nehib-1Guest blog by Greg Nehib, SP Product and Solutions Marketing

How important are physical routers in the move toward virtualization?

My one word response would be “very”. But the longer version would start with “it depends”.

Here’s the longer version:

It depends on your perspective. I remember when the Cisco 12000 Series GSR was introduced in the late 90’s. It started an arms race that would last for over a decade. The popular comparison at the time was all about who had the biggest router, or “speeds and feeds” as we used to describe them. 2015 offers us a very different networking discussion. People that design and operate networks are more interested in programmability and virtualization (a.k.a. SDN (Software Defined Networks) and NFV(Network Functions Virtualization). From Frederic Trate’s blog on Application Engineered Routing, you can see why this level of control is such an interesting and important place to start the discussion.

I would argue that in terms of talking points, “speeds and feeds” have taken a back seat in network design. After all, a bunch of static ports and traffic-engineered tunnels don’t lead us to the flexibility and scale that we all seek – or can they? Here are some instances where physical routers are still very important in the context of Evolved Programmable Networks (EPNs):

  1. The router supports Segment Routing as defined by draft-ietf-spring
  2. The router has a trusted, robust operating system with virtualization features
  3. The router can be orchestrated with SDN via a multi-vendor solution

Once the device qualifies on the three points above, then you can get to the second level of considerations:

  1. Has the product been widely deployed and is it generally available?
  2. Does it offer proven investment protection?
  3. Can the device save CAPEX and OPEX while introducing new features?

These are the areas where new modules like the high density 100GE cards for the ASR 9000 Series product family still figure into the network design equation. But please don’t tell me that a whitebox router without segment routing or a not so widely deployed router from a Cisco competitor is going to take over the world with its new “speeds and feeds”, while still lacking basic programmability and virtualization capabilities . That’s 1999 and this is 2015. The EPN is about programmability and virtualization first and foremost, and you have to cross that bridge before you get to “speeds and feeds”.

Once you do get to “speeds and feeds” it’s nice to know that a product family like the ASR 9000 series is on its third generation of line cards. The new cards offer 64% power savings, 75% floor space savings, and 20% CAPEX savings, as compared to the second-generation units. There are new features like full line rate MAC Security (MAC Sec) with layer 2 encryption running at 800 Gbps, and CPAK pluggable optics that provide multi-rate 10/40/100 Gbps and multi-reach capability. That checks the boxes for widely deployed, proven investment protection, and CAPEX/OPEX savings. For additional information, please watch this short video:

If I would have started with “the industry’s biggest router” or building a “supercore”, I’m sure a few of you would have bailed on this blog. Thanks for sticking with me because scalable, widely deployed and generally available physical routers are still important in a world of programmability and virtualization. Programmability and virtualization will actually drive physical scale for most service types. Cisco is introducing scaleable physical routing solutions that support Application Engineered Routing, MAC Sec, High Density Multi-Rate, Low Power Consumption, and many other differentiated functions. Because in the end, scale without programmability and virtualization is like form, without function.

Have questions or comments about the Application Engineered Routing? Tweet us at @CiscoSP360.


Greg Smith

Sr. Manager, Marketing

Cisco Solutions Marketing