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Cisco gives OS face-lift to older routers

To keep IP router rivals at bay, Cisco Systems is using new software to pump life back into an aging router product line.

Hoping to fend off IP hardware rivals, Cisco Systems is using a new operating system to pump life back into an aging router product line.

On Monday, the networking giant announced it is outfitting its existing 12000 series routers with IOS XR, an operating system originally developed for Cisco's next-generation core router, the CRS-1. Core IP routers are used by telephone companies and Internet service providers to shuttle traffic across the Internet.

Cisco generates 25 percent of its total revenue from telephone companies, Internet service providers and cable operators. It's a key market for the company. And as carriers move toward using Internet Protocol to carry all of their data, video and voice traffic, Cisco is poised to take advantage of the emerging market.

"Most of the growth in the service provider market today is in IP," Cisco CEO John Chambers said in a recent CNET News.com interview. "So we're in the right sweet spot."

Cisco, based in San Jose, Calif., is the market leader in IP routers, which are devices used to shuttle traffic around the Internet. It is facing stiff competition from rival Juniper Networks, which has steadily been gaining market share. By adapting its newly developed IOS XR technology for the 12000 series, Cisco is fighting back.

Engineers created the IOS XR specifically for the CRS-1 router, which was introduced last year and took four years and $500 million to develop. The operating system is considered an improvement over the older generation of code because it is more modular, which allows service providers to upgrade their networks without disrupting the flow of traffic. The new software is also more reliable, since it offers several self-healing features.

The updated 12000 router product line has been renamed the Cisco XR 12000 series to reflect the software change. With about 25,000 installed worldwide, the 12000 series is an extremely important product for Cisco. While the CRS-1 is designed for the largest networks in the world, the 12000 series is used in smaller networks. It's also used to aggregate traffic at the edge of carrier networks.

The XR 12000 routers are expected to be available in June. A base configuration of the router has a list price of $45,500, Cisco said.

Also on Monday, Cisco announced new features for its 7600 line of routers and introduced the 7604 router, a four-slot chassis that packs in more 10gbps performance than in older products.

In addition, Cisco unveiled new port adapters and an interface processor that can be used interchangeably among the 7304, 7600, 10000, 12000, XR 12000 and CRS-1 lines of routers.