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Does not appear to support SONET interfaces, is
Software manages the hardware routing tables.
What this means is that hardware determines the
route of each individual packet without going
though a time-consuming software routine.
That is where I am confused. I do not see what is done in hardware that is new. If the routing function is done in hardware, it seems to me that no software or routing tables would need to exist. If the speed and cost advantage come from doing route decisions in hardware, the price you pay is manual control adaptation to change over time. It seems that you pay now or pay later somehow.
Limited selection of real router interfaces and features. YAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWN...
Foundry Networks... NO CORE for YOU!
(the Router Nazi has spoken - apologies to Seinfeld)
there is nothing new/unique here that is done in hardware. all performace-oriented routers on sale today do as much as is feasible of the packet forwarding role in hardware, usually meaning firmware running on custom chips, for performance reasons.
Packet forwarding always needs a way to figure out where to send a packet, hence the tables. All routers have tables that control where to send traffic, though these tables may be implemented in suprisingly dissimilar ways, and might be nothing like a table in the conventional sense.
Routing protocols are never implemented in hardware since routing protocols are much too complex, buggy, and subject to change to be burned into silicon (other issues there too).
You are correct that a trade-off exists here. For example, a company might sell line cards that whose chips will never be able to support, say, IPv6, because the chips were designed only for very fast IPv4 processing. Such a company would need to sell completely new line cards to support IPv6 or for certain new features (this can make customers unhappy).
Other vendors' line cards are more programmable, and wouldn't have such a severe issue, though the flexibility sometimes at the expense of performace, e.g. can't do line rate with particular combinations of features enabled.
Most vendors that I'm familiar with are going with something more like the more flexible approach, because development on a flexible platform is cheaper in the long run and because customers don't like buying all new hardware every time they want to implement a new protocol or feature.