Feature Story

Five Years On, the Success of the Cisco Carrier Routing System Continues to Beat Expectations

by null

May 27, 2009

By Jason Deign

Con Zwinkels, managing director of LeaseWeb, the largest Website hosting company in the Netherlands, will never forget the point his business switched on its CRS-1s.

The company had acquired two of the Cisco Carrier Routing Systems to bolster a network up to then based on Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series switches. "We were seeing an increasing need for extra bandwidth and the setup we had simply was not scalable any more," Zwinkels says.

"Obviously, you can always add more routers, but we really needed something that was scalable and would serve us for years to come, to get as much value as possible out of our network. The CRS-1 was the logical next step, giving us something that will last for some time into the future."

Zwinkels is far from the only Cisco customer to have faced this situation in the last half-decade, confounding the expectations that many industry watchers had of the market for the CRS-1 when it was launched.

The CRS-1 platform was introduced in May 2004 as a new class of carrier routing system designed to deliver continuous system operation, service flexibility and extended system longevity to service providers, with more efficient space and power consumption than comparable routers. 

It was the first router to scale to more than 90 terabits per second (Tbps) of bandwidth capacity, aimed at helping service providers deliver superior customer experience as IP traffic exploded with the advent of broadband video, mobile Internet, and seemingly everything 'going IP'. 

At launch, however, many in the industry were skeptical of its potential, believing Cisco had over-engineered a product the market would not need. Some predicted the company would be lucky to sell 50 machines, believing that no more than around five customers worldwide would buy them.

But perhaps they had not counted on the radical—and ongoing—expansion of the Internet in recent years. In 2004, global Internet traffic stood at 1,267,000 terabits per month, a figure which has now ballooned more than eight times to 10,565,007 terabits a month.

At the same time, the mix of traffic has changed drastically. Five years ago the level of Internet video traffic was negligible, whereas now that level has mushroomed to about a quarter of all information on the 'net.

As a result, the CRS-1 turned out to have been launched just in time to fulfill a very real need in the service provider market. In the last half-decade, more than 3200 CRS-1 units have shipped to in excess of 300 customers.

"The broadband services market has changed dramatically over the last five years since Cisco launched the CRS-1."

— Maxime Lombardini, chief executive officer of Iliad (Free)

Instead of selling 50 units over the life of the product, Cisco has at times been shipping more than 50 a week. And the customer list ranges from ATT in the United States and BT in the United Kingdom to Softbank in Japan and even Kazakh Telecom in Kazakhstan. 

In fact, the CRS-1 has proved massively popular around the world. It is now powering networks in more than 40 countries and on all continents except Antarctica, spanning all service provider segments.

Whether a country has a robust infrastructure or is developing one, the Cisco CRS-1 is providing a strong foundation for continued growth for service providers.

The total shipped capacity is 2919 Tbps, equivalent to more than 25,000 users downloading a 15 gigabyte high definition movie in one second, or to nearly half the world's population having live Cisco TelePresence sessions at the same time. 

Despite all that capacity, however, the need to handle more IP traffic is expected to continue to grow strongly. Under current forecasts global IP traffic will reach 44 exabytes per month in 2012 and the total IP traffic for 2012 will amount to over half a zettabyte (a trillion gigabytes).

Monthly global IP traffic in December 2012 will be 10 exabytes higher than in December 2011, an increase equivalent of 500,000 years' worth of uncompressed DVD-quality video.

And Video on Demand, IPTV and Internet TV will account for nearly 90 percent of all consumer IP traffic in 2012, while mobile data traffic will roughly double each year from now until then.

"The broadband services market has changed dramatically over the last five years since Cisco launched the CRS-1," says Maxime Lombardini, chief executive officer of Iliad, whose subsidiary Free, a leading broadband triple-play operator in Europe, is currently expanding its CRS-1 lineup with new deployments in Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux.

"Over five years, our subscribers have enjoyed ever-increasing bandwidths as we evolved to 28 megabits-per-second ADSL2+ services, as well as introduced fiber-to-the-home delivering up to 100 Mbps.

"Technology innovations from Cisco have given us the ability to innovate on services and our success is demonstrated by the growth of our broadband subscriber base from 635,000 in 2004 to more than 4.3 million in 2009.

"We are in close collaboration with Cisco to build the network of the future, and we want everyone to enjoy the rich experience that high-quality broadband services offer."

Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.