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FEATURE

Opening the Floodgates to the Information Age

Mike Volpi discusses how Cisco CRS-1 will help telecommunication companies transition to a new era

May 25, 2004

These days, about the only constant in the communications industry is change. Cisco System has built a network router that is designed for that change.

Cisco created the Carrier Routing System (CRS-1) with unprecedented performance, scalability and flexibility to run the networks of the world's largest communications service providers-not just today but for the next 10 to 20 years. The CRS-1 will let telecommunications operators converge their voice, data, and video applications all onto one IP-based network, helping save these companies substantial capital and operational costs. At the same time, CRS-1's scale and performance will let service providers offer virtually unlimited amounts of bandwidth, in the process opening the floodgates to the Information Age.

News@Cisco spoke with Mike Volpi, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Routing Technology group, about the company's strategy for building the CRS-1 and the router's importance to the future of telecommunications companies.

How have the changes in the telecommunications industry influenced Cisco's routing strategy?

Mike Volpi: For service providers, we stand at a turning point in the industry. We've been through 100 years where every time a new application was invented, a new network had to be built. They invented voice; we built a voice network. We invented video, and for video broadcasting we built new networks for that. We came up with the Web. We built the Internet. For years, we always built a new network every time we had a new application. The turning point today is that we're not going to build a new network every time a new application comes along. Our customers want one network that's future-proof and past-proof. Take all those applications of the past--put them on one network. Take all the applications of the future, put them on that one network. That's why it's fundamental for them to have a carrier-grade networking router that is flexible enough to accommodate these types of services.

How will the CRS-1 help service providers with the transitions taking place in their industry?

Mike Volpi: For the first time with the CRS-1, our customers will be able to take all the disparate individual networks that they've built, bring them onto one packet-based network, and reduce their cost of operations. At the same time, this converged, packet-based network will let them launch a broad range of new services-innovative, integrated, differentiated services-on top of that same network infrastructure. So, they can be creative and proactive about new revenue opportunities, yet at the same time, reduce their cost basis so they can be more profitable as corporations.

Our telecommunications customers absolutely rely on voice grade quality, but they need the flexibility, adaptability, and the innovation around IP technology. IP technology can allow them to unify their voice, video traffic, classical data, Internet, and Web traffic all onto a single network. That capability-convergence-is fundamental for them to transform their business model. However, at the same time, they can't let go of the voice quality that their customers have come to expect. And, so, fundamentally, the CRS-1 is about bringing the two worlds together-the availability and reliability of voice with the flexibility, power, and innovation of the IP world.

Moving all of their traffic and services onto one IP-based network will be a tremendous change for telecommunications companies. How can they be confident that CRS-1 is the product that will help them do that successfully?

Mike Volpi: We set out to build the CRS-1 almost four years ago, and the whole principle then was to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch to build a product that we thought our customers would need to build their next-generation telecommunications networks. So, we started by going out and visiting our customers and asking them, "What do you need?" "What are your services going to look like?" "What is your business model going to look like?" And from there we backtracked to understand technically what exactly this product needed to do and what features it needed to have. We really innovated but from a customer perspective. All along the way, there was customer input, customer feedback, and interactive development. Customers were walking our hallways, telling us what we were doing right and, often, what we were doing wrong. And through that process we built a lot of intimacy and developed a product that we think they really need today to build their businesses for tomorrow. Like all new products, I think you're going to see a little bit of healthy skepticism, which I am very confident we're going to be able to disprove as the product rolls out into their networks and delivers real traffic with the kind of availability and carrier class metrics that telecommunications companies demand.

CRS-1 has incredibly more power and scalability than any router before. Is all that performance and capacity really necessary?

Mike Volpi: Well, some people might look at the CRS-1 and think that it is overkill. But broadband is a huge component of the future of telecommunications companies. It really opens up the pathways to businesses and to homes to deliver a much broader range of applications than we've seen in the past. And with that comes huge challenges in terms of building networks that can actually deal with a significant increase in scale and bandwidth. Think about a broadband connection compared to a dial-up modem. You're talking about 10, 20, 30, 50, 100 times the amount of bandwidth that you're putting through the network. And there are applications that are ready to chew that up-in other words, video applications, music, richer Internet, and video telephony. Take your pick. Applications are there, ready to go. As soon as that pipe gets connected to the user's home, BOOM, a lot more bits going through. And as broadband continues to expand, as it has both in the United States as well as outside the United States, you're going to see a tremendous increase in bandwidth growth in the core of global networks. So, telecommunications companies have to then build a core network that can actually deal with that massive increase of bandwidth that shows up as a result of broadband and new applications. Then think about all the changes that have taken place over the last 10 years. Boggles the mind, yes? Well, while the next decade may not be quite as frenetic, technology and communications will undoubtedly continue to amaze. CRS-1 is a product that we custom-built for this communications future, a router capable of handling whatever is thrown at it.

Why is Cisco uniquely positioned to help service providers through the challenges they face?

Mike Volpi: Fundamentally, it goes to really two points. First is that we have been working with this core technology-IP and MPLS-for the longest period of time. We have the broadest experience and the highest level of investment in this segment of any company in the industry. And so our customers really can expect that we will deliver to them a carrier-grade version of this new technology. At the same time, we're a company that customers can come to rely on. We're not a fly by night, show up with the new technology, and walk away kind of a corporation, but a corporation they can count on to be there to solve their problems in the years to come. The combination of core technology expertise and staying power is really what makes Cisco unique in this market segment.

In fact, if you look at our R&D, over 50% of our investment today goes into service provider oriented products. It's the biggest growth market for us. It's the area that is being most creative and innovative about the use of IP technology. And that's what's going to drive our creation of new products and our growth as a corporation. So, not only are we committed in the sense that it's a good market, but it is our future as much as it is our customer's future that we're betting on here.

 
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