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Cisco ups ISP ante in IOS

The company's latest move offers the booming industry for Net access and leased lines a way to differentiate services and increase bandwidth performance.

Cisco Systems (CSCO) continues to bombard the cutthroat market for service provider networking dollars with a combination of hardware and software.

The networking giant's latest move to maintain its large share of Internet service provider (ISP) infrastructure investment will offer the booming industry for Net access and leased lines a way to differentiate its services and increase bandwidth performance. Cisco will do this with ISP-specific enhancements to its "protocol salad" Internetworking Operating System (IOS) software.

The IOS package serves as the brains of the company's router hardware, which carry a large portion of Internet traffic. Cisco holds more than 60 percent market share in routers, according to several market researchers.

The focus of the latest software additions is IP-based Quality of Service (QoS), a popular term in the networking industry these days that refers to the ability of software to segment and prioritize data flows across network pipes. These features allow ISPs to offer different levels of service to customers depending on their needs, opening new revenue opportunities.

Features include capabilities called committed access rate (CAR) and updated uses of the border gateway protocol (BGP), one of the dominant routing protocols for the Internet. Using the CAR capabilities, an ISP can configure service policies on a router and, using BGP, that policy can be propagated to other routers across long distances, according to David Powell, a product manager at Cisco.

Previous QoS-focused functionality in IOS was directed at the company's large installed base in corporate enterprise networks, the company said.

MCI, Hong Kong Telecom, and Pacific Internet are among the service providers testing the new enhancements. Among the applications: offering a "premium" access service for leased lines, as in the case of MCI, according to Powell, or rolling out segmented portions of precious international bandwidth, with the IOS features tracking outgoing as well as incoming traffic.

The ISP focus of the new IOS features addresses the need to scale the company's software tools to meet the needs of rapidly growing Net access, leased line, and Web hosting operations, Powell said.

The new enhancements are available now as part of the IOS 11.1CC release intended for Cisco's 7200 and 7500 series of routing hardware.