Foundry Claims Core Crown
Yes, that means Foundry says it's beaten out Cisco's CRS-1 and Juniper's T640 -- at least when it comes to what's available in a single box. Today, Foundry is unveiling the XMR 32000, a core router taking up half of one 7-foot telecom rack, claiming it's got something as powerful as other core routers but more compact.
The 32-slot XMR 32000 can sport 128 ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, Foundry claims. The half-rack version of Cisco's CRS-1, by contrast, could do only 64 ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet in theory (that's eight slots each filled with an 8-port 10-Gbit/s Ethernet card). The T640 can only carry 32 ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, according to Juniper's Website.
That kind of compactness matters to carriers, Foundry claims. "The industry is very concerned about power consumption and very concerned about cooling issues," says Ken Cheng, vice president of what Foundry calls the "high-value business unit." (We're assured that the other business units aren't considered "low-value.")
Foundry so far lacks the multichassis capability of the CRS-1 and T640, and it also lacks support for Sonet OC192 or OC768, or the SDH equivalents. So, it's not as if Foundry has made other core routers obsolete.
But the XMR 32000 shows how a company can benefit just by having newer chip technology. The T640 is relatively old, having been announced in 2002, and Cisco famously spent $500 million and several years cooking up the CRS-1. (See Juniper Goes Terabit With the T640 and Cisco Unveils the HFR.) By starting later, Foundry took advantage of more advanced semiconductor processes to produce what it says is a comparable box that's cheaper -- $90,000 for a base XMR 32000, versus the $450,000 price tag initially placed on the CRS-1 -- and capable of some nifty future stuff, such as 100-Gbit/s Ethernet support.
"Companies like Foundry create products like this on a much faster development cycle than Cisco and Juniper," writes Mark Seery, an analyst with Ovum RHK Inc. , in an email to Light Reading.
Cisco declined comment, citing a policy to avoid talking about competitors. Juniper wouldn't comment on the XMR 32000, but a spokeswoman notes it's not easy for a newcomer to win big core-router contracts. "Every time you see a customer like MSN or China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA) make a T640 or a TX decision, rest assured they are endorsing the product strategy for many years to come," she writes via email.
Foundry found this out in 2001, when the company launched a core router and got pummeled. (See Judgment Day for Foundry Core Router and Foundry Retreats from the Core.) Foundry backed off from the service provider market as a result of the downturn, moving instead to the healthier enterprise market.
Foundry has been paying attention to service providers again, though, and early in 2005, the company re-engaged the carrier-network core, introducing the IMR router line. While IMRs are still available, they've been usurped by the XMR family, which Foundry introduced at last year's Supercomm show. Separately, the company has extended the XMR line into the metro with the NetIron MLX variant. (See Foundry Strikes at the Core, Foundry Boosts Metro MPLS, and Foundry Reinforces Metro.)
But Foundry has to face the same black cloud it did the first time: "How many successful startups have we had in the core router space outside of Cisco and Juniper?" asks Sam Wilson, an analyst with JMP Securities .
Well, that would be darn near zero -- how near depends on whether one counts Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7) as a success. (See Avici Downsizes to Survive and Avici Soars on Q1 Numbers.) The problem is that a core router represents a change of philosophy for a carrier; core upgrades don't come around often, and when they do, they tend to go to trusted vendors.
Plenty of core-router firms have failed, slipped into obscurity, or gotten gobbled up by Cisco. (See No Tomorrow for Chiaro and Cisco to Pay $89M for Procket Assets.)
Even Foundry's bonus points for compactness aren't swaying some analysts, including Wilson -- who points out that boatloads of hot technology couldn't save Procket Networks. He lauds Foundry's push into service provider networks, given the money to be found there; it's just that core routers are "a tough, tough market," he says.
"I certainly wouldn't expect [Foundry's XMR] to emerge as an immediate contributor in terms of going into a really large, live production network," says John Mark Duncan, an analyst with Pacific Growth Equities Inc.
Naturally, Foundry disputes that. "I've seem tremendous interest in the XMR from Tier 1 service providers, the people most interested in core routing," Cheng says. "They are up for another round of investment."
Still, the more likely targets for Foundry might include "wholesale IP transport providers, Internet exchange carriers, data centers, and high-performance computing environments," Seery suggests. "If Foundry can gain traction with smaller players and mature the software, they might be worth watching when the large carriers move to all-Ethernet cores."
Seery admits that move might be delayed, especially if the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) decides against doing a 40-Gbit/s Ethernet standard. Still, should carriers choose the Ethernet path, creating a simpler network core, "then Cisco and Juniper will need to keep a close eye on products like the XMR 32000," he says.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading