Cisco finally ratchets up to 10 gigabits

A year after its closest competitor, Cisco Systems Inc. at the ComNet trade show said it will ship 10Gbps capabilities for its Internet core routers in March.

Cisco's re-announcement of an OC-192c line card and a 320Gbps switch fabric for its 16-slot 12016 Gigabit Switch Router is a virtual recycle of the original announcement of the 160Gbps 12016 in December 1999. What's interesting this time around, however, is what Cisco did not talk about: its strategy for scaling to terabit routing and the fact that these new products are up to nine months late.

The new 320Gbps switch fabric transforms the 12016 into what Cisco now calls the 12416. The switch fabric allows the 12016 - or 12416 - to run new 10Gbps single-port OC-192c and four-port OC-48c packet-over-SONET line cards.

This is the same information Cisco provided almost 14 months ago, when it announced the 12016. At that time, Cisco said the OC-192c blades would see wide deployment in the second half of 2000.

What really is new from last week's announcement is a 10-slot, 200G bps version of the GSR, called the 12410. This is a lower-density, 10G bps-capable router that takes up half a telco rack, as opposed to the 12416/12016, which takes up a full rack.

Cisco's OC-192c interface will appear a year after rival Juniper Networks shipped its first OC-192c blades for the M160 platform. Those products have been well accepted by service providers, despite a packet misordering situation that occurs with very large flows.

As a result, Juniper has steadily taken Internet core router market share from Cisco and owned 30 percent of the market in the third quarter of 2000, according to the Dell'Oro Group. Cisco owns 69 percent, according to Dell'Oro.

Cisco hopes to gain back some momentum with the 12400 series rollout, because the chassis can hold almost twice as many OC-192c and OC-48c ports as the Juniper device. Cisco also is emphasizing that the distributed system architecture of the 12400 series will maintain packet sequence integrity under all conditions, a guarantee Juniper cannot make when flows exceed 300M byte/sec - which they rarely, if ever, do - with its OC-192c-capable, eight-slot M160 router.

Juniper is rumored to be developing a new router - perhaps called the M320 - that will increase OC-192c port density and alleviate the packet reordering situation. Juniper does not comment on products that are not shipping.

Cisco also plays up the investment protection inherent in a 12000-to-12400 upgrade. Users with an installed base of 12016 chassis need only replace switch fabrics to gain 320Gbps of capacity. Chassis, line cards and software remain the same, and OC-192c ports can be added as needed.

"Talk about one of the most painless upgrades you could have," says Chris Nicoll, an analyst at Current Analysis in Sterling, Va.

Conspicuously absent from Cisco's 12400 rollout was any mention of terabit scalability. Cisco had a compelling 5 terabps story to tell when it announced the 12016 in late 1999, but such was not the case with last week's 12400 launch, leading to speculation that Cisco's terabit story is not resonating with service providers.

That story revolved around the release of a 256-port crossbar switch fabric - competitors refer to it as "Teracore" - with which a user could attach multiple GSRs and scale up to 252 OC-192c and 1,008 OC-48c ports. "Teracore" was supposed to ship in the second half of 2000, Cisco officials said 14 months ago.

Cisco's terabit strategy is still evolving, acknowledges Robert Redford, senior director of marketing in Cisco's Internet POP systems business unit.

"We're looking at ways to do it better," Redford says. "The need for terabits is still a little bit farther out there. Customers wanted 10Gbps first."

Cisco is guilty of overambitious "Teracore" marketing, Nicoll says.

"They're learning a little bit from what's happening in the marketplace," he says. "The market just isn't ready yet, and it isn't going to do Cisco any good to overhang the market with a terabit solution that competitors can pick apart before any of them even get installed. It's still a gigabit market, which Juniper has proven in spades."

The 12400 routers and 10Gbps line cards will ship in March. The 12410 starts at $US120,000, and the 12416 starts at $US130,000.

Cisco last week also announced a lower-end platform for accessing optical metropolitan-area networks. The Cisco ONS 15327 is an eight-slot chassis housing one-port OC-48, one-port OC-12, four-port 10/100Mbps Ethernet, three-port DS-3 and 28-port DS-1 modules. Gigabit Ethernet is planned for the system, Cisco says.

It is a scaled-down version of Cisco ONS 15454, which is targeted at the metro core/aggregation space. The 15327 allows Cisco to extend optical networking closer to the metro access edge, including multitenant building sites.

The 15327 will compete with Redback Networks' newly announced SmartEdge 100, which has higher density on all ports except DS-1. The SE 100 is only in beta now, however, while the ONS 15327 is currently shipping.

Cisco did not disclose pricing for the ONS 15327.

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