High-end router on tap from Cisco

Cisco Systems plans to unveil by June its next-generation Internet core router, a key part of the company's bid to retain its sizable market lead in the face of growing competition from Juniper and others.

Cisco Senior Vice President Mike Volpi last week confirmed that a new platform running 40G bit/sec OC-768c interfaces and featuring a modular version of IOS will be on display in mid-June at the annual Supercomm telecom conference in Chicago.

"It will be there, I'm quite certain," he said of what will become the company's top-of-the-line system.

Though details remain sketchy, the so-called HFR will be a single rack, 16-slot router with single-port OC-768c modules, making Cisco perhaps the first to unveil the new high-speed interfaces on a core router. Cisco offers dual-port 20G bit/sec OC-192c blades for its "40G bit/sec per slot capable" 12816 router, which is the company's current high-end offering.

The HFR is expected to support at least 640G bit/sec of system capacity, though be scalable to multiterabits via chassis interconnection.

Also, in supporting the new modular IOS, Cisco says the product will protect different router features by placing them in separate compartments. Juniper and Procket Networks Inc. say they offer such capabilities in their routers.

For Cisco, the stakes are high as it introduces its new system. The company's share of the high-end router market slipped in the fourth quarter from 66 percent to 62 percent, while Juniper's rose 3 percent to 31 percent, according to Dell'Oro Group.

Juniper has been selling its high-end router, the 640G bit/sec T640, for about two years and has beaten Cisco out on some key contracts. This includes the core router piece of the huge Global Information Grid - Bandwidth Expansion network, which the U.S. Department of Defense Information Systems Agency is building.

"It's tough. We wish we would have won it," Volpi said. "We're doing a lot of things to shore ourselves up and try to minimize how much Juniper gear they actually buy. Over time as we introduce newer devices, we'll probably have an interesting opportunity to reopen that whole discussion."

Meanwhile, the market for core routing is heating up. It grew 22 percent in 2003 from 2002 and is expected to rise another 31 percent this year, according to Dell'Oro.

Demand isn't currently seen as being huge for OC-768c packet-over-SONET, although some of the world's largest service providers are requesting the technology. "With the exception of a few critical POPs, by and large 10G [trunks] are certainly plenty," Volpi says.

"Cisco's planning for the level of demand now - current demand is nonexistent," says Mark Bieberich, an analyst at The Yankee Group.

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