Cisco's CRS-1 Gets Edgy

Cisco adds its IOS XR operating system to the GSR 12000 routers, but some software features won't be ready until 2006

April 18, 2005

6 Min Read
Cisco's CRS-1 Gets Edgy

Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) CRS-1 core router made headlines a year ago, but the follow-up released today -- a corresponding box for the multiservice edge -- could be the real prize for carriers (see Cisco Claims IP NGN Progress).

The catch is that some key software features may be more than a year away.

Today's release of the XR 12000 router line brings the Cisco IOS XR operating system to the edge. Technically, it's not a new box. Rather, it's Cisco's GSR 12000 router with the new operating system inside. GSR boxes with the right chips can be converted to IOS XR now, while others will require a hardware upgrade.

The release fulfills Cisco's promise to extend IOS XR -- the new, modular operating system developed for the CRS-1 core router -- to other platforms (see Cisco Unveils the HFR).

In terms of short-term revenues, the XR 12000 is probably more important to Cisco than the CRS-1, which has a comparatively small audience. The 12000 line, by contrast, has been around for years; moreover, carrier spending lately has been targeted at the edge rather than the core. "The real insertion opportunity is to extend [IOS XR] to the multiservice edge," says Tony Bates, vice president of Cisco's carrier core and multiservice edge products.

At least one carrier is itching to get its 12000s upgraded.

"When the CRS was announced, immediately I pounded the table and said, 'Get it on the GSR, and get it on every platform. Get IOS [Cisco's Internetwork Operating System] out of the network,'" says Mike Duckett, research director for BellSouth Corp.'s (NYSE: BLS) packet-switching infrastructure.

Duckett says BellSouth is on a mission to upgrade its pool of 150 to 200 GSR 12000s to the proper hardware to run IOS XR. Cisco is helping with that transition as part of its contract with BellSouth, he says.

Announced in May 2004 as part of the grandiose CRS-1 launch, IOS XR is Cisco's answer to carrier complaints about IOS, which permeates most of Cisco's router portfolio (see Cisco Unveils the HFR). IOS was developed with enterprise needs in mind, and has drawn fire from carriers for lacking particular features, such as the ability to do software upgrades while the box is running.

IOS is also regarded as cumbersome due to the layers of changes it has absorbed over the years. And because it's not modular, new features and fixes can't be added piecemeal.

The spread of IOS XR to other platforms is a huge step for Cisco, because it blunts one dart frequently launched by competitors Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) -- that Cisco's IOS is supposedly inferior to their operating systems.

Both sport modular operating systems, and Juniper takes pains to keep its JunOS to one version for the M- and T-series routers, as opposed to the multiple "trains" of IOS that run on different Cisco platforms.

Cisco is quick to point out that it's not killing development of the original GSR 12000. But at the same time, Bates says it's clear that carriers planning next-generation networks -- the kind that carry multiple traffic types across a single Internet Protocol (IP) core -- want to base their efforts on IOS XR and on the XR 12000 specifically. From this point, Cisco will "start to invest more and more in edge technology" for IOS XR, he says.

Waiting for MPLS

But here's the catch: Some of the IOS XR features Duckett wants most won't come until next year. "The feature set for the edge is lagging," he says.

Specifically, BellSouth is interested in running Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)-based VPNs on its network, a cornerstone of the convergence of traffic onto an IP core. That kind of talk sets Cisco salespeople drooling, but IOS XR won't carry the necessary functionality until Release 3.4, which is due next year, Duckett says.

Realistically, that means it will be "about the middle of 2006" before BellSouth gets everything it wants out of IOS XR, Duckett says. "It's probably a good 18 months away."

Aside from BellSouth, customers evaluating the XR 12000 include the China Education and Research Network (CERNET), German research network Deutsches Forschungsnetz (DFN), and Japan's KDDI Corp..

The XR 12000 is due to ship in June with a base price of $45,500. Some GSR 12000 boxes can support IOS XR with a $10,000 software upgrade. Older versions first require a hardware engine upgrade, available via an $8,500 kit.

Alongside the XR 12000 launch, Cisco piled on a few other product and customer announcements today:

  • The Cisco Call Session Control Platform, a technology acquired with DynamicSoft Inc. last fall (see Cisco Drafts Dynamicsoft). The CSCP is a SIP-based environment for providing voice- or video-related applications such as push-to-talk. The CSCP overlaps the functions of a softswitch but doesn't replace them -- for example, CSCP doesn't deal with SS7 signaling or the handoff of calls to the public switched telephone network, Bates says.

  • 7604 router. Cisco is announcing a four-shelf version of its 7600 router line. Base configurations of the 7604 will sell for $34,000.

  • IOS add-ons. Along with the 7604, Cisco is releasing new features for IOS including hierarchical QOS and new traffic-management capabilities.

  • Interface fun. Cisco will be unveiling a new Interface Flexibility (I-Flex) capability for its Shared Port Adapters (SPA) and related interface processors, allowing them to work on the CRS-1, 12000 (either kind), 7600, and 7300 platforms. This allows carriers to "mix and match" interfaces among these boxes, reusing them as network requirements push them to buy larger systems, Bates says.
    The mix-and-match philosophy extends only to optics approved by Cisco, however. Cisco's boxes are programmed to reject any other pluggable optics, a policy that's caused friction with some users. Past and present SPAs are no different, Bates says: "We still have the same policy about how we certify the products." (See Use Our Optics, or Else!)

  • IP NGN News. Cisco claims it's making customer headway with the IP Next-Generation Network concept (see Cisco Unveils IP NGN Strategy). Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON), a model customer featured at the CRS-1 launch, signed a three-year extension to the alliance with Cisco first sealed in 2001. Cisco also announced it has won the job to build Comcast Corp.'s (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) future IP network. Comcast will be using the BTS 10200 Softswitch, tying in to the CSCP mentioned above.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

For more on this topic, check out:

For further education, visit the archives of related Light Reading Webinars:

  • Core Routers: What Next?

  • The Future of Core Routing

  • Edge Router Evolution

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