Cisco overhauls edge routers after 5 years, $250M

ASR 1000 line viewed as successor to company’s aging 7200, 7300, 10000 series

Cisco's 2008 extreme makeover continued this week with the introduction of an all-in-one edge router line designed to handle everything from deep packet inspection to VoIP traffic, and that's aimed squarely at one of rival Juniper's sweet spots.

Cisco's 2008 extreme makeover continued last week with the introduction of an all-in-one edge router line designed to handle everything from deep-packet inspection to VoIP traffic, and that's aimed squarely at one of rival Juniper's sweet spots.

The Aggregation Services Router (ASR) 1000 series (see a slideshow of the new router), which Cisco spent five years and $250 million developing, will handle applications traditionally dealt with by the company's aging 7200, 7300 and 10000 series routers as well as the firewall and QoS jobs typically owned by separate devices. Observers expect that the ASR 1000 boxes, which boast a new operating system and are powered by a superfast processor called QuantumFlow that supports services in software rather than hardware, will eventually replace the older routers.

The ASR 1000 is already the second overhaul of a Cisco product area announced this year. In January, the company unveiled the Nexus 7000, a next generation switch with built-in security that orchestrates storage and computing traffic across data centers. Some observers also expect Cisco to recast its campus switch portfolio, anchored by the years-old Catalyst 6500 and 4500 lines, to better support bandwidth-intensive applications such as video and Web 2.0 programs.

FactSet, a provider of financial information and analytic applications for worldwide investors, sees a major consolidation opportunity with the ASR 1000. "I'll be consolidating multiple 7200s or 7300s into a single ASR chassis" in some larger points of presence, says CTO Jeff Young, whose organization relies on hundreds of the older routers.

With the ASR 1000, Cisco is not only rolling out its next-generation edge router but attacking a sweet spot of Juniper's E-series and Redback's SmartEdge systems, analysts say. (Compare Enterprise Core Router products.) While Cisco still owned 54% of the $1.3 billion service provider edge router market in the third quarter of 2007 and dominates with 84% of the $4.3 billion enterprise router market, according to Dell'Oro figures, Juniper has steadily chipped away (it owned 16% of the carrier edge router market in the third quarter).

"This is a real blast at some of their competitors," says Deb Mielke, president of Treillage Network Strategies. "Juniper's key strength against Cisco was in the edge. But this baby is hot – smaller, more powerful, does a lot of neat things."

Mielke was referring to some of the firewall, deep-packet inspection and session border control capabilities baked into the ASR 1000 that competitors, including Juniper, usually support with additional products and/or modules.

Juniper CTO and founder Pradeep Sindhu said at his company's analyst conference last week that he is much more comfortable talking about his own company's products than Cisco's but did offer this general assessment:

"In sharp contrast to what Juniper tries to do -- which is to have a single operating system, consistent architecture – our competition seems to specialize in producing a new operating system with each product line. And this doesn’t serve the customer well." (Read the rest of our Q&A with Sindhu.) 

The ASR 1000 includes three models: the 1002, which has three port adapter slots; the 1004, with eight slots; and the 1006, with 12. The port adapters include two- and four-port channelized and clear channel T-3/E-3; four-port serial interface; eight-port channelized T-1/E-1; four- and eight-port 10/100 Ethernet; two-, five-, eight- and 10-port Gigabit Ethernet; one-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet; and two- and four-port OC-3 packet over SONET (PoS), and one-port OC-12 PoS.

The 1002 has another slot for a 5G to 10Gbps embedded services processor (ESP), as well as an integrate route processor. The 1004 has separate slots for a 10Gbps ESP and a route processor, while the 1006 has two 10Gbps ESP slots and two route processor slots for hardware redundancy.

At 5G to 10Gbps, the ASR 1000 fills a niche between the 1Gbps 7200s and the 15Gbps 7600 series, which is dedicated to Ethernet aggregation. In the enterprise, the ASR 1000 can be used as a headend to aggregate multiple Cisco Integrated Services Routers at branch sites; as an Internet gateway; and as a private WAN using leased lines and dedicated fiber.

In a service provider environment, the ASR 1000 can function as a broadband service provisioning vehicle and as CPE for a managed service offering.

The ESP, which is based on Cisco's new QuantumFlow processor, allows services such as network security, deep-packet inspection, firewall, QoS, Network Based Application Recognition, broadband aggregation and session border control to reside in software and not require additional hardware support in the form of a service blade, Cisco says.

Cisco says it spent $100 million to develop QuantumFlow, which is 160 times faster than the processor used in Cisco's 7200 series router line. QuantumFlow was developed with technology obtained from Cisco's  acquisition of Procket Networks in 2004.

The processor is "just flat out cool," says Steve Schuchart, an analyst at Current Analysis. "They've hit on reliability, security and speed. They've added services to the router – this is a nice addition to their line."

The ASR 1002 also has an integrated 10Gbps shared port adapter interface processor while the 1004 and 1006 have two and three slots for SIP modules, respectively.

The ASR 1000 operating system, called IOS XE, is based on IOS images common to the 7200 series routers but built on a Linux kernel. Cisco says this provides modularity – in which one component of the operating system can be modified without deactivating the entire package – and improved resiliency.

A key feature of Cisco IOS XE is its support for dual IOS images running on a single ASR 1002 or 1004 route processor for software redundancy. This dual operation could be used for backup or upgrading to a different release.

The ASR 1006 does not support IOS software redundancy in a single route processor because each of the two hardware redundant route processors support one Cisco IOS XE image.

The dual images also provide software virtualization to enable rapid provisioning and simultaneous use of a range of services, including firewall, IPSec VPNs, deep-packet inspection and session border control, Cisco says.

FactSet's Young says he does not foresee any challenges or issues in migrating to IOS XE. But it does require attention.

"We're definitely aware of the significant change in architecture," he says. "But we're more excited about the benefits – a lower device count, power and space savings, in-service upgrades -- than we are concerned about the differences. There is some additional complexity and new cost for me to endure, by nature of the architecture. I think Cisco has a pretty good track record for getting that kind of stuff right."

Cisco says the Cisco ASR 1000 also enables service providers and enterprises to reduce their carbon footprint by consolidating the service of several devices or appliances into a single router. At 1600 watts, Cisco says an ASR 1006 consumes half the wattage of a combined WAN aggregation router, VPN headend, intrusion-prevention appliance, firewall and IPSec security product while offering 10 times the performance.

In a 20-router deployment, the ASR 1006 can generate $170,000 in power cost savings over five years compared with the router/headend/appliance/firewall combination, Cisco says.

The ASR 1000 series will be generally available in April 2008 in two-, four- and six-rack unit sizes, with prices starting at $35,000. Some observers say the price is expensive for a router but others point out that the features included in it obviate the need to acquire additional single-purpose products for those tasks.

Learn more about this topic

Cisco ASR 1000 series slideshow

Cisco Subnet's security expert Jamey Heary gets inside the security aspect of ASR 1000

Cisco’s Mike Volpi discusses the edge router market

Cisco, Juniper lead switching splash

Cisco announces QuantumFlow mystery network processor

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