Cisco: The Future of the Internet

On December 11, Cisco held a major launch event to communicate that the company is reorienting its focus to changing network architectures and customers. While Cisco event headlines focused on new hardware, new silicon, and optics, the deeper message was one of cultural changes at Cisco.

Cisco Silicon One – Q100 Switch

Companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are building networks in a different way than traditional incumbent operators of the past. These cloud operators are not just spearheading fundamental changes in network architecture; they also account for the only area of significant capex growth in the market today. Cisco wants to make sure these operators realize that it intends to change its business models as well.

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The Announcement

The launch event highlighted Cisco’s new 8000 system architecture and its components, all designed to meet the requirements of cloud operators and others emulating their approach.

  • The 8000 comes in several configurations, from 10.8 Tbps 1RU chassis to a 250 Tbps 18-slot 33RU. All of these systems share the same architecture, allowing operators to deploy the same system from the edge to the core and achieve operational simplification.
  • Cisco builds the 8000 using in-house silicon derived from the Leaba Semiconductor acquisition in 2016. The chip is called the Q100, a 10.8 Tbps Ethernet switch & processor capable of single or multi-stage configurations. The device supports the P4 hardware abstraction layer pioneered by Barefoot Networks (now Intel), allowing operators to write network processing code that runs on different silicon vendors.
  • The hardware runs on a new version of IOS called XR7 or on the container-based SONIC open-source operating system from the open compute project (OCP)

But the announcement was less about the hardware details, and more about the new business models Cisco will pursue with these products. Cisco indicated a strong willingness to customize its offerings to meet customer needs by selling full systems, bare-metal hardware, standalone components, software, or packaging its offerings in any way the customer requests. For example, Cisco might sell a bare metal 8000 system that executes a customer’s P4 code. Or, the Q100 silicon could form the heart of an Ethernet switching white box, with Cisco offering XR7 to operators who use it.

Cloud Operators Make the Rules Now

Cisco’s (and other equipment vendors) service provider business struggled during the past few years. The reality is that traditional incumbent network operators spend less money every year. The cloud operators that are spending more are relying less on traditional suppliers like Cisco, Juniper, and Nokia for packet switching and routing. Without a strong product to sell to the cloud market, no router vendor (outside of China) could achieve revenue growth from the service provider sector in the last five years.


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