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Cisco ASR 1000 Router: Giving Router Jockeys What They Want

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door." One thing Cisco Systems knows is routing, and that's what keeps customers coming back. Cisco's new ASR 1000 line of routers, positioned between the 7200 branch-office routers and the Catalyst 6500 core routers, is meant to be an edge router at the LAN/WAN edge, as well as an aggregation point for remote offices. Using a scalable, modular, and resilient hardware and software architecture, the ASR 1000 line provides purchase protection with seamless field upgrades and no router downtime. Cisco expects to ship the ASR in April, starting at $35,000 list.

The ASR competes with Juniper's M-Series service routers and 3Com's Multi-Service router line, but features like software redundancy, in-service upgrades, and instant-on services differentiate the ASR from the other platforms. In addition, the Quantum flow processor provides the horsepower to the ASR for advanced services.

"The ASR [line] embodies three things that router jocks want to hear: a focus on security, reliability, and speed. That may not be glamorous, but it will excite and energize possible buyers," says Steven J. Schuchart Jr., principal analyst at Current Analysis. More than a dozen share port adapters (SPA) -- also used by other Cisco gear like the 7200 and 7300 -- will be available when the ASR ships, offering an upgrade path from existing routers to the new platform. The ASR 1002 comes with three SPA slots, the 1004 with eight SPA slots, and 1006 with 12 SPA slots. The units come two-, four-, and six-rack units high. Cisco claims the ASRs will support 10GB/s on the 1002 to 20-plus Gbps on the 1004 and 1006, but they didn't have performance numbers ready for publication. All three platforms contain the modular embedded services processor powered by Cisco Quantum flow processor and software redundancy, while the 1008 features hardware redundancy for the Embedded Service Processors and Route Processors, which provide advanced services and routing, as well.

While Cisco is loath to use the word "virtualization" when discussing the ASR, the platform can run a virtual copy of IOS in its own protected memory space for an active/passive software failover deployment. Packets passing through the ASR are sent to both IOS processes. In the event of failure in the active IOS process, the platform fails over within 50ms with minimal packet loss and full state information. A new version of Cisco IOS operating system, dubbed IOS XE, brings software modularity and high availability to the router platform. IOS XE can be upgraded without taking the router offline. In addition, new share port adapters can be added and existing SPAs upgraded without affecting other interfaces or rebooting the router.

The modular features of IOS XE and the ASR are a critical factor for Jeff Young, CTO of FactSet Research Systems Inc. FactSet supplies historical and real-time financial analytics to financial institutions worldwide and has POPs around the globe. "One hundred percent uptime is critical for our customers, and therefore critical for us," Young says. "A single POP could have hundreds of clients relying on it to access real-time and analytical data services. Any downtime impacts our clients' business. In-service upgrades of SPAs and IOS keep our network running without disrupting our infrastructure."

Leveraging the 40-core Quantum flow processor (announced by Cisco in February and which can process 160 simultaneous threads at a whopping 49 billion transactions per second), the ASR supports the common services found on Cisco's routers, including stateful firewalling, QoS, VPN, and multicast. In addition, it supports leading-edge services like deep packet inspection for application performance management, a session border controller for VoIP, performance routing, as well as a platform for additional services. Services can be added to IOS XE, and the company is working internally to identify additional services. Cisco doesn't have any immediate plans to open the platform up to third-party developers but is leaving the door open for future external development.

The increased capacity and processing power of the ASRs make them a good replacement for multiple Cisco 7200 or 7300 routers in service today. Consolidating multiple platforms saves rack space and power requirements. Cisco estimates an ASR is twice as efficient compared with the number of routers required to support the same performance requirements. That's good for the environment, but also good for the bottom line. "Since we use co-location space in POPs around the globe, we pay by the rack unit and watt. Any reduction in space and power while maintaining our quality guarantees adds to our bottom line," FactSet's Young says.

Who says there's nothing new in routing?