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5/28/2004
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Cisco Offers High-End Router For Carriers

Vendor says the technology eventually will make its way into business products

Cisco's ultra-high-end router signals a new generation of throughput, CEO John Chambers says. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/EPA

Cisco's ultra-high-end router signals a new generation of throughput, CEO Chambers says.

Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/EPA
Tired of losing share in the telecommunications service-provider market, Cisco Systems unveiled an ultra-high-end router last week in an effort to reclaim its technology leadership position. The Carrier Routing System and a new router operating system are designed to provide more throughput than any other networking product on the market.

"I'm not talking about an evolution of existing routing," CEO John Chambers said at the product launch. "I'm talking about a whole new generation."

In a clustered configuration, the CRS-1 router is capable of processing up to 92 terabits per second of traffic--enough to transfer the entire contents of the Library of Congress in less than five seconds. It features 100 times the capacity and four times the speed of Cisco's existing routers. Cisco promises to provide ongoing hardware and software upgrades and says the CRS-1 will have a life span of up to 20 years. In a basic configuration, a single router is priced at $500,000. A modular version of Cisco's operating system, IOS XR, will let users upgrade and reboot parts of CRS-1 while the rest of the system stays in operation.

The CRS-1 is designed for use in the heart of telecommunications service providers' networks, where capacity and manageability are crucial. It will let them establish converged networks to support growing customer demands to combine voice, video, and data services.

Cisco has been losing share in the carrier market to high-end products from rival Juniper Networks Inc., and the release of the CRS-1 is generally seen as a direct response. "I think they dug themselves into a hole," says Mark Seery, an analyst with RHK, a telecom research firm. The CRS-1 is impressive technology, but Cisco still needs to do more, he says. "I think it's the follow-on products that will really help them start winning back customers. They need something that scales down the product line."

Sprint is testing an early version of the CRS-1 in its San Jose, Calif., data center. At the launch, Kathy Walker, Sprint's executive VP of network services, said Sprint is considering buying an unspecified number of the closet-sized machines. The growing adoption of wireless data services, particularly among business customers, is one reason service providers like Sprint want to add more capacity to their networks, she said.

A version of the CRS-1 for smaller telecommunications companies could hit the market by year's end. Cisco also plans to introduce versions designed for businesses, says VP and chief development officer Mario Mazzola. "Multiple elements of this technology will quickly be applied to the enterprise," he says.

It's unclear how much demand there will be for such a high-performance device outside of the carrier world. Entertainment software company Electronic Arts Inc. needs powerful network hardware to support its online games, and a scaled down version of the CRS-1 could fit the bill, CIO Marc West says. "That's an awful lot of horsepower, but that doesn't mean we can't see ourselves using it," he says.

David Anderson, CIO of Spirit Airlines, isn't sure what he'd do with that much throughput. "I can't think of any way that Spirit would be able to use that kind of bandwidth as it every minute surpasses what we have in total storage," he said via E-mail. "In general, more bandwidth is better to the point where you're indifferent as to the physical location of the resource you're accessing."

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