Carriers Show Tough Love For Cisco, CRS-1

Cisco Systems attracted a lot of attention with the launch of its new carrier-class router Tuesday, but it's going to take some time before service providers start writing checks for

May 26, 2004

3 Min Read
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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Cisco Systems attracted a lot of attention with the launch of its new carrier-class router Tuesday, but it's going to take some time before service providers start writing checks for the gear.

That carrier representatives who were part of Cisco's gala event here Tuesday were lukewarm toward the new CRS-1 was evidence that the networking giant is still at the first-date phase of its relationship with major service-provider customers.

Of the four carriers present Tuesday, only Sprint would even make a cautious commitment to future purchases of the CRS-1, a system whose price tag could easily reach into the millions of dollars per machine. And according to Kathy Walker, executive vice president for Sprint's network services, it may take the better part of a year for Sprint to find a place where the CRS-1 can contribute to Sprint's bottom line.

"If it lets me free up some of the routers I have in place today, that might be a reason to deploy [the CRS-1]," Walker said. "But I also have to look at the operating expenses. How much is it going to cost me to maintain it, and to train my people on a new interface?"

Both Sprint's Walker and MCI Fellow John Fee said that while Cisco's innovations were new to Cisco, some of the attributes of the CRS-1 have been standard in telco gear used in backbone and core networks."We've been saying to Cisco and other hardware vendors that we need telco grade equipment for years," MCI's Fee said. "They're finally getting the message. When you put a box into a backbone network, it has to be available all the time. Rebooting a machine is not acceptable for telecom or enterprise broadband suppliers."

Fee said some of the new software features of Cisco's CRS-1 -- such as its ability to update and reconfigure without ceasing operation -- are standard stuff for most TDM telco switches.

"We've been doing things like quality of service in the PSTN and over Frame Relay for years," Fee said. "That's one reason why IP services haven't been rolled out earlier, because IP has always been about 'best effort' delivery. That model does not work [in the carrier world]."

Fee said attention to telco needs is what let Juniper Networks (which introduced its carrier-class router two years ago) trump Cisco in the service-provider market.

"Cisco is coming to a party that started two years ago," said Pradeep Sindhu, CTO and founder of Juniper, in an e-mail exchange. "Today the challenges facing carriers are focused around building networks that deliver reliability, security and service quality -- and enable them to generate revenue. These are the challenges Juniper is addressing today."Sprint's Walker said the new operating system for Cisco's CRS-1, IOS XR, while the subject of much self-praise from Cisco, was just an ante.

"Having a carrier class operating system is really table stakes in our world," Walker said.

And Wolfgang Schmitz, senior executive vice president for Deutsche Telekom's T-Com fixed-networks group, didn't duck a question about his company's use of high-end routers from Juniper, declaring that his firm would continue to pursue a multi-vendor strategy -- a fine statement anytime, but a bit of a slap in the face when made on stage at a Cisco-hosted event.

"A little competition is healthy for both parties," said Schmitz, who later hedged a commitment toward the CRS-1 by saying only "there's room for this kind of machine" in T-Com's networks.

The other carriers also had praise for Cisco's innovations, but also stopped short of announcing intents to purchase."The ability to revert back to a previous configuration in case something goes wrong is key," said Sprint's Walker. "With all the hands that touch a network, you know something's going to go wrong at some point."

MCI's Fee said having one integrated system with the throughput of the CRS-1 could eliminate some of the instability inherent in architectures that use several smaller-capacity routers linked together.

"When you start adding layer upon layer, it makes the network more inefficient and unreliable," Fee said. "The CRS-1 could let you put more eggs into a more reliable basket."

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