Cisco has let loose the King Kong of routers onto the market to cover the top-end of networks that want to use vast amounts of bandwidth-consuming services such as voice and video.

The Cisco Carrier Routing System (CRS-1) can be expanded to provide 92Tbit/s of throughput and is equipped with the next generation of fast optical interfaces, which will carry 40Gbit/s of traffic, according to Tony Bates, general manager of Cisco's routing technology group.

A new processor, operating system and management software also go into the platform, the company's first totally new core routing system since the 12000 Series was introduced in 1997.

Work on advances such as 40Gbit/s ports slowed during the telecommunications bust beginning in 2001 but is now starting to come in handy, according to Jack Wimmer, VP of network architecture and advanced technology at MCI. "Things have normalised and now the technology is moving back toward a more normal evolution state," Wimmer said. "We're getting back to normal growth patterns."

Emerging IP network gear like the CRS-1 will help MCI roll out multiple customer services, such as voice, Internet access and corporate VPN, as packet-based services on a single access line, he said. That can cut costs, speed up provisioning and even let customers provision their own services eventually, he added.

MCI is using the CRS-1 in a test of 40Gbit/s networking at its San Francisco network centre and will demonstrate the technology at Cisco's launch event today. MCI's network uses 10Gbit/s connections but was built to accommodate 40Gbit/s links, Wimmer said. Sprint also has been testing the new platform, according to company spokesman Steve Lunceford.

The CRS-1 consists of two types of racks. An interface chassis takes line cards with WAN ports and has a total throughput of 1.2Tbit/s. It has 16 slots, each of which can take a single-port OC-768c (40Gbit/s) module. Other available modules offer multiple 10Gbit/s or 2.5Gbit/s carrier interfaces or 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports. A "fabric chassis" can tie together as many as nine interface racks using optical interconnects that can reach 100 meters. A fully scaled 92Tbit/s system would have eight fabric racks and 72 interface racks all operating as a single router, Bates said.

To keep up with the throughput of the 40Gbit/s ports, Cisco packed 188 32-bit RISC processors into one ASIC, the Silicon Packet Processor. Cisco can program the chip to support new services as carriers demand them, Bates said.

The CRS-1 will run IOS XR, a new operating system in Cisco's IOS family that has a modular design for high availability and fault tolerance, Bates said. With a modular design, faults can be contained in one portion of the software and specific processes can be stopped and restarted without the whole system being taken down. Modularity also allows carriers to upgrade one part of the system while keeping the rest of it running, he said. The CRS-1 also can automatically recognize DDoS attacks and defend itself, according to Cisco.

In addition to command-line interface and SNMP, the CRS-1 can be managed via a new visual management tool called Craft Works Interface, based on XML. Carrier IP networks need both more capacity and more reliability, and they're looking for them now, analysts said.

"Next year is the start of all this," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects. Service providers are now preparing many large requests for proposals for network expansion projects to meet requirements for broadband and future services, he said. Next up are Ethernet services for companies, fibre-based networks that could give consumers 50Mbit/s to 100Mbit/s, and wireless broadband.

"That exacerbates the problem at the large switching points," Dzubeck said. The routing systems at the core of the Internet won't be able to keep up with the demands without and upgrade, he said. "There are going to have to be many more of them, and they're going to have to get bigger," Dzubeck said.

With the CRS-1, Cisco is catching up in some respects to rivals such as Juniper Networks, which has grabbed core-router market share from the networking giant in recent years, analysts said. But today's announcement may bring new products by competitors out of the woodwork and even kick-start carriers' purchasing cycles. "This announcement may not be enough of a distance [ahead of Juniper's products] such that Juniper couldn't eclipse it, and the interesting thing is that Juniper has been quiet for quite a while," Dzubeck said.

Cisco has made no secret of the fact that it has a new platform in the works, and carriers want to see Cisco's entry before they choose, said Current Analysis analyst Joe McGarvey. "In a sense, Cisco has frozen the market. I think it's going to spur the market one way or another. This is what carriers have been waiting for."

The CRS-1 is in trials at several carriers worldwide and is set to ship in July. Pricing starts at $450,000 for an interface chassis, not including port modules. Pricing for the fabric chassis will be announced later, according to Cisco.