Juniper unveils Gibson router

Juniper Networks Inc. Monday unveiled its long anticipated next generation core router, a 640G bit/sec device that, for now, raises the bar in terms of 10G bit/sec density and is intended to scale to multiterabit throughput levels.

But Juniper's T640, which was commonly known as 'Gibson' up to now, includes some upgrade requirements that may give carriers pause. Also, Juniper claims immediate demonstrability of terabit routing but will not disclose availability.

And the company's 10G bit/sec density advantage may be short-lived with a next generation platform from Cisco Systems Inc. rumored to be on the horizon.

Regardless, the T640 could give Juniper a kick start in 10G bit/sec core routing. The company lost more than half of its share in the 80G bit/sec router market between 2000 and 2001 since Cisco began shipping OC-192c on its 12400 series a year ago, according to Dell'Oro Group Inc.

In addition to Cisco's market entry, Juniper's market share slip could have been due to deferred purchases of the company's M160 core router in anticipation of Gibson, a packet misordering situation in OC-192c on the M160, or both. Juniper has now rectified both situations.

The eight-slot, half rack T640 is shipping and running production traffic now at NTT DoCoMo Inc./Verio Inc. and France Telecom SA. It includes a new set of Juniper Internet Processor ASICs -- the T-series - that are optimized for high-density 10G bit/sec: 32 OC-192c interfaces into a single chassis, vs. eight for the M160, 16 for Cisco's 12416 Internet Router and 20 for Avici Systems Inc.'s Terabit Switch Router.

Gibson also sports 128 OC-48c links, which are carried forward form the M160, and 128 Gigabit Ethernets.

The T-series ASICs, which perform more than four times as many route lookups per second as the M160, also do not reorder packets as they enter or exit the router. By keeping IP flows intact, this apparently alleviates the potential to misalign packets in a flow, which can disrupt communication.

This situation exists in Juniper's OC-192c cards for the M160, but only under extreme, and rare, conditions, the vendor says. It did not significantly impact any customers, company officials claim.

But that also means OC-192c blades from the M160 are not forward compatible to the T640, meaning that carriers requiring the horsepower of the new router will have to purchase not only a new chassis but new 10G bit/sec line cards.

Some analysts say this will result in deferred purchases of Gibson as service providers attempt to hammer out more favorable pricing options with Juniper for the upgrade.

"There is a customer transition risk due to a lack of a 'graceful' upgrade to the T640 for existing M160 customers," states UBS Warburg LLC Analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos in a recent report on Gibson. "While all of this should not be surprising to customers, it could cause some of the larger carriers some concerns given the current capex crunch. This could cause some customers to delay adopting this product in trying to possibly negotiate better financial terms to compensate for the lack of compatibility on the OC-192c line cards." Other analysts didn't see the upgrade requirement as a deal breaker but did indicate that Gibson may be ahead of its time.

"It's not immediately necessary for service providers but a good technology race (for Juniper) against Cisco," says Kevin Mitchell, directing analyst for service provider networks at Infonetics Research Inc. in Woburn, MA. "And service providers have to upgrade to gain additional density sometime, so it's either with Juniper or someone else."

That someone else could again be Cisco. The vendor is rumored to be working on its own next generation core, referred to as the "HFR", which may sport 16 40G bit/sec-capable slots per chassis.

HFR may also present its own upgrade challenges as Cisco is also rumored to be writing a whole new operating system for this device. Cisco says it does not comment on rumors.

Employing marketing math, which double counts packets, makes HFR a 1.28T bit/sec single-chassis router. Cisco plans to link multiple chassis together to achieve even greater scale, but this is something Juniper says it can demonstrate today and ship within a reasonable window to any carrier requiring it soon.

The Gibson rollout includes a switching matrix called TX which Juniper says can link eight or more T640s together to achieve at least 5T bit/sec of non-blocking throughput. Juniper says it will demonstrate TX publicly on May 22 but the vendor declined to timestamp its commercial availability.

The need for that level of scale, however, may not emerge until late-2003 and into 2004, admits Kevin Dillon, director of portfolio marketing at Juniper.

Five switch fabric cards on the T640 have dedicated optical connections to the TX. A half-rack TX can link four T640s, a full-rack, eight.

These dedicated optical backplane extensions have hundreds of lasers that operate at 1.8G bit/sec, for a total throughput of 1.28T bit/sec for a single T640-to-TX local connection. Multiplying this by eight T640s actually achieves a greater than 10T bit/sec system, Juniper claims.

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