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Cisco Preps for Video Flood

Cisco Systems, anticipating a flood of Internet video traffic in the next few years, has shined up a high-capacity router intended to help service providers not get swamped by the deluge.

The company's Aggregation Services Router 9000 series, to be announced this week, provides a whopping 6.4 Terabits per second in a single half-rack chassis, which is at least six times the capacity of other edge routers on the market, according to Cisco. The router is designed to sit at the edge of service provider's networks, in front of a last-mile access network.

How much bandwidth is that? One ASR 9000 would be able to serve a unicast high-definition MPEG-4 video stream to every HD-capable home in Los Angeles, or about 1.2 million households, said Suraj Shetty, Cisco vice president of worldwide service provider marketing.

“This is a router platform optimized for the delivery of video,” he said.

Cisco has predicted that the annual bandwidth demand on the world's Internet-based networks by 2012 will be approximately 522 Exabytes — the equivalent of 125 billion movie DVDs per month — and that half of that will be video traffic.

Beyond bandwidth, the ASR 9000 includes a bevy of video-aware features. “It's not just about increasing capacity with a point product,” Shetty said.

The optional Advanced Video Services Module (AVSM) blade provides 1 Terabyte of disk space for content caching. That's based on the video-on-demand technology of Arroyo Video Solutions, which Cisco acquired in 2006.

The router's caching features can reduce the amount of traffic that traverses a provider's backbone for both Internet video, such as YouTube clips, as well as managed IPTV services. “This is the integration of routing with content distribution,” Shetty said.

In addition, the ASR 9000 is better equipped than previous router platforms to prioritize time-sensitive traffic like voice and video, managing the allocation of video “flows” to subscribers using special-purpose processors.

“You can do all the quality-of-service [management] in silicon,” said Praveen Akkiraju, vice president and general manager of Cisco's service provider core routing business unit. “That's the next step in the evolution of this platform.”

For operator-delivered IP video services, the AVSM also provides ad insertion, fast channel change and error correction. Set-top boxes from Cisco's Scientific Atlanta unit, for example, can communicate to the ASR 9000 if they detect video-frame errors and have those packets retransmitted quickly enough so that the visual experience isn't interrupted.

Synergy Research Group chief strategist Ray Mota said the ASR 9000 addresses a gap in Cisco's edge router portfolio, by delivering a much higher-capacity, integrated system. He said the networking leader has needed to combat competitors such as Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper Networks, which have had success with their carrier Ethernet products.

“This was the logical next step for Cisco,” Mota said. “A lot of competitors were bashing the 7600” — Cisco's previous line of edge router products —about its relatively limited capacity.

Shetty acknowledged that most service providers today won't need the massive amounts of bandwidth offered by the ASR 9000, but he said the platform is designed to provide a viable path for the next 10 to 15 years.

“We're trying to elongate the life span of the platform, so service providers don't have to go through this step function every three or four years,” he said, adding that Cisco has spent four years and $2 million in developing the router.

Cisco also is emphasizing the power-efficiency features of the ASR 9000. The system has a modular power design that allows a provider to tier the amount of power used. According to Akkiraju, the router provides four times the bandwidth in the same power footprint as competitors' products.

The ASR 9000 is in trials with four major service providers in North America, Europe and Asia, with general availability set for the first quarter of 2009. The system starts at $80,000 for an unpopulated chassis.

The only customer Cisco has named for the router is Japan's SoftBank, a provider of broadband, mobile and business-networking services.