane box. (See Cisco's Nexus Targets Data Center's Future, Juniper Storms Into Ethernet Switching, and Juniper Splits Out Its Control Plane.)

Processor power
Here's the ASR's trick: Rather than drop features such as DPI onto linecards of their own, the router runs all of them from a central processor, the QuantumFlow chip Cisco announced last week. (See Cisco Intros QuantumFlow.)

The 12-slot ASR includes two QuantumFlow chips, while the smaller versions use just one.

"All of these things, which typically used to be on a blade or a chassis, you can program on this chip," says Suraj Shetty, a Cisco director of marketing.

That helps to make the ASR relatively small. Combined with all the functions it can handle, it all adds up to potential space and power savings for a carrier.

The ASR 1000 certainly modernizes Cisco's edge networking portfolio, but the box isn't yet able to replace all the attributes of the 7200 or 7600.

"It doesn't have the performance of the 7600 at the higher end, and it doesn't have the price point of the 7200 at the lower end," Shetty admits. Moreover, he notes the ASR isn't a carrier Ethernet platform like the 7600. (See table below.)

Table 1: Big, Medium, Small
7200 ASR 1000 7600
(Millions of packets per second)
(Bare-bones configuration)
Source: Cisco

Call to war
In a sense, the ASR is an extension of the Integrated Services Router (ISR), a customer-premises line introduced by Cisco in 2004. The ISR handles functions such as security and VOIP, establishing the router as the point of origin for certain services. (See Cisco Takes Apps on Board.)

That boosted Cisco's importance in the network. Cisco boxes now control some applications that would otherwise have been the domain of servers, or of specialized appliances.

The danger Cisco faced with the ISR is that routers typically slow down if more functions are activated; CoSine Communications Inc. is held up as an example of the pitfalls there. (See CoSine: 'Come & Get Us'.)

But Cisco has managed to get the processors in the ISR to juggle routing and applications smoothly.

"The ISR proved everyone wrong in that area, because the chipsets took care of that," says Ray Mota, an analyst at Synergy Research Group Inc.

That makes it likely the ASR can likewise deliver on performance. "There are going to be providers that say they want the separate boxes, but little by little, if there's no degradation, I think they'd be very open to it," Mota says.

Cisco's badge of honor in that respect is the announcement today of NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) as an ASR customer. "You know NTT is freakin' hardcore," Mota says.

The ASR, then, primes Cisco to take control of applications in the edge network, continuing the work started by the ISR. And while Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) might not consider that a declaration of war, maybe it should, says Deb Mielke, president of Treillage Network Strategies Inc.

"What people are beginning to ask, especially guys like Cisco, is: Where are voice and video going to live?" Mielke says. "In the end, although Microsoft and Cisco talk nice to each other now, it's going to be: Does Microsoft control voice and video, or does Cisco?"

Enterprises will ultimately make that decision based on politics and other non-techy issues, Mielke thinks. Still, the ASR and ISR have at least given Cisco a serious chance in that fight.

But that's not necessarily what Cisco wants to talk about with the ASR launch. What seems to be more on the company's mind is the chance for power and space savings with the box.

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mr zippy 12/5/2012 | 3:46:19 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge So now we have,

* Old School IOS from the 80s
* IOS XE, virtualised Old School IOS from the 80s
* NX-OS, Linux kernel with Cisco add ons+
* IOS XR, QNX with Cisco add ons

I hope the "modern" OS releases don't become as fragmented as Old School IOS has!

+ http://www.mail-archive.com/ci...
mr zippy 12/5/2012 | 3:46:19 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge Cisco and other packet equipment vendors are trying to push applications back into the network (the bellhead / beads-on-a-string model*), so that they can try to de-commoditise their equipment and the network. This is the antithesis of the Internet model - dumb network, smart hosts - and the one that made them all their money in the first place. Hopefully they won't be too successful at pushing the toothpaste back into the tube.

* The "beads-on-a-string" model, given that name by John Day in "Patterns in Network Architecture, A Return to Fundamentals", is where the applications reside "within" the network, are only run by telcos, and all they allow customers to do is to access their developed and "approved" applications. They don't give you the ability to develop and run your own without their permission (sounds like IMS doesn't it?). If that model was a good one, we'd never have had the Internet, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon etc. I think I'd prefer what Google et. al, have done for (Inter)networkd apps verses bellhead apps like CLI (still an additional billable item here in .au on Telstra's PSTN, $5 per month last I knew), call waiting and voice mail.
optodoofus 12/5/2012 | 3:46:18 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge IF Cisco can start implementing features like DPI, SBC, etc in the ASR router line AND do so without seriously degrading the box throughput, there are a lot of vendors out there that should be very afraid. Why would I want to add a separate DPI box? Why would I want a stand-alone SBC? Why integrate a separate content filtering solution? Putting multiple functions in a single box would be a no-brainer.

The only reason it has not been done this way to date is because these functions have always severely impacted the scale and performance of the edge router. If Cisco can solve this problem (and I'm not saying they can), this would significanlty change the economics for service providers.

douaibei 12/5/2012 | 3:46:18 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge Everyone is talking about the commodity
I do agree that: commodity is one of the most important
business impact on today's IT market.

but if the commodity can earn above average profit, it will
not be the commodity.

when people talks about the commodity, they tend to think
about the general availability of the technology, hardware etc.

but actually some time the so called commodility is very profitable
even the bread roaster can be a non-commodity as they are making more
money than expected.

the key issue here is to understand the business cycle and the
core business incentives.

at present I dont think the routing and switching is the commodity,
HP switch has much higher margin they they computer and storage
lamdaswavelength 12/5/2012 | 3:46:18 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge It's probably like a fancy dress party! he he.

And Cisco what have you come as?
lamdaswavelength 12/5/2012 | 3:46:18 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge Well looking at the Uber User marketing drivel they've put together would you use their kit in your network? Clearly not!

Cisco have dressed up for CEBIT? ha ha.

netmeister 12/5/2012 | 3:46:17 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge Am I the only one thinking it...? 5 years. $250M. And that's it...? That's nothing to be proud of.
netmeister 12/5/2012 | 3:46:17 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge optodoofus, these features *always* degrade performance and always will. They simply require more processing, period. If they don't "degrade performance," it's because they left performance on the table when the fancy features were turned off.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:46:16 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge mr. zippy - yes, exactly, it's a tradeoff. Cisco's trying to make it so the tradeoff gets minimal. But yeah, the mixing of all these functions could lead to side effects.

If they manage to keep the performance good enough, that's a pretty big step. Netmeister is right that it means you've left processing power on the table -- but if you're not planning to use all that processing, you probably shouldn't be considering an ASR in the first place.
mr zippy 12/5/2012 | 3:46:16 PM
re: Cisco Takes Hold of the Edge The ASR1000 data sheet says it's based on IOS 12.2SR, so I doubt anything "revolutionary" like proper multi-processing with memory protection (a la. IOS XR) has been added.

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