Cisco is reminding us that the heart and soul of its business is still the humble router. In this case, possibly a not-so-humble router.
On Tuesday the company announced the CRS-3, its next-generation Web router for the world’s largest Web service providers. Cisco may have overhyped the announcement a tad. After a two-week countdown to an announcement that it said would “forever alter the Web,” the company unveiled what looks like an upgrade to its existing “core” router called the CRS-1.
While the hype machine may have failed to deliver something truly revolutionary, Cisco’s announcement is still significant. The new router offers 12 times the traffic capacity than its older-generation routers offer. It is three times faster than the older CRS-1, which was introduced in 2004. And it can handle 322 terabits of traffic per second, or simultaneous video calls for everyone in China, the company said.
The new router, which starts at $90,000, will be sold to the world’s largest Web service providers. These are not your run-of-the-mill ISPs selling 10 Mbps broadband service to consumers. These companies, such as AT&T, Verizon Communications, Level3, and Dash, are the Web service providers that aggregate and shuttle the bulk of the nation’s Web traffic across what is named “the Web backbone.”
When the new Cisco routers are installed, the average broadband consumer likely won’t notice anything new. But over time, they will see the benefits of the upgraded infrastructure. The Cisco CRS-3 will permit these Web backbone service providers to increase capacity so that new applications, video-based applications, like high-definition TV, video conferencing, and 3D TV, can be offered to the mass market.
Cisco CEO John Chambers said this new router will serve as the foundation of the next-generation Web that will see tremendous growth due to video.
“Video is the killer app,” he said. “Video brings the Web to life and most of the devices that will be coming on the network will evolve quickly in to video. ”
Chambers said taking a look at the devices and applications that were at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February are a lovely indication of what is to come in the future. And he said all these products feed in to the Web, which will load the network with more traffic.
“Whether it was gambling or video or tablets or ESPN bringing 3D sports to TV, it is about video,” he said. Chambers added that this video traffic, along with other information intensive applications for things such as health care, will require more bandwidth than someone could have imagined a short time ago.
Indeed, the new router will play a significant role in enabling all kinds of new applications and services to be rolled out. And as the access broadband networks get faster, more capacity will be needed in the backbone of the Web to accommodate the traffic. Several broadband providers are already offering 50Mbps and 100Mbps broadband service to consumers. Google also recently announced that it designs to build ultra-high speed broadband networks to check new services and applications that use 1Gigabit-per-second speeds. And if history has taught the industry anything, it is that when more bandwidth is made obtainable, applications quickly come online to make use of it. Three times consumers start using high-capacity applications that necessitate these speeds, infrastructure equipment deep in the Web backbone will must be in place to support the water of traffic.
While the scale and speed of the new CRS-3 is impressive and definitely takes the Web to a new level of capacity, will it “forever alter the Web?” as Cisco billed the announcement.
The Cisco’s announcement is more of an incremental upgrade to the company’s existing product, the CRS-1. IP routing is Cisco’s bread and butter. It is not surprising that the company has developed yet another large router to keep up with growing Web traffic demand.
Zeus Kerravala, a senior vice president at the market research firm Yankee Group, agreed. But he said the announcement is still important to the growth of the Web and future innovation of new applications.
“There is no way that a routing announcement could live up to the hype that Cisco created,” he said. “But in case you look down the road, when consumers require to watch multiple channels of high-definition video and 3D programming, and as more mobile apps come onto 4G wireless networks, companies like Cisco and its rival Juniper Networks require to push the envelope in terms of routing engineering.”
As for Cisco’s consumer strategy, which this announcement was rumored to be about, we are still waiting for a killer set-top box or some other revolutionary product that will truly alter the Web as they know it.