Cisco shows off Internet super-router

Hyped as the router that would ‘change forever the face of the Internet’, Cisco has launched its new CRS-3 system as the box it predicts will stream video into the Net’s darkest recesses.

To the casual eye, it looks like another cabinet full of flashing lights of the sort used by Internet carriers the world over, but to Cisco the CRS-3 (carrier routing system 3) is a pile of statistics. Capable of shifting up to 322Tbit/s, it has triple the capacity of its predecessor, the CRS-1, and is contentiously said to have ‘twelve times’ the capacity of its nearest competing system.

Powered by Cisco’s packet-shifting QuantumFlow Array processor, Cisco sees it as the first step on the road to the forthcoming ‘zettabyte era’ (four orders of magnitude up from today’s gigabit/gigabyte world), which enables “the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress to be downloaded in just over one second; every man, woman and child in China to make a video call, simultaneously; and every motion picture ever created to be streamed in less than four minutes,” read the official release.

Why Cisco is choosing to tell the world about a chunk of Internet infrastructure most people are barely even aware exists is an interesting question in itself. It has more direct competition than it did during the infrastructure boom of the 1990s – the one that took the backbone architecture from megabits per second to gigabits per second and now on towards terabits per second – from companies such as Juniper, Alcatel-Lucent, and Huawei.

According to a recent Dell O’ro Group, during 2009 it lost market share in a number of market sectors, and its share of the core routing market into which the CRS-3 is pitched showed modest declines. Mostly this is driven by price. Cisco is still seen as the expensive option in some quarters.

But even in world of tough competition, the need for ever higher capacities remains, driven overwhelmingly by latency-sensitive applications such as video, which have started eating into the Internet’s core capacity.

Cisco said the CRS-3 has been in field trials with AT&T for some time, including the showcase 100 Gigabit per second fibre network between New Orleans and Miami.

“We are entering the next stage of global communication and entertainment services and applications, which requires a new set of advanced Internet networking technologies,” said AT&T Labs’ CEO, Keith Cambron. “AT&T’s network handled 40 percent more traffic in 2009 than it did in the previous year, and we continue to see this growth in 2010.”

The starting price for the CRS-3 is $90,000 (£60,000).