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IP explosion pressures core backbones.

Service providers start to eye terabit routers.

Given the growth in IPtraffic, routers will be an even more critical part of tomorrow's Internet and service provider private IP-networks. Routers have always been an essential part of the Internet because of their ability to offer comprehensive IP-packet processing and management and to smoothly connect between the LAN (local area network) and WAN (wide area network).

IDC predicts the greatest growth in service provider spending over the next five years will be for gigabit and terabit routers, with annual outlays jumping from $136 million in 1998 to a little more than $2 billion in 2003.

These figures reflect a growing hierarchy in service provider IP network infrastructure, where gigabit routers are pushing multiprotocol routers to the access points of their networks, making room for the faster models at the core. IDC forecasts that, by 2003, gigabit and terabit routers will account for close to 83% of service provider spending on all types of routers.


In interviews with service providers, IDC finds that reliability, performance, future expansion potential, and customer service and support head the list of "very important" criteria. Price, port capacity, network management, and traffic prioritization are considered "somewhat important."

As for major trends, service providers are moving from IP-over-ATM to IP-over-SONET. In some instances, the move is to IP-over-DWDM (dense wave division multiplexing), or "IPover glass," for more efficient use of bandwidth and ease of provisioning, while retaining SONET's self-healing and rapid restoration features.

In addition, many service providers are embracing multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) for better integration of their routing and switching infrastructures, as well as improved management of IP traffic across their entire network infrastructure. MPLS also gives service providers the ability to create virtual circuits with specified amounts of bandwidth across their IP networks. Some plan to supplement MPLS with additional priority schemes. Others see no point to MPLS and intend provisioning sufficient bandwidth to obviate the need for any priority scheme.

As "IPover glass," MPLS, quality-of-service (dos) guarantees, and advanced services, such as IP virtual private networks (Vans), become more common, IDC predicts that router performance will need to increase dramatically to support the greater processing load.

Several service providers are already introducing OC-192 (10 GPS) connections within their IP backbones. Although few service providers require such high-speed backbones today, all of them are under pressure to improve the performance of both their core backbone--some backbones are doubling in as little as a month--and their customer access points. This pressure is passed onto equipment suppliers in the form of demands--coming fast and furious--for higher-speed interfaces, higher-capacity routers, and stronger management features, including dos and policy-based routing.

Responsive market leader Cisco Systems has unveiled its first terabit router, the 12000 Terabit System scales to 5 Tbps by combining a number of gigabit routers with a high-end switching structure. Believing that significant numbers of service provider points of presence (POPs) will require terabit switching speed by December 2002, Cisco is scheduling trials with the 12000 Terabit System later this year, with a planned commercial shipping date of mid-2001.

Cisco's terabit system is based on the new GSR 12016 router, which operates to 320 Gbps, with a latency as low as 13 microseconds. The 16-slot router can deliver the full OC-48 (2.5 Gbps) line rate when forwarding 70-byte packets or larger and can handle as many as 60 OC48 or 15 OC-192 line interfaces.

To scale to terabit capacity, Cisco uses a 256x256 crossbar switch to connect multiple 12016 routers, allowing service providers to build backbone capacity incrementally. Also, since the 12016 uses the same line interfaces as other members of the GSR 12000 family, service providers can upgrade from an OC-48 to an OC-192 interface and re-use the slower interface elsewhere.

Other router suppliers offer reusable interfaces, but since Cisco has sold in excess of 4,500 of its GSR 12000 routers to more than 400 distinct customers, reusable components give the company great leverage. Cisco is currently holding trials with an OC-192 interface, which Qwest Communications is using to carry commercial traffic between Sunnyvale, Calif., and New York; no final product release date has been set.

Juniper Networks captured 14.2% of service provider spending on gigabit routers in the fourth quarter of 1999 and recently matched the 12016 with its M160 router. It has announced no plans to link multiple M160s into a terabit router but did top Cisco by shipping an OC-192 packet-over-SONET line card for the router.

Using the same Junos software as the M20 and M40 routers, the M160 provides full wire-rate forwarding over OC-192 circuits, with aggregate route lookup rates in excess of 160 Mpps (million packets per second) and aggregate throughput greater than 160 Gbps. It supports up to 64 OC48 or 16 OC-192 interface cards per rack. UUnet and Cable & Wireless, among others, have already deployed the M160.


Reliability still tops service providers' "must have" lists. It is so vital, according to IDC, competitive pressures may soon force router suppliers to give guarantees of reliability. Dissatisfied with the current number of outages, service providers are pressing for a tough target of 99.999%, or "five nines," reliability, which equates to less than five minutes of yearly outages. Clearly, the Internet of the future will be held to the same reliability standard as today's public phone network. Equipment suppliers will have to meet the resulting challenge.

Nortel Networks claims a 99.999% availability with its Versalar Switch Router 25000. With a throughput of 240 Gbps, the router can support up to 48 OC-48 or 24 OC-192 trunsk. Norted claims that the high availability stems not merely from extensive use of fault-tolerant features, such as redundant switches and central processors, but from extensive rewrite and simplification of the former Bay Newtorks routing code. The rewrite also Made the code modular, so Nortel removed IPX and other protocol functions, producing an IP-only version.

