Cisco’s New CRS-1 Router Can Handle It All

Don’t expect to bring home a CRS-1 for less than a half million dollars

At its 20th anniversary celebration, held last week at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., Cisco unveiled the Carrier Routing System-1 (CRS-1), a new high-end router designed for telecommunications carriers.

Just how high-end is the CRS-1? It’s the most expensive router Cisco (or a competitor) has ever marketed, carrying a price tag of half-a-million dollars.

On this basis alone, the CRS-1 seems worthy of the appellation that Cisco executives used many times during last week’s launch event: next-generation.

But as Cisco officials conceded, CRS-1 may also be a technologicaltriumph in search of a market.

Cisco President and CEO John Chambers, for example, called the CRS-1 “the next generation of routing. I’m not talking about an evolution of existing routing, I’m really talking about a new generation.” In case attendees misunderstood him the first time around, Chambers underscored this point, explaining, “We went back to the basics and designed it from scratch.”

The CRS-1’s code-name (“Huge Fast Router”) should have been a clue to just what Cisco had in mind—i.e., massive scalability. The networking giant even introduced a new version of IOS—dubbed IOS XR—that it says is designed for terabit-scale routing systems.

Cisco says the CRS-1 boasts an overall system capacity—when clustered through a switch fabric --- of up to 92 terabits per second. That’s 92 trillion bits per second. As if that’s not enough, the CRS-1 is the first core router to support 40 Gbps optical interfaces, thanks to a helping hand from long-time Cisco partner IBM Corp, which Chambers acknowledged “helped [us] bring 40 Gbps ASICs to market.”

Cisco officials say the CRS-1 is designed to enable large-scale delivery of high-bandwidth applications such as video on demand, online gaming, and real-time interactive services. In this respect, it’s a cabinet-sized multi-service router that supports data, voice, and video services over a converged IP network.

What market forces compelled Cisco to engineer the biggest and most expensive core router ever produced? Call it the law of persistent mis-under-estimation, at least with respect to technology consumption. Cisco officials illustrated the point with references to several infamous cases of technological naïveté, such as IBM founder Thomas J. Watson’s prediction of demand for no more than 50 computers worldwide.

“Every time we talk about scalability, we’ve dramatically underestimated the loads that would go on the networks,” Chambers said.

Mike Volpi, senior vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s Routing Technology group, put it even more succinctly. “Most of us here don’t actually know what the applications [for the CRS-1] are going to be, and that’s the amazing thing about bandwidth and the Internet is that if we would have guessed four years ago, we would have been wrong,” he said. “The applications turn up, it’s sort of like 'Give people bandwidth and they will find freedom.'”

Cisco says the new IOS XR software allows the CRS-1 to run more or less continuously, even during maintenance and upgrades, without service interruptions. IOS XR supports process-level in-service upgrades, and enables distributed processing by separating the control, data, and management planes. The next-generation router also boasts self-defending network capabilities that can automatically identify potentially disruptive activities—such as distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

If Cisco customers expect to see IOS XR ported to their existing gear, they’d better not hold their breath, however. “IOS XR is specifically targeted at the CRS-1, and … obviously there’s some key attributes and things that we’ll look at based on customer feedback, but to be very clear, IOS XR is absolutely targeted at CRS-1,” said Tony Bates, VP and GM, Carrier class multi-service solutions with Cisco, during the same event.

CRS-1 is based on Cisco’s Intelligent ServiceFlex design, which lets carriers separate traffic and network operations on a per-service or per-customer basis. The next-gen router features Cisco’s new Silicon Packet Processor (SPP), and an OC-768c/STM-256c IP interface; it can support up to 1,152 40-Gbps line-card slots.

At the CRS-1 unveiling, Cisco touted testimonials from Deutsche Telekom, MCI, NTT Communications, and Sprint, all of which have been provided feedback and other assistance during the CRS-1 development effort. During a Q&A that followed the press events, representatives from all four companies were asked about when they’d deploy one or more CRS-1s in their environments; most—with the exception of MCI, which is currently beta-testing the CRS-1—gave inconclusive responses, however.

“We are going to test the machine … [and] maybe it will take time to test, but if it is successful, we will eventually deploy this machine,” said Dr. Masayuki Nomura, senior vice-president and general manager of broadband IP services with NTT. Among the four customer representatives, Nomura seemed most impressed with the CRS-1’s aesthetics, noting “this is [a] very beautiful” machine.

Kathryn Walker, executive vice president of network services with Sprint, gave herself considerable wriggle room when asked how many CRS-1s her company will eventually purchase. “[I]t’s about how quickly the demand comes at us and how quickly we can move our legacy networks to a converged state, so the intent would be more than a handful and less than several hundred,” she confirmed.

The CRS-1 is expected to be available in July, according to the company.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.