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Cisco Updates Routers to Generation Two - InternetNews.
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Cisco Updates Routers to Generation Two

cisco isr 3900
Cisco's new ISR 3900 router
Source: Cisco
At the core of Cisco's traditional networking business is its networking routers -- and specifically the popular ISR (Integrated Services Router), which has sold more than 7 million units. Now the ISR is getting a major refresh with a new generation of routing, processing, video and scalability features.

Cisco's router enhancements comes on the heels of a pair of major multibillion-dollar acquisition bids in areas adjacent to its core network routing business -- for telepresence player Tandberg and 4G wireless technology player Starent.

But for now, it's back to its roots for Cisco, with the ISR "generation two" (G2) refresh as part of a larger Cisco effort to revamp its networking portfolio for what it calls the area of "borderless networks" -- an idea that hinges on divorcing software from hardware to enable easy-to-manage virtual services.

"We are bringing together routing, switching, mobility, security, WAN optimization and some of our green technology into a single solution set that we will deliver," Inbar Lasser-Raab, director of marketing for Cisco's Network Systems solutions, told InternetNews.com. "The first step is the ISR G2 that implements a lot of those capabilities."

The first-generation ISR platform came out in September 2004 and offered users the ability to plug in add-on module blades that provided additional services and functionality.

With the G2 platform, the module approach is getting revamped, as is the core services functionality on the platform itself. Using a technology called the Services-Ready Engine, Cisco is going to be expanding its services with a general-purpose computing platform integrated into the ISR G2.

"We have the capability of plugging in a general-purpose compute engine that will allow customers to take both Cisco services and partner services and be able to customize applications and deploy them," Mick Skully, vice president of product management for Cisco's Access Routing Technology Group, told InternetNews.com. "It's a true 'branch in a box' that includes both communications, service and compute capabilities associated with a branch environment."

One of the popular modules that Cisco has had in the market for ISR users is the Application eXtension Platform (AXP) Linux server platform. Previously, users could run applications on top of a Linux operating system provided on the AXP module. With the new Services-Ready Engine, AXP as a service will continue -- though there will be no need for a separate module.

"The difference between the new iteration and the older one is before you had to order an AXP module, and that was hard-coded," Lasser-Raab said. "Now you just buy the service engine and if you want the AXP capability, it's an option you can add on later."

Adding such capabilities is now far more simpler and quicker. Skully said that with the first-generation edition, ISR customers were forced to order the service software they wanted from Cisco and then have it installed on their hardware. With ISR G2, the product includes a single software image, enabling Cisco to use a license key to unlock platform features when purchased.

Because processing can now take place on the ISR G2 itself, AXP isn't the only module that's being phased out.

Another is a hardware-based cryptographic acceleration module. The ISR G2 is powerful enough that it can do the cryptography at line rate, making the first-generation ISR's separate hardware acceleration module unnecessary, Skully said.

Skully said that ISR G2 platforms have doubled the memory footprint over Cisco's earlier models and now all use multi-core processors. According to Skully, the baseline ISR G2 platform provides a five-fold increase in performance over the first-generation ISR platform.

Speedier performance also comes by way of an overall modernization of the routers' components, he added.

"It's just the march of technology -- it's the fact that we're using today's modern network processor technology," Skully said. "We've upgraded the fabric and we're using technology today that represents the state of the art."

Cisco is launching the ISR G2 lineup with three core products: the 3900, 2900 and 1900 series. The platforms differ in their port configurations and performance, with the top-end ISR G2 3900 unit providing up to 150 Mbps of bandwidth with concurrent services enabled, according to Cisco.

With the new ISR G2 launch, Skully noted that Cisco will have an upgrade program in place for current ISR customers. That said, he noted that Cisco has no immediate plans to End-Of-Life (EOL) the first-generation ISR platform anytime soon.

"We anticipate that it will be two to three years while our current customer base transitions," Skully said. "It's not as if we're turning off our existing products and saying 'go buy this tomorrow' -- that's just not happening."