Cisco is gearing up to address an impending crunch in the core of the Internet with a high-performance routing box that could help establish the credibility that high-speed routing technology needs, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.
The company's highest-capacity router yet, code-named 12000 Plus, is intended to enable Cisco to face a host of start-ups, such as Pluris and Avici. One of these new competitors, Juniper Networks, is already shipping high-speed routers. Cisco's 12000 Plus, which is expected to have a 240Gbps switching fabric, is likely to ship in early 2000. Even faster, terabit-per-second routers are coming soon from start-ups.
As enterprises shop for Internet-based services during the next several months, availability of bandwidth may be tight if service provider networks do not keep up with exploding traffic. Cisco, which built the lion's share of the current Internet backbone, cannot meet that challenge with its current 12000 series routers, observers said.
"In a year to 18 months, the terabit routers will be a requirement," said Ron Jeffries, an analyst at Jeffries Research, in Arroyo Grande, Calif.
The 12000 Plus is expected to deliver at least four times the capacity of the current top-of-the-line 12012, according to a source familiar with the planned product. It is also expected to support OC-192 (10Gbps) interfaces. The 12000 currently can be equipped with as many as 11 OC-48 (2.4Gbps) ports.
Juniper's M40 platform can support as many as eight OC-48 ports. But some observers said Cisco's OC-48 interfaces deliver far slower than 2.4Gbps. A next-generation box is needed to help Cisco-based service-provider networks meet user demand, they said.
"Cisco doesn't really have a [high-speed core] router right now that meets customers' needs," said analyst Dave Passmore, president of NetReference, in Sterling, Va.
Juniper is only one of the earliest competitors jumping in to fill the void. Avici, which also resells its terabit-speed router through Nortel Networks as the Versalar 45000, has shipped products.
Juniper already has sold its M40 routers to major service providers including UUNet and Cable & Wireless. But the Cisco name is likely to get more high-speed hardware to service providers by removing some of the perceived risk associated with small, start-up companies, some observers said.
"Is any carrier going to bet their network on a 2-year-old start-up? The answer usually is `no,' " said John Coons, an analyst at Dataquest, in San Jose, Calif.
Having faster routers in carrier networks will let enterprises run more mission-critical applications among multiple sites.
"ISPs should have more than enough bandwidth to sell to the enterprises, so when you go to place an order for service, it increases the likelihood that you'll be able to get the bandwidth," Passmore said.
A Cisco representative declined to comment.
Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif., can be reached at www.cisco.com.