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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databoy12 12/5/2012 | 3:07:31 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router That's a pretty petty knock on Redback's SE platform and an incorrect one Lightheaded. The SE does forward minimum sized ethernet packets at 10 Gig/sec, it just can't do it in all slots. And how much traffic is really minimum packet sized, especially since the new wave application seems to be video? If you want to forward minimum sized ethernet packets in every single slot, then Redback now offers an SE1200 that will do this at 20 Gig/sec. Yes, you did point out probably the one weakness the SE800 does have, but does this stat actually matter in the real world with real world traffic? Probably not.
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:07:30 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router Hmm. Pretty scone-hot reply to something which was a light-hearted statement in the first place. Hit a nerve, have we?

Yep, hit a nerve. I'm tired of the hearing engineers use reductionist "truths" in the midst of complexity. It doesn't work for modeling my neurotransmitters as you might guess.

Thanks for the reference to RFC3439. I'll give it a read.
chook0 12/5/2012 | 3:07:30 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router Hmm. Pretty scone-hot reply to something which was a light-hearted statement in the first place. Hit a nerve, have we?

But more seriously, the statement to some extent responds to one thing I see a lot in the industry - the neverending search for the one-box solution to all your problems.

I don't think anybody is disputing the fact that, at a given level of price, reliability and manageability, a single box that does everything is better than more than one box that together perform the same function.

The problem is that it usually isn't what you get. Typically you end up with a solution which is more expensive, less reliable, lower-performance or less manageable because compromises have to be made in order to squash everything into the same box. Furthermore, if you look at the network as a whole you end up with stranded resource because the boxes always have too much of one thing and too little of another for your specific needs. That's not a problem in itself, except that typically you end up paying for the stranded resource.

That said, if Redback can get the swiss-army knife to perform well and reliably they will clean up in the marketplace. In my view, we are still a ways away from having the perfect edge box.

For an attempt at a more serious codification of architectural principles, try reading RFC3439. You may disagree with some of it, but every architect should read this.


(5) It is always possible to agglutinate multiple separate problems into a single complex interdependent solution. In most cases this is a bad idea.
While I can't speak to the specifics of this device I think these types of statements are nearly useless. They give little insights towards solving real world problems, most of which are complex.
Archinet 12/5/2012 | 3:07:30 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router I am not worrying about the one box or multiple box solution. In modern chassis you practically have network inside, so this does not make a lot of difference.
I am suspicious about the ability to provide cutting edge expertise for all applications: Firewall, DPI, Session Border Control, IPS/IDS and so on. I have not heard about any significant acquisitions made by Redback/Ericson in all these areas, like Cisco and Juniper did. May be they OEMed these technologies from other companies - may be, but is not likely.
May be Redback assumes that residential subscriber management does not need the highest level of DPI or security. I doubt. These are the things like anitvirus - where or you are providing the best of bread or you are meaningless
rodolg 12/5/2012 | 3:07:29 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router I agree, the point is where to put the complexity.

It is clear that an all IP network requires more than just simple core routers and carrier ethernet switches, the telecom network needs more intelligence to satisfy service providers and subscribers demands. For example the IMS arquitecture is a complex one, and it adds session management intelligence, and requires that the service control layer communicates with the network layer.

Is is important that the IP Network must be service aware, it cannot just forward IP packets according to its priority, and this requires more than routing. The IP network must know and understand the service it is carrying and adapt to it.

The big question is of course were to put the intelligence in order to do this? And this is a tough one, because it should be answered in such a way that it can be cost effective and easy to operate. In one box? , in multiple boxes?, in the edge? In the access ? etc..,

Some in the industry believe that the intelligence of the network should be put in the Edge router, because is the first IP Hop. This makes sense because it will reduce the number of elements with intelligence in the network meaning less expensive complex boxes and less configuration and troubleshooting, but the normal reaction is to worry about one complex box and its realibility. So there is much debate in the industry about it. Some propose to put the intelligence in the edge in a distributed way, more than one box

Redback is not the only one doing one Intelligent Edge Router, Cisco added SBC Functions, Huawei has a god box called ME60 which also integrates DPI, SBC, Firewall, BRAS and routing functions in one box. This type of Intelligent Edge Routers are very new in the market, and only time will tell if they will be accepted or not.

