Analyst Opinions on Cisco's CRS-X Core Router & Its Impact on Competitors

Product Announcement:

The Cisco® CRS-X, which will be available this year, is a 400 Gigabit per second (Gbps) per slot core router system that can be expanded to nearly 1 petabit per second in a multi-chassis deployment. The CRS-X provides 10 times the capacity of the original CRS-1, which was introduced in 2004 as a new class of core routing system designed to scale network capacity to accommodate the proliferation in video, data and mobile traffic, which has taken place over the last decade.

With 400 Gbps per slot density, the CRS-X multichassis architecture provides network operators the ability to scale using a 400 Gbps line card with Cisco AnyPort™ technology.  That  line card uses complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) photonic technology, called Cisco CPAK™, to reduce power consumption, reduce the cost of sparing, and increase deployment flexibility.

For example, each interface can be configured for either single port 100 Gigabit Ethernet, 2×40 GE, or 10 x10 GE and either short-, long-, or extended-reach optics by selecting a specific CPAK transceiver. This flexibility simplifies network engineering and operations and helps ensure that service providers can meet the demand for 10 GE, 40 GE and 100 GE applications without replacing hardware.

Additionally, the CRS-X improves the simplicity and scale of IP and optical convergence. Service providers can now choose between deploying integrated optics or the new Cisco nV™ optical satellite. Both allow for a single IP and optical system that utilizes Cisco’s nLight™ technology for control plane automation. The nV optical satellite deployments operate as a single managed system with the Cisco CRS Family to reduce operational expense and deliver high-density 100 GE scaling.

More information is in the press release

Since the first CRS router made its debut in 2004, Cisco has brought in a total of $8 billion in revenue from the product range, according to Stephen Liu, Cisco’s director of service provider marketing.  “The CRS-X is the innovation we need to cross the $10 billion barrier,” Mr. Liu told Reuters.

Cisco’s rivals in the core Internet router sector include Juniper Networks, Huawei, and Alcatel Lucent.   Cisco was not the first vendor to offer 40Gbps per slot in a core router – Juniper took that honor. It wasn’t the first to offer 100Gbps router either – Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, and Juniper were all there first.  Moreover, Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei each beat Cisco with 400Gbps products. However, with 54% of the global core router market, Cisco has proven that being first to market does not guarantee success.

Analyst Opinions:

Market research firm Current Analysis was quite positive about Cisco’s new CRS-X core router.  In a note to clients Current Analysis wrote:

“(We are) Very positive on Cisco’s launch of the CRS-X, because it provides existing CRS Series customers with an upgrade path to address growing scale and capacity requirements in their IP core networks. In addition to providing high-scale performance for high-density 10G, 40G and 100G-based services, the system incorporates Prime Management, nLight and new software to support network programmability in order to help service providers cope with unpredictable traffic patterns and to optimize network resources while improving time to service. The new ‘AnyPort’ technology helps reduce inventory costs by providing a common line card base card that can be flexibly configured. Closer integration between the IP and optical network is also provided, which improves resource utilization and provides a level of programmability to the transport network using the Cisco 15454 ONS platform as an extension shelf. The announcement also includes endorsements from SoftBank and Verizon, which confirmed the need for scale, resiliency and investment protection.”

UK based Ovum wrote:

“With the introduction of the CRS-X, Cisco is sending a message to its carrier customers: your investment in CRS products is being protected. The role of the core router revolves around high-performance, high-capacity packet processing. Core router vendors have been challenged to increase the capacity of their products to meet the growth in network traffic without the operator having to do a complete forklift of their existing systems.”

“Rather than simply comparing feeds and speeds against competitors, Ovum believes the key to success for the CRS-X will be the differentiation provided by coupling the product to Cisco’s Elastic Core solution and nLight technology for control plane automation and IP and optical convergence. The nV Optical Satellite capability announced with the CRS-X is an example of this type of differentiation. The nV Optical Satellite provides a single integrated management interface for control over the CRS and remotely located 100G DWDM platforms to reduce opex.”

