Redback Beefs Up Its Router

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) subsidiary Redback Networks Inc. is launching its most ambitious edge router yet, hoping a combination of increased density and subscriber-related features will give it an advantage over rivals Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU).

The SmartEdge 1200, announced today and set for general availability in August, is Redback's highest-density box, with 480 Gbit/s of switching capacity (that is, 240 Gigabit Ethernet feeds supported) in one fourth of a telecom rack. On a full rack basis, that appears to outdo most edge platforms on the market, with Juniper's MX960 being the notable exception. (See Redback Adds SmartEdge 1200 and Juniper Antes Up on Ethernet (Finally).)

Table 1: Density Wars
Company Platform Capacity* Size
Alcatel-Lucent 7750 SR-12 400 Gbit/s 1/3 rack
Cisco 7613 720 Gbit/s 1/2 rack
Cisco 12810 800 Gbit/s 1/2 rack
Juniper M120 256 Gbit/s 1/4 rack
Juniper MX960 960 Gbit/s 1/3 rack
Redback SE 1200 480 Gbit/s 1/4 rack
Source: Company literature
* Full duplex. That is, divide by 2 to get the number of simultaneous Gigabit Ethernets supported.

Equally dramatic is the laundry list of functions integrated. The box includes: security features such as intrusion detection, IPSec, and a firewall; a session border controller; and deep packet inspection capabilities for detecting peer-to-peer traffic. The box also includes some mobility features -- along the lines of fixed/mobile convergence --- that Redback isn't fully disclosing yet.

This has all been added to a platform that already includes Ethernet aggregation and the functions of a broadband remote access server (B-RAS). The SE 1200 uses the same operating system as other SmartEdge boxes and can use the same blades as well.

The new release shows that Redback isn't stagnating after its acquisition by Ericsson, which was completed early this year. (See Ericsson Offers $2.1B for Redback , IPTV Drives Ericsson to Redback, and Ericsson Completes Offer.)

So far, Ericsson has made good on keeping Redback's name alive and has begun intertwining its engineering efforts with that of the IP equipment firm. Those unspecified mobility functions stem from Ericsson expertise, for instance.

"It's a great step for Redback and a big win for Ericsson -- proof that Ericsson hasn't slowed them down," says Eve Griliches, an analyst with IDC .

Redback says the SE 1200 is a reaction to the number of applications that now rely on IP. Routers are being tasked to handle more jobs at once -- security, VOIP, the throttling-down of P2P flows -- and in that complexity, Redback thinks it sees a chance to outdo the industry's giants.

"It opens up the largest IP services market we've ever seen," says Arpit Joshipura, Redback's vice president of product management.

The concept isn't lost on other companies. Session border controllers, for example, are finding their way into Cisco and Juniper routers, arguably siphoning some of the market from Acme Packet Inc. (Nasdaq: APKT) and Veraz Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: VRAZ). (See Cisco Integrates Session Control and Juniper Kills Its Session Controllers.)

Griliches points out that Redback's melting pot of features is reminiscent of CoSine Communications, which also touted feature integration with its IP-based subscription management box. But it didn't work out, and CoSine eventually became better known for its agonizingly slow shutdown. (See CoSine Terminates Merger Agreement, CoSine Seeks New Blood, and Fortinet Scoops Up CoSine IP.)

CoSine's main problem was that its box slowed down if all the features got turned on, Griliches says. By contrast, Redback is claiming that the SE 1200's functions, such as security and P2P detection, will run at 10 Gbit/s without degrading the performance of the router.

"All those features are processor and memory hogs, but Redback made sure there were separate ASICs, processors, and memory carved out for each of them," IDC's Griliches says. "It also made sure each of those features happen in a certain order in the router. It's making sure that where the stuff gets processed isn't a pull on the overall system processing."

One key point is that Redback doesn't use up router slots for most of these features -- its session border controller, for example, sits on the card that handles all control-plane functions. Security and P2P detection is housed on a separate blade, and once, for instance, a P2P flow is detected, the system can forward all other packets in that flow to the appropriate linecard.

Even bypassing the features, the raw density of the box is impressive and useful to carriers, analysts say. The new box gives Redback "a huge speed and feed argument," says Andy Buss of Canalys.com Ltd.

In addition to the increased capacity, the SE 1200 will handle eight times the subscribers of its predecessor, the SE 800 -- that is, more than 500,000 subscribers, compared with 48,000 for the older box, says Redback's Joshipura. "Subscriber" in this case refers to individual services, so that one busy household running video, VOIP, and P2P downloading all at once would count as several "subscribers" inside the router.

The SE 1200 is based on a new generation of Redback-designed ASICs. New I/O cards being built for the box include one with four ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, and another for 20 lines of Gigabit Ethernet. The box has 12 slots for such cards and another two reserved for controller cards.

Redback says Taiwan's national carrier Chunghwa Telecom Co. Ltd. (NYSE: CHT), which has already deployed the SE 800, will be the first operator to use the new platform. (See Chunghwa Deploys Redback Gear .)

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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