Cisco Aims to Reassert Dominance in Midrange Routers

Cisco's new ASR 1000 routers deliver high performance in a small form factor.

Cisco Systems on March 4 will go back to its roots and reassert its dominance as a router provider when it launches a new line of aggregation routers for both enterprises and service providers.

Cisco's first midrange router in years took $250 million and five years to develop. But the new Aggregation Services Router 1000 Series promises to change how the enterprise looks at the WAN (wide area network) edge and Internet gateway, Cisco officials claimed.

The ASR 1000, which sits above the Cisco 7200 Series and below the Cisco 7600 Series in performance, packs powerful performance in a small form factor. It is intended to act as a WAN head end, an Internet gateway or the foundation for a private WAN.

It is the first hardware device to use Cisco's new QuantumFlow Processor chip set, which provides 40 cores and can handle an aggregate of 160 simultaneous transactions.

The new ASR 1000 Series runs Cisco's IOS XE, a virtualized version of Cisco's IOS software designed specifically for small-form-factor routers at the network's edge. It allows users to perform software upgrades without taking the router out of service or affecting the performance end users see.

"It would be like installing a new Windows operating system without having to restart any of your applications. If you want to upgrade the software, you don't have to shut down connections to your different customers," said Ben Goldman, director of network systems at Cisco.

Key to the ASR 1000 is the ability to instantly provision and turn on advanced services such as IP telephony, session border control and deep packet inspection as well as basic services such as firewall, IPSec encryption, quality of service, IP multicast and others.

"You just need to configure [the desired service] with the command-line interface or a provisioning tool and the service is running," said Goldman, who characterized the ASR 1000 as unique in the industry for its performance, compact design and efficiency. "It's efficient in space, in power and in cooling. And the ability to instantly turn on new services without requiring new hardware and power is unique."

"This is less about routing and more about all the services around it," said Mark Fabbi, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "Routers don't route anymore, and they haven't for years. The $5 billion we spend a year on branch-office routers is on optimization services, security and integration with other applications like voice. Those are the areas that are much more interesting and where enterprises should spend their time thinking about how they deploy those."

Thanks to the power savings, performance and lower operational costs, the new ASR 1000 can allow enterprises to "think about delivering combined voice, video and data applications," said Deb Mielke, managing director at Treillage Network Strategies in McKinney, Texas. "Now [as a user] I have enough pop to do it, and I don't have to buy 20,000 boxes. This can reshape how people deliver applications," she said.

The ASR 1000 will be available in three rack sizes, ranging from a two-rack unit to a six-rack unit. It will include a 5G-bps embedded service processor engine initially, along with a 10G-bps version. Both are due out in April. A 20G-bps version is due in August.

The ASR 1000 will use existing Cisco interfaces, or shared port adapters, which already run in Cisco's 7600, 12,000 and CRS-1 routers as well as the Catalyst 6500 switch. The SPAs range from T-1 interfaces to 10 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces. Twelve different SPAs will work with the ASR 1000.

Pricing for the ASR 1000 starts at $35,000.