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Cisco's $250 Million Routing Play

Networking giant Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) is spending a quarter of a billion dollars on a new routing platform that could change the entire networking landscape. Cisco's new Aggregation Services Router (ASR) 1000 platform is a WAN aggregation platform that includes firewall, Session Border Control (SBC), VPN and other core networking features.

"This is a new category of Router that will completely change how enterprise will look at their WAN edge and Internet gateway places in their network," Ben Goldman, a director of network systems for Cisco, told InternetNews.com .

The ASR 1000 also marks the debut of Cisco's new QuantumFlow microprocessor, which Goldman boasted is the most advanced piece of networking silicon ever created. The QuantumFlow is a 40 core processor that can run 48 billion instructions per second.

"The QuantumFlow is designed to have speed and efficiency of an ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) with the flexibility of a microprocessor," Goldman explained. "It's fully programmable in C and lets us take IOS and other services and run at line rate of 10GbE and beyond."

Goldman noted that the emergence of the QuantumFlow does not negate the need for ASICs in general. ASICs will continue to have a place in the network, the QuantumFlow however solves some other problems such as scalability and service availability.

The ASR 1000 also marks the debut of Cisco's IOS XE operating system, which virtualizes IOS and enables high speed services at the edge of networks. Jonathan Davidson of Cisco's midrange routing business unit explained that IOS XE gives users the ability to run two versions of IOS on a simple piece of hardware.

The ability to run two versions enables failover for both devices as well as downtime mitigation. Davidson noted that with IOS XE an enterprise could have, say, a version a and b of software running and then, in the event of a problem or a crash, the second version could take over in less than 50 milliseconds. The second version can also be helpful in a testing scenario where the user is running one version as a live production case and the second is a testing case.

IOS XE is also an innovation that takes advantage of Linux at its core. "IOS XE is actually IOS that has been put on top of a Linux kernel," Davidson said.

Davidson noted that Cisco is using a 'plain vanilla' Linux kernel and not something from any specific Linux vendor or distribution.

The ASR 1000 fits into a new spot in Cisco's overall routing portfolio. Davidson explained that the ASR platform fits into the Cisco portfolio on top of the popular Cisco ISR (integrated services router)routers and the Cisco 7200 router. In his view the entire routing portfolio is necessary to fit customer demands for how they are designing their networks.

"The ISR is a branch platform that has sold more than 3 million units in the last three years," Goldman said. "This is a terrific connection point for the ISRs to the ASRs in the WAN aggregation space."

With a built-in firewall the ASR 1000 also provides features that some enterprises may have already deployed with Cisco's ASA (adaptive services appliance) product line. Cisco launched its new ASA 5580 earlier this year as its biggest firewall yet for 10GbE connectivity.

Goldman sees the ASA as being complementary to the ASR platform for deployments where a standalone firewall is preferable.

"We really see the ASR as expanding the overall firewall market," Davidson said. "The ASR allows people to flexibly turn on firewalls where they may not have them today."

Including the development costs for the QuantumFlow, Cisco has spent $250 million in the development of the ASR 1000, of which $100 million alone went to the development of the QuantumFlow processor.