IDC agrees that reliability requires not only fault-tolerant features like fully meshed topologies, automated recovery mechanisms, and redundant systems and internal components. It also calls for simpler modular routing code, improved software quality, and software upgrades that are accomplished with little or no impact on existing hardware, operations, and customers. Too frequently, software problems are the cause of router outages, and service providers put a high priority on fixing this shortcoming.

Network management is also crucially important. Some service providers opt for GUI-based systems that allow network managers to determine network performance and then reconfigure routers and routing priorities with a mouse click or two. Some prefer familiar command line interfaces (CLIs) and may have written additional scripts or software code to customize the CLIs to their networks. Others develop management systems in-house since they can tweak them faster, or turn to third-party vendors or integrators for customized packages.

Whatever the approach, service providers are unanimous in their desire to simplify and automate the management of their networks, recognizing that engineering and support staffs are already under a severe strain from current loads. Service providers will only be able to add new service offerings, such as VAN, and expand their reach and capacity, if they have more effective management systems.

Startups challenge Cisco's dominance

Cisco Systems remains the dominant router supplier, accounting for well above 80% of the market. Several well-funded startup companies, however, have emerged during the past few years to compete for the high-growth service provider market for gigabit and faster IP routers. Some, including Pluribus, Avid Systems, nectar Systems and Nexabit Networks, have focused on terabit routers, while others have addressed the gigabit router market, each with a slightly different approach and product emphasis.

Gigabit routers differ from the traditional high-end multiprotocol models in a number of ways. First, they only support the IP protocol. Second, they operate at throughput rates well in excess of a million packets per second, typically using an internal switching matrix to boost internal packet-forwarding speeds.

In addition, gigabit routers offer a more limited set of highspeed local and wide area network interfaces than their multiprotocol counterparts. They focus instead on ensuring the highest levels of system reliability and providing support for Internet-class routing tables and sophisticated quality and class of service capabilities.

Terabit IP routers are equally specialized and are scalable to switching speeds in excess of one terabits per second (Tbps) within a single-system image, which can span multiple chassis or racks.

Among terabit router vendors, Avid Systems was the first to generate revenue, receiving about $500,000 for two of its TSR terabit switch routers, which GTS Telecommunications of Vancouver, Canada, will use in the government-funded National Transparent Optical Network.

Avici's TSR router uses a self-healing, distributed switch fabric that scales from 2.5 Gbps to 5.6 Tbps. It can be set up to handle 2,240 OC-48 or 560 OC-192 ports. As many as 560 modules can plug into the fabric. The modules perform all the routing and switching functions, and include the optical interface for DWDM (dense wave division multiplexing) connections.

Pluris' 20000 TNR terabit network router uses a fiber-optic-based distributed switching fabric to support up to 184 Tbps of aggregate switching throughput within a single system. With maximum line capacity of 19.2 Tbps, the router supports OC-12, OC-48 and OC-192 interfaces. Frontier Communications has joined Deutsche Telekom and other service providers in the Pluris partner program to work with the vendor in testing protocols and equipment, and helping define product features.

Nexabit Networks claims a switching capacity of 6.4 Tbps with its NX64000 switch/router, which provides direct connectivity with DWDM equipment and built-in SONET functionality. Netcore Systems combines the functions of an IP router and ATM switch in its Everest Integrated Switch, which provides up to 2.5 Tbps of switching fabric and a modular architecture that scales from 10 to 640 Gbps of interface capacity.

Last year, these and other startups were acquisition targets for major telecommunications vendors. Lucent Technologies picked up Nexabit Networks for $900 million, while Tellabs paid out $575 million for NetCore Systems. Lucent is expected to ship its first NX64000 routers later this year, while Tellabs has routers in service provider trials.

Continuing the buying spree, Siemens acquired Argon Networks for a reported $250 million to be a cornerstone of its new U.S. venture, Unisphere Solutions, while Ericsson paid $450 million for Torrent Network Technologies.

Argon's family of GigaPacket Node (GPN) IP switch/routers scales from 20-Gbps to 160-Gbps capacity, with up to 64 OC-48 ports on the high-end model. Torrent's IP9000 family of gigabit routers provide 20-Gbps throughput with a packet-processing capability of 24.8 Mpps er shelf.

At one point, Nortel Networks seemed poised to acquire Avici Systems. It invested $20 million in the company and announced plans to sell the TSR under the name Versalar 45000. Negotiations collapsed, however, and Nortel ended up unveiling its own terabit router four months later. Nortel's Optera Packet Core will have an initial speed of 4.8 Tbps when it becomes generally available later this year, with a boost to 19.2 Tbps in late 2001. Potentially, its seed could subsequently increase into the hundreds of terabits per second, putting Nortel into a competitive position with Cisco and the other would-be challengers.

Edwards manages communications and network consulting For IDC, a global IT market research and consulting firm heardquartered in Framingham, Mass.
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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event
Comment:Service providers are expected to turn to gigabit and terabit routers to mmet the growth in IP traffic.
Author:Edwards, Morris
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Previous Article:NEW PRODUCTS.
Next Article:MSPs make sense ... probably.

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