Network Infrastructure

Strengthening the Core: Cisco, Juniper Compete to Improve Network Performance, Efficiency

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  May 22, 2012

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

Networks operators, namely the telcos, in recent years have moved more intelligence to and begun to support more services on the edge. As a result, core networking has fallen out of the spotlight. But core network infrastructure recently has seen renewed interest in light of the success of these edge networking strategies, which are creating greater capacity requirements within the core. 

But rather than simply investing in ever-larger pipes, these companies are looking at how to improve their core architectures for more cost-efficient performance, says Ray Moto of ACG Research. And Cisco Systems Inc. and Juniper Networks (News - Alert), he says, are trying to appeal to these companies – as well as to content providers like Google whose networks are starting to look very similar to tier 1 networks – with architectures that approach the core network performance challenge from somewhat different angles. Cisco offers an integrated solution that revolves around its CRS-3 core router and involves LSR (label-switched router) and OTN (optical transport network) functionality. Juniper, meanwhile, is pushing a pure MPLS LSR switching product, the PTX, which it has positioned as a low-cost solution for the job.

Which option the big network operators will ultimately choose remains to be seen, Moto says, but he finds interesting Juniper’s approach with the PTX, which he says could effectively establish a “middle core” for telcos – with T series products handling legacy traffic on one side, and a pure MPLS switch supporting IP traffic on the other. What’s really interesting about the PTX, however, is it creates a new addressable market for Juniper, Moto adds. That’s because the PTX both addresses the telco opportunity and can be used to meet the needs of content providers like Google (News - Alert), which are already all IP and don’t care about OTN and other legacy technologies. Moto says that’s a $1.2 billion market Juniper can go after with the PTX.

Juniper’s PTX began shipping on March 15. The product already has been used in six beta tests with service providers and CDNs.

Luc Ceuppens, Juniper’s vice president of product marketing, tells INTERNET TELEPHONY that the PTX provides a simpler architecture to enable the network to scale and optimize the cost of core network infrastructure. Part of its simplicity comes from the fact that it doesn’t contain a lot of the functionality of existing routers that is not used anyway, says Ceuppens, noting an Analysys (News - Alert) Mason data point that indicates MPLS forwarding at Layer 2 delivers 85 percent better efficiency vs. a circuit-switched approach.

“The core of the network is all about controlling the cost. There’s very little revenue associated with the core network,” says Ceuppens, adding that given the huge amounts of traffic – including over-the-top services – that core networks need to support, network operators want to take cost out of this infrastructure to whatever extent possible.

The PTX also is unique, he adds, in its ability to scale (it supports 8 terabits per second today, and a 16-terabit version is coming later this year), its relatively low power requirements (2.5 Watts per gigabit), the low latency it delivers (lower than OTN, according to Ceuppens), and its competitive cost point.

“So you have this combo of four metrics that really are at the top of everybody’s minds,” Ceuppens says.

But Suraj Shetty (News - Alert), vice president of product and solutions marketing at Cisco, says that while the competition has gone down path of multiple platforms (including the PTX and the T4000, which just recently began shipping), Cisco’s CRS-3 offers LSR and optical functionality in a single platform. The fact that Cisco has gained market share in this space for six consecutive quarters is proof that this message is resonating in the marketplace, Shetty says. Meanwhile, he says, competitors are pushing a “recycle, rip, replace” strategy.

There are three key things people should know about the CRS-3, according to Shetty. It can scale as needed, enable the move from IPv4 to IPv6 while preserving network operators’ existing investments, and allow network operators to lower their costs by using optical technology.

Cisco came out with the CRS-1 back in 2004. The CRS-3 more than triples that capacity, from the initial 92tbps to 322 tbps. Network operators may not need that kind of capacity today, Shetty says, but it will be there when it’s required. At the same time, Cisco with CRS-3 delivers optical innovation, he says. This 100gig WDM solution has been demonstrated to work without any significant signal amplification at reaches of up to 3,000km.

According to a July 2011 report from ACG Research, Cisco continues to hold the No. 1 position in the worldwide carrier routing and switching market, with 50.3 percent of total market share as of last year when, in a dramatic market shift, Juniper reclaimed its No. 2 spot, bumping Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) to number three.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi