Juniper takes the fast lane on routers

Continuing its remarkable run of innovation, Juniper Networks last week introduced a high-speed router that quadruples the capacity of its existing equipment, which was already among the speediest gear deployed in the backbones of major service providers.

Continuing its remarkable run of innovation, Juniper Networks last week introduced a high-speed router that quadruples the capacity of its existing equipment, which was already among the speediest gear deployed in the backbones of major service providers.

Although Juniper's release of the M160 Backbone Router vaults the Silicon Valley upstart to the top of the performance heap, analysts said the astronomical growth of the Internet will soon open up opportunities for rivals working on next-generation equipment.

Cheaper By The Dozen

"There are companies like Avici [Systems] out there, and we expect them to join Cisco [Systems] and Juniper in the core this year," said Raj Mehta, senior analyst at research firm Ryan Hankin and Kent. "Next year we could have a dozen companies competing in that space."

Recognizing the need for routing equipment many times more powerful than existing devices in the core of the Internet, a handful of start-ups set out to build a new generation of networking gear about two years ago. Avici, which was initially funded by Nortel Networks, is arguably the closest to commercially shipping its finished product, with IronBridge Networks and Pluris about six months behind. Established networking firms, such as Lucent Technologies, Nortel, Tellabs and Unisphere Solutions, which either developed or acquired high-speed routing, are also close to shipping, Mehta said.

These companies are chasing a market that could swell to $12 billion by 2003, according to Mehta. The existing backbone market is dominated by Cisco, which has also announced plans to ship next-gen gear.

The major difference between the M160 router recently shipped by Juniper and gear from Avici and others is capacity. Juniper's M160 is the first to enable service providers to create data connections that move traffic at 10 gigabits per second, and it has a maximum capacity of 160 Gbps. Next-generation gear from Avici is based on technology that enables service providers to cluster several devices together to behave as a single entity. The Avici router can eventually grow large enough to handle more than 5 terabits of data. Equipment from Pluris and Lucent is expected to scale to greater capacities.

Service provider UUnet announced last week that it is deploying Juniper's new router in its U.S. backbone. While Kevin Boyne, senior vice president of global network services at UUnet, recognizes Juniper's gear as the latest and greatest available, he anticipates that traffic growth will eventually require UUnet to shift its infrastructure to a new routing model.

"You can't do horizontal scaling forever," Boyne said. "At some point you have to take quantum steps. Some of the concepts the folks in the terabit router space are talking about are headed in the right direction."

The key to success in high-speed routers is matching product availability with service provider needs, said Brendan Hannigan, an analyst at Forrester Research. Jupiter's announcement last week of the M160 and its contract with Cable & Wireless puts Jupiter in the right place at the right time.

Juniper Chief Executive Scott Kriens said the company, which has introduced three routers in the past 18 months, is capable of delivering new products that match its customers' demands and the pace of the public network's growth.

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