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Cisco Doubles Down on Router Speed

It's one thing to have a routing platform that can scale to high capacity -- it's quite another to actually have products that can actually deliver on the promise of that scale.

Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) today is rolling out its highest-density 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) line card, sporting a total of sixteen 10 GbE ports that together deliver a whopping 160 Gbps of throughput bandwidth.

The new line card is for Cisco's ASR (Aggregation Services Router) 9000 platform, which debuted in Nov. 2008. The new 16x10GbE card effectively doubles the capacity that Cisco had previously offered to ASR 9000 customers.

With the new bandwidth capability, Cisco is taking aim at the growing market for increased bandwidth and video content in particular. Cisco has previously forecast that by 2012, it expects to see half a zettabyte crossing the global network.

"When we originally announced this platform, it had a 4x10GbE line card; a couple of months ago, we announced 8x10 GbE and today we are announcing 16x10 GbE," Suraj Shetty, vice president of worldwide service provider marketing, told InternetNews.com. "So in span of less than a year, we've quadrupled the capacity of the platform."

The ASR platform itself is no stranger to big numbers. The first product in the ASR portfolio, the ASR 1000 debuted in January 2008, with Cisco CEO John Chambers claiming the platform cost $250 million to develop. Of that of development cost, $100 million came from the Quantum Flow processor that powers the ASR platform, Cisco said.

But that may have been money well spent: Shetty explained that the Quantum Flow is responsible for enabling Cisco to achieve its 16x10 GbE scale on the ASR 9000.

"Silicon innovation is where I think the challenge lies, to pack more and more 10 GbE into a single line card," Shetty said. "The Quantum Flow is the type of innovation built by us as part of our investment in silicon, and that's what helps us to drive this kind of innovation and in a very short period of time, too."

Shetty added that the ASR 9000 itself was architected from its inception to have up to 400 Gbps per slot of bandwidth throughput. The total capacity of the ASR 9000 is specified by Cisco to be 6.4 terabits per second.

"Because it's designed for up to 400 Gbps per slot, we still have from 160 to 400 Gbps to grow, as technology enables and demand grows," Shetty said.

From a competitive point of view, both Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper Networks have been busy in recent months making their own high-speed Ethernet announcements. Alcatel-Lucent recently announced a 10x10 GbE line card. Juniper, for its part, has announced a 100 GbE line card.

Cisco also has 100 GbE on its roadmap. In June 2008, Cisco announced 100 GbE trials with Comcast. Though Cisco has not yet announced actual 100 GbE product availability, that's coming soon as a means to enable the ASR 9000 to deliver on the promise of 400 Gbps per slot.

"The plan is to have 4x100 GbE in a single slot on the ASR 9000 when [100 GbE] becomes available in later 2010," Shetty said. "From a tech point of view, we're there already with 100 GbE. Now it's just a question of productizing it and we need to make sure it's standards-compliant, otherwise we will have interoperability issues all over the place."