Murphy's Law: Cisco's Closed, but Speedy Network Solution


Oh, Cisco. What a tease you are!  The company's been pumping up the general Internet crowd for a game-changing announcement, one that would--and I quote--"forever change the Internet."  I was honestly hoping that said unveiled device would be like, a super-crazy consumer router that would... well. I'm not really sure what it would do. Gigabit speeds are more than sufficient for anyone's home networking needs right now (when I'm looking for this column on a terabit connection in five years, I'll have a hearty laugh.)  And it's not like we have a new wireless draft on the way any time soon.

It would have been nice and revolutionary for Cisco to embrace--you guessed it--a more open-source platform for its hardware devices. One, it's what I write about and, two, we're kind of in a hardware lull, don't you think?  When it comes to consumer routing and switching devices, there's only so much one can do. Aside from adding on new antennas, shifting antennas around in new ways, or adding more ports to the back of a device, what's really propelling router technology forward nowadays?

CRS-3 for You and Me

For Cisco, and its big announcement for its new CRS-3 enterprise router , the answer is obviously speed: The second-generation device (there is no CRS-2 for some marketing-fail kind of a reason) allegedly delivers 12 times the throughput over its competition. That's 322 terabits of data for those keeping score at home--or, according to the Silicon Valley Mercury News , enough bandwidth to download every movie ever made within four seconds. That sound you just heard was a head exploding over at The Pirate Bay.

Cisco's announcement is all well and good from a general technology standpoint, but it's hardly the make-or-break savior that the company intended. It's not as if the modern-day Web wasn't heading in the direction of increased bandwidth capacity anyway. Or, as Cisco competitor Juniper joked to The New York Times , "We welcome Cisco to the 100GB club."

The CRS-3 will indeed affect consumers in some capacity, provided Cisco CEO John Chambers's predictions of a surge in Cloud computing and bandwidth-hogging video applications come to light. He's now fielding the same criticism that naysayers levied against the CRS-1: The notion that the big ol' router was needlessly expensive and delivered more bandwidth than what was actually needed by the market at the time.

So kudos to Cisco for making a faster backbone for the Internet. At least AT&T appears to be testing out the new router, which would be the first place I'd plant a machine that can allegedly handle the bandwidth of every connected user in China. You'll see these effects first-hand someday, provided we all find a way to abandon paltry technologies like instant messaging in favor of 1080p, oh-hey-nice-pimple video teleconferencing. That's going to make it a whole lot harder to hide your daily AIM chats with your friends from you boss, just saying.

Take it Home

As for consumers, well, you're stuck with the same ol' routing gear you've probably had for awhile now. I won't belabor the point too much, but it would be nice to see one of these "the Internet is changing" kinds of announcements become a switch over to an open platform for a consumer line of devices. Software and accessibility is the name of the game here, not breathtaking speeds.

I'm not suggesting that Cisco needs to reinvent the wheel and replace all its router firmware with Tomato or DD-WRT. However, giving consumers the opportunity to choose how they want to manage their network devices on the software side would be a step in the right direction. It would even help relieve the burden of upgrade brainstorming from Cisco's plate. I'm sure the community would be more than happy to suggest and incorporate tweaks to a device, which Cisco could then authorize in some fashion and officially roll out to future equipment firmware.

Being able to access YouTube faster is all well and good, but Cisco's announcement of its bandwidth-pumping CR-3 enterprise router just doesn't mean that much to Consumer Dave on his apartment Internet connection. I can't even bridge two Cisco devices in the same household to grant me the wireless access I'd need to make use of this faster Internet: That's a problem the open-source world could quickly solve, not the CR-3. Cisco's done a great job of reinventing the very core of the Internet. Why not give third-party developers a chance to forever change your home network, too?

David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software.

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