Feature Story

Cisco shares its secret sauce for the 'Internet for the Future'

Investments in software, silicon, and optics produce a revolutionary chip, new routing portfolio, flexible consumption models

It’s not often that a company does a launch so bold it can claim the new products will transform the Internet itself. But that’s what Cisco did last week and it had the goods to back up the talk.

Cisco’s most significant launch in years is a multi-pronged release that the company says will form the underpinnings of the Internet for the future. It consists of a breakthrough new silicon architecture called Cisco Silicon One, a new routing portfolio based on this silicon, and new optics for 400-gigabyte speeds and up.

Together, Cisco says these technologies will unleash new possibilities, power future applications, propel innovation, bring new benefits to society, and more. They will do all this while reducing complexity and costs, with a sense of trust for customers. Cisco also announced flexible business models that organize the technology in ways customers want to consume it

At the launch, Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins said the new technologies will form the core backbone for 5g and Wi-Fi 6 networks, making possible solutions like remote surgery, autonomous vehicles, and drone delivery.

Read more: Building the Internet for the Future begins now 

“The technology that we brought forward today will enable 5G to realize the potential that has been talked about for the last six, seven years,” said Robbins. “In order to achieve this and to realize this vision, we do have to build an Internet for what’s next. We have to have more capacity, we have to have more speed, and frankly we have to lower the cost.”

The industry’s most ambitious silicon architecture

The innovations were the result of five years of R&D and close to a $1 billion spend. During that time, the quest for the new silicon architecture was so ambitious in its reach that many wrote it off as impossible. 

The first incarnation of the Cisco Silicon One chip, the Q100 model, has more than twice the bandwidth, and three times the packet-per-second capacity over current routing silicon. It’s the first chip to break the 10 Tbps routing barrier for network bandwidth. And it does so without sacrificing programmability, buffering, power efficiency, scale, or feature flexibility. 

Cisco says it will be the foundation of the company’s routing portfolio for more than the next decade. 

A major differentiator from the networking chips of the past 35 years is the adaptability of the new architecture. Traditionally, networks have used different types of silicon for different parts of the network—access, edge, core, and so on. But Cisco Silicon One can serve anywhere in the network and in any form factor.

The benefits for customers and the industry? Cisco’s Eyal Dagan, senior vice president for silicon engineering, shared an analogy from the transportation world. Imagine if all the different forms of vehicles—cars, jets, scooters, and so on—shared a single, common engine technology. There would be less complexity, faster innovation, easier development and maintenance, smoother skills transference, and more.

In the same way, Cisco Silicon One offers a unified experience across the network, from small form factors all the way to petabyte-scale clusters of routers. 

Read more: Cisco's new silicon will change the economics of the Internet 

“We believe this is going to be the networking engine that powers digital innovation for the next several decades,” said David Goeckeler, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco’s networking and security business group.

Solving for service provider and web-scale challenges

The new routing portfolio based on the new silicon offers breakthrough benefits for customers. Dubbed the Cisco 8000 series, the portfolio is engineered to help service providers and web-scale companies reduce the costs of building and operating mass-scale networks for the 5G, AI, and IoT era. 

On stage at the launch, several major customers spoke of the challenges the new products can help them tackle, such as keeping up with capacity growth, power requirements, and reliability. 

The Walt Disney Studios has been working with Cisco on new AI technology to seek out bad pixels, game engine technology, using 5G connectivity to improve creative collaboration, and using IoT to turn movie theaters into interactive play spaces. The other customers on stage were Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T, Comcast, and Century Link.

Speed and size are primary features of the new product launch. The 8000 platform is optimized for 400 Gbps and beyond and starts at 10.8 Tbps in just a single rack unit. And because it uses so little power—80 percent less than Cisco’s nearest competitor—what used to require a chassis several feet high can now fit into a pizza box.

Investing in optics

A key ingredient in the secret sauce that Cisco unveiled is its investment in optical networking. Starting with the acquisition of CoreOptics in 2010, the company has picked up several optical players, most recently Lightwire, Luxtera, and Acacia.

A major focus of the strategy has been changing the economics of optics to drive down costs, and to continue delivering routing and switching capacity as demand increases in the 5G era. 

To that end, Cisco is engaged in two architectural transitions. One is the co-packaging of silicon and optics. The other is moving the so-called coherent world—sending optical signals over long distances—from chassis-based solutions into pluggables.

For all the technology launched, Cisco’s new flexible business models will allow customers to consume solutions as they see fit. As Robbins explained, some will buy the Series 8000 systems, others will subscribe to the software and perhaps run it on their own hardware. Still others will do something that’s a departure for Cisco.

“Some of our customers will buy our silicon and they'll build their own products if that's what they choose to do,” Robbins said.


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