Routers in Data Centers

Richard A Steenbergen ras at
Sat Sep 25 09:35:01 UTC 2010

On Sat, Sep 25, 2010 at 03:11:25AM -0400, Steven King wrote:
> Cisco uses their own ASICS is their higher end flag ship devices. 
> Devices such as the Catalyst 6500 series or the 2960 switches. You 
> pretty much singled out all the major players, including those who 
> have been bought out (Foundry by HP) and claimed they do not provide 
> their own, yet 3rd party flawed ASICS. I am actually surprised you 
> didn't mention HP, Linksys or Dell as they are the most guilty of 
> using 3rd party ASICS and shotty software. If you are buying data 
> center grade equipment from these vendors, it will be quality hardware 
> backed by their support (if purchased) such as Cisco's SmartNet 
> agreements.

My point was that every major vendor, even the ones who normally make 
their own in-house ASICs, are also actively selling third party silicon 
(or in some cases complete third party boxes) in order to compete in the 
"cheap" "datacenter optimized" space. Folks like HP and Dell were never 
in the business of making real routers to begin with, so them selling a 
Broadcom reference design with 30 seconds of search and replace action 
on the bundled software is not much of a shocker. The guys who do a 
better job of it, like Foundry (who was bought by Brocade, not HP), at 
least manage to use their own OS as a wrapper around the third party 
hardware. But my other major point was that almost all of these third 
party ASICs are sub-par in some way compared to the more traditional 
in-house hardware. Many of them have critical design flaws that will 
limit them greatly, and many of these design flaws are only just now 
being discovered by the router vendors who are selling them.

BTW, Cisco is actually the exception to the "datacenter optimized" boxes 
being third party, as their Nexus 7K is an evolution of the 6500/7600 
EARL ASICs, and their third party hw boxes are EZchip based ASR9k's. Of 
course their Nexus software roadmap looks surprisingly similar to other 
vendors doing it with third party hw, go figure. :)

> Moral of the story, do your research on the devices you plan to 
> implement and ask for data sheets on how the features you need are 
> handled (in software or hardware). I know Juniper and Cisco provide 
> such documentation for their devices. Quality hardware, however more 
> expensive, will give you less trouble in the long run. You truly get 
> what you pay for in the networking industry.

It takes a pretty significant amount of experience and inside knowledge 
to know who is producing the hardware and what the particular issues 
are, which is probably well beyond most people. The vendors aren't going 
to come out and tell you "Oh woops we can't actually install a full 
routing table in our FIB like we said we could", or "Oh btw this box 
can't filter control-plane traffic and any packet kiddie with a T1 can 
take you down", or "FYI you won't be able to bill your customers 'cause 
the vlan counters don't work", or "just so you know, this box can't load 
balance for shit, and L2 netflow won't work", or "yeah sorry you'll 
never be able to do a double stack MPLS VPN". The devil is in the 
caveats, and the commodity silicon that's all over the datacenter space 
right now is certainly full of them.

Richard A Steenbergen <ras at>
GPG Key ID: 0xF8B12CBC (7535 7F59 8204 ED1F CC1C 53AF 4C41 5ECA F8B1 2CBC)

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