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Cisco's new ASR 1000 edge routers improve network integration

Cisco's new ASR 1000 router series brings multi-service capabilities and high performance to the edge in a compact but powerful form factor.

Cisco Systems announced on Tuesday a new line of multi-service edge routers that could transform the way enterprises handle wide area networking.

Tony Bates, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's service provider group, said the Aggregation Service Router (ASR) 1000 series is aimed at both service providers and enterprises. He said the routers are designed for delivering faster services and more capacity with a simplified single point of management for the network edge.

With the ASR 1000 series, Cisco is banking on the notion that organizations will continue to scale upward the amount of resource-intensive data, voice and video services they host.

"Currently, the typically larger enterprises, especially the ones that look like carriers and have big networks, need to aggregate all that traffic -- and that's what this [router is] designed to do," said Zeus Kerravala, group vice president with The Yankee Group. "If you're an enterprise and you've got a whole bunch of branch offices, the other end of it, in the data center, needs to terminate somewhere. [The ASR 1000 router series] would be the product that does that. It aggregates all those feeds into one."

But Kerravala said this is more than just an aggregation story. Cisco is also touting the compact router's ability to integrate services that normally would sit attached to the network in multiple appliances, such as a firewall, IPsec, VPNs, deep-packet inspection and session border control. Integrating all those services into a router takes serious processing power.

To power so many services in one router, Cisco has announced the QuantumFlow Processor, a chipset that contains 40 integrated core processors and 800 million transistors.

"There's nothing like that out there, not even from chip vendors," Kerravala said. "This has huge performance benefits to it."

Applying security policies, content filtering and other services in the router requires more processing power, he said. Companies have avoided doing these multifunctional processes in the router because existing edge-routing technology couldn't scale. With the QuantumFlow Processor, Kerravala said, Cisco has solved that problem.

By integrating security, deep-packet inspection and other services into a router, enterprises can do without the hardware normally required to provide them, reducing the physical footprint as well as the power consumption and management requirements of the network, according to Nick Lippis, an analyst and consultant with the Lippis Report.

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"You don't need to have lots of different, lower-speed wide area connections," Lippis said. "You don't have to have multiple routers for redundancy. You don't have to have multiple wide area connections coming up from remote sites. That gets aggregated and then goes back out. You can do all this with one device."

Enterprises and service providers have been relying on narrowband routers in place for years, according to Lippis. "But the industry has moved on," he said. "We have metro Ethernet taking hold. A lot of companies have aggregated or bonded multiple T1 lines, so we're really ready for broadband connections over the wide area in the major headquarters and regional offices [of enterprises]."

Lippis hopes the trend of aggregation signals a new way of designing wide area networks. "Hopefully, we're into a new era where you can start designing wide area networks with a lot less equipment and fewer connections, which makes things a lot simpler to run."

David Passmore, a research director with the Burton Group, said an edge router this powerful would probably be most compelling for service providers. He said most enterprises don't require so much power on their edge network.

"Generally, service provider gear is built to higher standards," Passmore said. "You have to … provide high availability, and the providers are a bit pickier about who their suppliers are. The issue for enterprises is whether they're willing to pay the extra cost."

Cisco is already touting enterprise customers for the routers, including the airline Lufthansa and Wachovia Bank.

"It's much better [than anything on the market]," Kerravala said. "It's more than a router. To me, they set the bar."

Cisco said it has spent five years and $250 million in developing the ASR 1000, including $100 million on the development of the QuantumFlow Processor alone.

The ASR 1000 series will be available in April in two-, four- and six-rack unit sizes, with a price starting at $35,000.

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