Northland Capital Markets wrote that growing pressure on carriers from cloud computing usage may prompt them to upgrade to the CRS-X:

“We see carriers/cable operators/ content providers requiring core router refresh as result of an increase in traffic generated by Cloud services and machine-to-machine connectivity. We believe Cloud computing has redefined the way applications run on the network, exposing the underlying limitations of providers’ existing networks.”

Raymond James’ thinks Cisco’s new core router will prove to be a challenge for non-router vendors as well as traditional competitors Juniper, Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent.  Finisar, Ciena and Infinera were singled out in this report excerpt:

“CRS-X will use Cisco’s internally developed CPAK optical interface, which represents a headwind for Finisar. Cisco promotes its architecture for Converged Transport Routers and cites deficiencies in alternatives (“Hollow core” – leveraging OTN and optical like Ciena’s 5400 and “Lean core” – leveraging MPLS like Juniper’s PTX), and argues that its converged solution of optical, MPLS, and routing with Cisco Prime management bringing the layers together.  Similar to Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent combined its optical and routing units into a single organization, but it offers a two-box strategy (1830 and 7950). Optical integration matters, but we don’t know pricing. Cisco has offered IP over DWDM in the past, but high prices discouraged some carriers from using these interfaces, instead opting to plug the routers into long haul optical platforms; we suspect the CRS-X will go after this application more aggressively, which could pose a threat to long haul 100G competitors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ciena, and Infinera.”

CRS-X Puts Pressure on Cisco’s Competitors:

Current Analysis wrote in a report to clients:

  • Alcatel-Lucent needs to keep up the pressure to move upcoming IP core refresh cycles its way. The 7950 XRS has obtained nine customer wins and multiple ongoing field trials since its launch, which shows that there is a definite interest in the metro IP core proposition as well as leveraging the platform for pure IP core applications. Alcatel-Lucent should also elevate its service provider SDN vision, as its competitors are doing.
  • Juniper should provide a roadmap for its two core network solutions, the PTX Series and the T Series, where it needs to close the current performance gap (the T Series delivers 240 Gbps per slot). The capacity race often follows a ‘leapfrog’ model, where one vendor’s refresh cycle trumps another’s for a period of time; Juniper needs to counter Cisco’s latest CRS-X move carefully. Juniper also should continue to make the case for a more agile and flexible network based on its four-step SDN roadmap.
  • Huawei needs to capitalize on its IP core momentum and announce (or, at least refer to) customers that are, or will be, using the 480 Gbps/slot capabilities announced for its NE5000E IP core router. Huawei also needs to sharpen and reaffirm its SDN message with respect to its network core architecture and integrate SDN into its SingleBackbone model.
  • ZTE needs to update its T8000 roadmap and hint as to when it will deploy higher-density 100G interfaces on the platform. ZTE needs to join the fray with an SDN message of its own that builds on its current management capabilities.

Ovum believes Juniper must respond: “When Cisco’s CRS-X becomes available, Juniper will become the only one of the top four core router vendors not delivering 400Gbps-per-slot capacity in its core router product, unless it announces a capacity upgrade to its core router in the next six months. Its largest capacity core router product, the T4000, delivers only 240Gbps bandwidth per slot. Juniper’s PTX product is ready to provide 480Gbps per slot, but line cards to take full advantage of the available capacity are not yet available, and the PTX is an MPLS-optimized core switch, not an IP core router. ”

Raymond James thinks that Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent are now at a competitive disadvantage in the core router market:

“The new CRS-X can support 64 100 Gbps ports in a standard seven-foot rack, which compares to 80 for Alcatel-Lucent’s 7950 and Juniper’s 32 on its T4000. In a multishelf configuration, Cisco claims it can support 1152 slots or 922 Tbps.”

Closing Comment:

We find it quite interesting that despite the tremendous hype around SDN, it wasn’t mentioned at all in Cisco’s CSR-X product announcement.  Nor did any analysts have any SDN comments related to the CSR-X.

In a new on-line video, Cisco’s Lew Tucker talks about SDN in the context of OpenStack cloud software, but doesn’t mention the CSR-X product:

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