Evolution of the router

From BBN to Stanford to Cisco to open source

the evolution of the router

What a long, strange route its been

From its gestation period 40 years ago until now, the router has matured along with the Internet to become the linchpin of all communications - data, voice and video. Its application seems limitless as the Internet is enhanced to support more and more features and services

The First Router

BBN developed the Interface Message Processor for the ARPAnet, the Internets predecessor, in the late 1960s. The IMP could support 50Kbps links between nodes

Router Man

Bill Yeager develops the multiprotocol router at Stanford in 1980. Yeager's project would pique the interest of Stanford researchers Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner, and help launch Cisco.



Some of the first modern routers on the Internet in the early 1980s were called "Fuzzballs." They were Digital Equipment Corp. LSI-11 computers loaded with software written by David Mills, inventor of the Network Time Protocol and the Exterior Gateway Protocol. Fuzzball refers to the router's software, which includes a fast, compact operating system, support for the DARPA/NSF Internet architecture, and a range of applications for network protocol development, testing, and evaluation. A few Fuzzballs are still in operation on the Internet today.

The Birth of Cisco

Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner found Cisco after customizing and commercializing Yeagers multiprotocol router. Legend has it the two lovebirds set up a routed connection between their Stanford offices in order to easily communicate back and forth. After Cisco, Bosack started up XKL, a Redmond, WA., networking company. Lerner founded a cosmetics company and became an advocate for animal rights.

The first Cisco router

The AGS - for Advanced Gateway Server - shipped in 1986 as Ciscos first commercial multiprotocol router. The router supported TCP/IP and PUP, among other protocols. The highest line rate on the system was 100Mbps FDDI.

The high-end workhorse

Ciscos first successful core enterprise multiprotocol router was the 7000 series, which debuted in 1993. The 7000 series would be a mainstay in corporate networks for many years to come

Advancements in integration

Routers were reduced to chip-size, ushering in the development of Layer 3 switches - LAN switches that could also perform IP routing.

Heres a switch

Layer 3 switches, like Cisco's Catalyst 6500, which debuted in the mid-to-late 1990s, have become a lower cost, higher speed alternative to routers in the core of enterprise IP networks. They are able to support Gigabit - 1000Mbps - Ethernet speeds

Color me alternative

Some of Cisco's competitors, such as Extreme, unveiled Layer 3 switches in colors other than black, adding an interesting twist to an otherwise staid industry

For the carrier core

Cisco and its competitors, like Juniper and Avici Systems, designed megarouters for the core of carrier networks in anticipation of the explosion in growth of Internet traffic and the advent of managed services. These systems are designed to support terabit speeds.

An Open Route

Other routing alternatives, like Vyatta's appliance based on open source Linux on x86 hardware, have sought to become, low-cost, feature-rich options to Cisco's dominance. An open source operating system supports applications for hundred of developers .

The next generation

Cisco's newest enterprise edge router, the ASR 1000, is optimized for VoIP, firewall, QoS and other deep packet inspection applications. It is based on Cisco's QuantumFlow processor, which is designed to perform many functions in hardware instead of software, and is designed to support up to 10Gbps Ethernet line rates .

Whats Next

Institutions like the Department of Defense have found applications for routers in space. This advancement could result in much broader and lower cost access to satellite data and networks.

What do you think?

Where will routing - and routers - go from here?