Something that is clear, that the evolution of the IP network will somehow force more intelligent features in routers and carrier ethernet switches,they cannot only forward packets. The question will be which ones ?

ipLogic 12/5/2012 | 3:07:29 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router Confusing is solving problems on the Wrong/Right place (also to decide what is the Right Place)... Its all about puting the Right Functionality/complexity on the Right Place. So both are right Gǣit should be simpleGǥ and Gǣsometimes it has to be complexGǥ, the problem is GǣWhere?Gǥ.

rjmcmahon: "Is a hybrid car or the human body agglutinating problems by using multiple energy stores to create motion, i.e... "

You are right, there are functions/complexities of a Human body in the body itself, but this Body-Specific functions/complexities are Not either in the cars/buses/airplanes, nor in the highway-system. In this case of networking, our Application/P2P/IPSec functions/complexities are on our own owned PCs(e.g. bodies) and (seems) shouldNot be either on our access-links(e.g. cars/flights), Nor the network(e.g. highway-system). (It also influences our Privacy)
- although they still depend on each other (loosely coupled) e.g. you need (functioning) Car & (non-congested) Highway when need to get your Body to the Hosptial or the Supermarket :-)

This approach split and keeps orthogonal relations between functions/complexity of each entity/system, i.e. the complexities/functionalities are Independent (and can Grow/Scale Independently if/when needed) of each-other. (see rfc1958(2.1) and rfc3439 (2.2.2. Loosely coupled vs Tightly coupled systems flexibility)). This means that KISS applies (in some form), and as result as benefit of this it Should be (more) Scalable, (more) Robust and High-Available (less prone to failures), ?Cheap(er)?,...; (I donGt know the formulas that prove all this, only cite the theories, and experiences)

In the case of Internet the PC takes functions/complexity of the GǣApplicationsGǥ, and the Network takes functions/complexity of GǣConnectivty and Global reachGǥ, and each one (should be) as much independent from each other as possible. Otherwise mixing the above could be unnecessary and creates the confusion (e.g. our Home-gateway doesNot need full BGP routing table, and SPGs networks/routers shouldNot care about our Applications and flows, because this would make them more Tightly-Coupled, which should be Avoided for the sake of Scalability, Robustness, ?Price?, etc. and also hurts our Privacy).

So the question is which Function/complexity belongs to whom; And depending on this you will see if GǣcomplexGǥ edge routers are really necessary or not, or better said Gǣcomplex for Which functionsGǥ; and finally which choice is better & cheaper for the Subscribers (since this is all directly connected with SPGs market penetration, revenues, success, etc, and with Ours usersGs experience, cheap service, etc.);
So the principle Gǣas simple as possible, but not simplerGǥ is coupled with the question Gǣwhich functions go whereGǥ (and this "Where?" is the confusion)

From the History (and split of opinions on GǣWhere?Gǥ):
(A) POTS: Subscribers just own simple telephone (i.e. Audio-Electrical converter) --and-- Network owns Intelligence (Dialing tone, Dialed-number-analysis, IN/SS7, QoS, Centrex, etc) - maybe the technological development (price of Hw) at that time (19/20th century) this was the right for that approach.
(B) INTERNET: subscribers own fancy(complex) (own property, privacy) PC, mobiles, TV sets, and the networks provides simple connectivity - maybe the technological development (price of Hw) this days this fits better to this approach.

ItGs interesting how the behaviour and generated-traffic of the subscribers will change with the new media, i.e. how often and how much we will generate information/data ? will the POTS user/traffic-statics be applicable to Internet user/traffic-statistics ?
And not just how much bps traffic but when and to/from where (dynamics, multicast, business vs residental, etc).

jepovic 12/5/2012 | 3:07:29 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router Very good point!

Another associated problem is that noone will use all of the features, which means that the useless features are just adding complexity.

E.g., if Redback integrates an only half-decent firewall, very few customers will use it but everyone will suffer from the complexity.

In this case though, my first thought was: That's a lot of cards! Will there be any space left for interface cards?
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:07:28 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router Couple things ... Redback did, indeed, use a software partner for all the security features. They say they'll be disclosing more details later.

And not every features eats up cards -- jepovic, I had the same initial reaction as you, in that regard! The story notes the SBC case in particular.
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:07:28 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router rodolg says:
"I agree, the point is where to put the complexity."

Then, on the other hand we have the emergence of PBT. What does that say about BT's thinking on this subject? Operations think MPLS is too complex. How will they ever deal with even more intelligent networks? And to what end, since they have no idea what services they intend to provide?

Just curious.
slickmitzy 12/5/2012 | 3:07:26 PM
re: Redback Beefs Up Its Router
As a network manager for a medium size SP I can tell you that at least two of the features offered by Redback are ones that we have been requesting for years now.

Firewall - to be sold as value added service, as more and more people are aware of security these days, but still not technical enough to operate their host based/home router based firewall.
We have very good experience (meaning commercial success) with a similar service that is filtering application layer malware for broadband users.

DPI - P2P file sharing counts for more then 60% of our transit traffic. our statistics show that most of it is coming from about 10-15 percent of our users.
Those applications are hard to detect at the network/transport level, and a DPI device seems like a good option to control this traffic.

There are of course other solutions to achieve the same goals, but most of them have a lot of operational limitations.

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