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Cisco unveils plans for internet of the future

Online technology giant Cisco introduces platform for the internet of the future based on $5bn of investment in areas covering silicon, optics and software, bringing the ability to support massively scaled enterprise networks and 5G networks

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: Building the internet of the future

After five years of planning and research and development (R&D) investment to the tune of $5bn, Cisco has unveiled the platform on which it believes the next generation of the internet will be based and which will support the next decade of online innovation.

The platform is based on three pillars: silicon, optics and software. With the new platform, the company has its sights not only on the wired world of massively scaled enterprise networks, but also on supporting the roll-out of 5G and advanced rich media applications.

Cisco believes that over the next decade, digital experiences will be created with advanced technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, 16K streaming, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, 10G, quantum computing, adaptive and predictive cyber security, intelligent internet of things (IoT) and others not yet invented. It warns that these future generations of applications will drive complexity beyond the capabilities that current internet infrastructure can viably support.

Kicking off the unveiling at a packed reception in San Francisco, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said the company’s innovation required focused investment, the right team and a culture that values imagination.

“We are dedicated to transforming the industry to build a new internet for the 5G era,” he said. “Our latest solutions in silicon, optics and software represent the continued innovation we’re driving that helps our customers stay ahead of the curve and create new, ground-breaking experiences for their customers and users for decades to come.”

“We are dedicated to transforming the industry to build a new internet for the 5G era”
Chuck Robbins, Cisco

Robbins revealed that the new infrastructure was the biggest thing the company had ever done, and the reason for it was to solve “an incredible capacity issue” regarding the internet today and in the future.

“Bandwidth usage and traffic generated in 2022 will be equal to the aggregate traffic generated to date. That is what we are resolving,” he said. “We need more capacity and more speed, and we have to lower the cost.”

5G was also a key issue. “The technology brought forward today will allow 5G to realise the potential talked about over the past years,” said Robbins.

“Mobile devices will soon have gigabit speed, putting huge pressure on the backbone. Today, we will see what the cornerstones of the 5G networks of the future will be. The announcement today is critical to enable the reality of the hype [surrounding] 5G.”

The tangible first fruits of this strategy are the new Silicon One – a first-ever single, unified silicon architecture that can serve anywhere in the network and be used in any form factor – and the Cisco 8000 Series, the first routers built with Silicon One and new IOS XR7 operating system, which the company said would reduce significantly the cost of building and operating web services.

Cisco Silicon One will be the foundation of Cisco’s routing portfolio, with expected near-term performance availability of up to 25Tbps (terabits per second). This is said to be the industry’s first networking chip designed to be universally adaptable across service provider and web-scale markets.

Designed for both fixed and modular platforms, the first Cisco Silicon One Q100 model surpasses the 10Tbps routing milestone for network bandwidth, while offering programmability, buffering, power efficiency, scale and feature flexibility.

Given that, traditionally, multiple types of silicon with different capabilities are used across a network and even within a single device, the platform’s unified and programmable silicon are said to allow for operators to greatly reduce costs of operations and reduce time-to-value for new services.

With reference to the latter point, Cisco produced research showing that each capital expenditure (capex) dollar in 2022 will have to do 11 times the work that it did in 2012. It also calculated that there is $5 in operational expenditure (opex) today for every $1 of capex. The new systems would be designed to reduce these numbers.

The Cisco 8000 series is the first platform built with Cisco Silicon One Q100, and is engineered to help service providers and web-scale companies reduce the costs of building and operating mass-scale networks for the 5G, AI and IoT era. Optimised for 400Gbps and beyond, its processing starts at 10.8Tbps in a single rack unit.

It is also powered by the cloud-enhanced Cisco IOS XR7 networking operating system software to simplify operations and reduce operational costs. Cisco is confident that service providers will gain more bandwidth scale and programmability to deliver terabits per second in even the most power- and space-constrained network locations.

Explaining its work in optics, Cisco said that as port rates increase from 100G to 400G and beyond, optics would become an increasingly larger portion of the cost to build and operate internet infrastructure.

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For that reason, it was investing to assure customers that as router and switch port rates continue to increase, optics would be designed to meet reliability and quality standards. In addition, as silicon and silicon photonics advance, functions that were traditionally delivered in separate chassis-based systems will soon be available in pluggable form factors.

All of this, said Cisco, would offer network operators potential benefits in terms of operational simplicity. The silicon photonics technologies would aim to effect architectural transitions in datacentre networks and service provider networks, driving down cost, reducing power and space, and simplifying network operations.

In terms of the partners and customers that Cisco worked with on its new technology, the launch event saw endorsement from AT&T, Century Link, Comcast, Facebook, Microsoft and The Walt Disney Studios.

Cisco also announced that Middle East and Northern Africa region services provider STC would be the first customer to deploy the new technology. There were also ongoing trials at Comcast and NTTCom.

Talking to Computer Weekly, Cisco senior vice-president​ Ish Limkakeng said it would deliver the innovations for such companies in the way in which they wanted to consume them, respecting existing business practices.

This means Cisco would need to have a deep understanding of the key use cases so that it could change the economics behind how the internet will be built to support the demands of future digital applications, and enable customers to operate their businesses with simpler, more cost-effective networks, added Limkakeng.

“We need to have the vision and patience to go solve the problems,” he said. “One fundamental is to address the need to reduce cost structures. In the past, we would have to make trade-offs, but not now with the new architecture. We are really excited about changing the economics of processes in the customer space. We see applications in VR [virtual reality], 5G and IoT, and there will be a whole host of things that are now possible.”

Regarding what success would look like, Limkakeng conceded that it would be difficult and depended on the customer. “A great measurement is that customers are delivering experiences that we can’t articulate today,” he said.

Limkakeng added that investment in optics was vital and there would be some significant challenges in that area in the near future. “What we are doing is very disruptive as it fundamentally changes how we look at infrastructures. As you look at cost structures, optics becomes more important,” he said.

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