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Alcatel-Lucent Takes Aim at Terabit Routing

When it comes to getting more routing power out of a routing platform, the key according to networking vendor Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) is better silicon. Alcatel-Lucent is now out with a pair of networking platforms powered by a 100-gigabit-per-second silicon chipset called the FP2.

On a conference call with press and analysts, Basil Alwan, president of Alcatel-Lucent's IP business, explained that the FP2 allows users to have both services and speed on IP infrastructure. The FP2-powered Alcatel-Lucent 7750 Service Router (SR) and 7450 Ethernet Service Switch (ESS) can scale all the way up to a terabit of performance.

"Silicon is the foundation of these platforms," Alwan said. "In the past many people were speculating that this kind of silicon design would only be done at silicon companies," he said. "However, high performance routing is not only very complex, but for a chip company it's relatively low volume. So we find that the specialized designs required for high-performance networking chips are often being done by networking vendors."

The FP2 has 112 array cores on it and offers a speed improvement of 10 times Alcatel-Lucent's previous generation of routing silicon.

Alwan's assessment that high-performance networking vendors are getting into the silicon game themselves is certainly a valid point. Earlier this year, networking giant Cisco System rolled out its QuantumFlow microprocessor, which Cisco claims cost $100 million to develop.

Cisco's QuantumFlow sits in its new aggregation services router (ASR) platform, which according to Alwan does not compete head-to-head against Alcatel-Lucent's new 7750 SR and 7450 ESS.

"The ASR is an interesting product, but it's a different class of product," Alwan contested. "It doesn't hit the edge routing capability that the 7,750 hits."

Alwan said the ASR is more of a "high-touch" platform that looks at application-level inspection of traffic. That said, Alwan remarked that the 7750 is still an edge-routing platform for services as opposed to be a core routing platform.

In the core today, the two competitive technologies that lead the market are Juniper's T-1600 and Cisco's CRS.

"T-1600 and CRS are core routing platforms, so they have high density," Alwan noted. "From a comparison point of view on density, we compare well with those platforms."

That said, Alwan argued that what Alcatel-Lucent is trying to do with the 7550 is somewhat different than just core routing. In his view the Juniper T-1600 and the Cisco CRS are targeted at what he referred to as the "low feature market," which requires moving a lot of bits.

"The edge services layer does the heavy lifting, and the core devices are there to do high speed," Alwan said.