Cisco exec on router's increasing edginess

Mike Volp talks about Cisco's 7600 Ethernet edge router, and its competition

Cisco has a number of significant extensions to its venerable 7600 Ethernet edge router, which were previewed in December at ITU. Among the more important was Broadband Remote Access Server (B-RAS), making the six-year-old workhorse Cisco's strategic -- for now -- aggregation platform for video. Cisco Senior Vice President Mike Volpi shared his thoughts on the ripened router, its ever increasing roles and its competition with Jim Duffy.

Your share of the edge router improved for the third quarter in a row, according to Dell'Oro Group. Are you doing something right, or are your competitors doing something wrong?

The edge market is a broad market because there's everything from Layer 2 pure connectivity to Layer 3 richer services, everything from consumers to business users, and so forth. I think what we've executed well on the Cisco side is to cover all of these market segments, which has been helpful for us; and then we've had now two or three software releases that run on the 7600 which have really, really improved the carrier-class nature of the platform. Everything from manageability, particularly around Ethernet, support for carrier features like high availability, like rapid restoration, like VPLS/HVPLS, EoMPLS.

But the net net of it is that we've got a lot of good offerings. And then at a high level, the kind of message we're trying to convey to our carrier customers is that even though you're migrating to Ethernet, the battle is fought on a unified edge, meaning you have one platform that can deliver multiple services, which means a services-rich edge platform which the 7600 is, as opposed to a lot of our competitors who tend to just think of Ethernet as a transport technology and don't have a lot of rich Layer 3 functionality on the platform. I think that's contributed to our success.

It seems the 7600 is focused specifically at Ethernet while you have other platforms -- the 10000 series and the 12000 series -- for B-RAS and multiservice functions. Is the 7600 really a converged platform then?

It increasingly is. We're taking the B-RAS functionality and have ported it to the 7600. We'll be introducing that in the first calendar quarter next year. We're introducing it at ITU. We will have session border controller functionality on the 7600, we will have deep packet inspection functionality on the 7600, we'll introduce richer QoS than the platform already has. So what we see essentially happening is that there is a market out there which is either pure B-RAS or pure multiservice edge, but what's happening is the migration towards Ethernet.

The way we look at it is, we have a platform that is very strong on Ethernet and we're increasingly adding capabilities to it which are higher-level services. The 7600 roadmap is very rich in those sort of broad ranges of new services and a lot of our customers are increasingly buying that roadmap along with, of course, the existing Ethernet functionality on it.

Will those converged features be exclusive to the 7600 or do you plan the same for the 12000 and 10000 series routers?

No, the 10000 series is going to stay focused as a B-RAS platform; and the 12000 is going to be focused as the multiservice edge with orientation towards packet-over-SONET, and TDM hierarchy-based interfaces. From an Ethernet perspective, it really is going to be 7600 and our job is to add more and more functionality so that when customers buy the Ethernet edge, they also buy the richer functionality on it.

Analysts and other industry watchers continually point out the age of the 7600 as a drawback of the product. How were sales of the 7600 in Q3?

We don't disclose sales per product line but it grew year-on-year in excess of close to 40 percent. So the growth rate is very good.

What analysts look at they usually have two criticisms of the platform. One is that it's "old"; what they actually miss is that the 7600 is a modular platform and since its introduction we've introduced three new supervisor (engines), and we're on our fifth generation line card. It actually speaks to our ability to build a product that customers can install the chassis, and then as silicon technology and other technologies mature, we can incrementally enhance it over a period of time. So the 7600 today that we sell bears no resemblance to the one we sold six years ago. It's still has the same model number but...very, very different platform.

The other thing that people say is well Cisco is developing other future generation products which, of course, we always are. We spend, just in service provider, in excess of US$1.5 billion in R&D every year. So we are building next generation stuff but those things are two, three, four years out in some cases. The CRS-1 took us four years to develop. So we start it now and even after we introduce those products -- like in the case of the CRS-1 and the GSR -- we've added a tremendous amount of new functionality to the GSR after we've introduced the CRS-1. It's not like you turn one on and turn the other one off. We're always developing next-gen stuff. But that doesn't mean the 7600 doesn't have a rich roadmap that extends way beyond 2010 at this point.

So you're now developing your next-gen Carrier Ethernet router?

Sure. Yeah, we are. I would characterize it as a different kind of a platform designed with more of a futuristic approach. It's not really a successor (to the 7600) because successor implies that one replaces the other and they don't exactly do that. We do believe that architecturally what our customers are going to do is this notion of a multiservice edge vs. B-RAS vs. Ethernet edge is going to eventually blur away towards a universal edge. And we're developing such a platform. But at this point, we're very focused on 76, and the 76 is going to have a very rich in fact, an industry-leading roadmap that goes beyond 2010.

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