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Cisco: The Future of the Internet is Now
by Ron Westfall | December 18, 2019

The News: Cisco unveiled further details behind its technology strategy for building a new Internet — one designed to push digital innovation beyond the performance, economic and power consumption limitations of current infrastructure. A multi-year approach that is defining the Internet for decades to come, Cisco’s strategy is already delivering technology breakthroughs to pave the way for the world’s developers to create applications and services they have only begun to imagine. Cisco introduced its latest innovation including Cisco Silicon OneTM, the industry’s only networking silicon architecture of its kind; released the new Cisco 8000 Series, the world’s most powerful carrier class routers built on the new silicon; and announced new purchasing options that enable customers to consume the company’s technology through disaggregated business models. Read the full press release at Cisco.

Why Cisco’s Internet for the Future is a Tectonic Game Changer: It’s About Laws

Analyst Take: Cisco’s Internet for the Future is ushering in the re-imagination of service provider networks required to adapt Internet economics in meeting the massive scaling demands of the digital 5G-IoT era. There is broad industry consensus that the Internet’s massive scale will grow even larger. For example, the number of Internet users will grow from 3.4 billion in 2019 to 4.8 billion in 2022. The amount of devices and connections will grow from 18 billion in 2019 to 28.5 billion in 2022.

In addition, traditional Internet economics will increasingly fray as containing and managing operational expenditures (OpEx) becomes unsustainable in efficiently fulfilling the exponential growth projections for consumer IP traffic. For years, the Internet industry, including service providers, relied heavily on Moore’s Law to economically fulfill the scaling and new technical demands of customers. In essence, Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a microprocessor chip will double approximately every two years, which has also generally resulted in the doubling of the chip’s performance on a cost-effective basis.

As a result, the exponential improvements that the law set forth powered consistent innovation and technological breakthroughs throughout the industry, enabling the availability of the first basic home computers of the 1970s through the advanced routing platforms, supercomputers, cloud data centers, and smart devices of today. Since the 1990s, the chip industry has consistently released research road maps every two years to harmonize coordination throughout the ecosystem of manufacturers and suppliers to align and capitalize on the economic benefits of the law.

However, Moore’s Law has started to slow down during the decade of the 2010s. Key factors include the limits in managing the heat that is inevitably generated when increasingly more silicon circuitry is crammed into the same small area. As chip geometries continue to shrink toward sub-10 nanometers (nm) by the early 2020s, features become measured at the atom level whereupon electron behavior is governed by quantum uncertainties rendering transistors as more unreliable. In addition, costs add up as design and manufacturing expenses escalate due to the increased complexity in qualifying, verifying, prototyping, and validating new sub-10 nm chipset designs.

Dennard’s Scaling Law: Yes Dennard!

The slowing down of Moore’s Law is broadly understood although the magnitude and timing of the implications are contested. In alignment with Moore’s Law is the lesser known Dennard’s Scaling Law. Dennard’s Law stipulates that that as the dimensions of a device shrink, so does power consumption. While Moore’s Law held so did Dennard’s Law, enabling smaller transistors to run faster, use less power, and cost less.

And while Moore’s Law has been slowing down the last several years, Dennard’s Scaling Law started to diminish sooner, effectively ending over the last decade. The inability to operate within the same power envelope led the chip industry’s transition to multicore architectures, creating significant challenges for memory technology. With each passing generation, the number of memory controllers per core decreased and the burden on the memory system and related costs expanded.

The diminishing returns on Moore’s Law and the demise of Dennard’s Scaling Law has spurred angst throughout the Internet industry as the fundamental drivers that underpinned and powered the economic scaling and innovative computing breakthroughs over the last 50 years has started to become undone. What, if anything, can service providers do to survive and compete in the world of skyrocketing bandwidth and service quality demands combined with limited prospects in containing expenditures while delivering more value to customers?

Cisco’s Internet for the Future: The Game Changing Proposition

Cisco’s Internet for the Future provides the solution that is essential in redefining Internet economics while meeting the immense network architecture challenges of service providers. In other words, Cisco is addressing how the diminishing of Moore’s Law and the dissolution of Dennard’s Law must be addressed in order to revitalize the relevance and applicability of both Laws toward spurring rapid innovation throughout the industry. Cisco is proposing evolving network architectures on a converged, cloud-enhanced, and fabric-based approach that is capable of delivering unprecedented cost and power efficiencies, accelerated integration of augmented intelligence inputs, and streamlined, prioritized operations.

By providing portfolio innovations across the silicon, software, and optics domains, Cisco is enabling service providers to offer the required breakthrough the cost and power efficiencies, along with prioritized operations and augmented intelligence, that fulfill the specific Internet consumption demands of enterprise and consumer customers. For instance, through the debut of the Silicon One silicon architecture Cisco is unifying silicon development to consolidate advanced routing capabilities and switching efficiencies onto a single chip. This avoids remaining shoehorned in the established practice of developing separate routing and switching chipset lines where only incremental but limited improvements in areas like cost per chip and power consumption could be achieved. Additionally, Silicon One integrates system-on-a-chip, line card, and fabric functions onto a single chip design while supporting both fixed and modular form factors and fulfilling across-the-board servicer provider and webscale environment demands. AT&T, Century Link, Comcast, Facebook, Microsoft and The Walt Disney Studios have already adopted Cisco’s Internet for the Future proposition in order to propel joint innovation within the next Internet, providing instant market credibility.

The new approach significantly alters the established silicon development practice of using roadmaps to improve chips and having the ecosystem and applications follow. Now the service provider requirements and applications will drive the chipset development itself. Cisco’s new proposition is ready to substantially reduce angst related to long-term competitiveness throughout the service and content provider community while increasing angst among competitors like Juniper and Huawei who must rapidly refresh their product development and marketing strategies to counter Cisco. As Cisco spent five years developing its Internet for the Future portfolio it will be interesting to see how competitors evolve their responses in 2020. By partnering with Cisco, service providers are now better positioned than ever to power the broad acceptance of the converged, cloud-centric, fabric-based architectures essential to forging the new Internet. Moore and Dennard are delighted.

Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.

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