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Routing wunderkind returns to Cisco

Tony Li, one of the biggest names in IP routing, is back at Cisco, where he started his career in 1991.

IP routing guru Tony Li has returned to Cisco Systems.

A Cisco representative confirmed that Tony Li officially started work at Cisco on Monday. He will be working with former colleagues from Procket Networks. Cisco announced in June it planned to acquire the start-up.

Li will work in Cisco's Routing technology group on the company's new carrier class operating software, IOS-XR. This software was developed to run on the company's CRS-1 core IP router.

The return of Li should give Cisco the engineering muscle it needs to extend the IOS-XR into other products. Cisco has already indicated that it plans to add more features to the software so that it can be used on routers deployed at the edges of a carrier network.

Li went to work for Cisco the first time in 1991, helping the company develop its routing operating system, IOS. Li left Cisco and went to work for Cisco rival Juniper Networks, where he helped Juniper build its Junos routing software.

After leaving Juniper in 1999, he helped found Procket Networks, a core IP routing start-up, where he served as the chief scientist. After a tumultuous five years at Procket, Li resigned from the company earlier this year.

In June, Cisco bought Procket, which had raised over $300 million in funding, for $89 million. At the time of the acquisition, Mike Volpi, vice president and general manager of Cisco's routing technology group and Li's new boss, said the company bought Procket primarily for its engineering talent.

Li is considered one of the brightest minds in the IP networking industry. But he has a reputation for being difficult to work with, which could explain why he departed all three companies amid some controversy. Li's return has raised a few eyebrows among industry observers.

"I heard that Cisco really needed someone on board to help extend the IOS-XR software to other products," said Erik Suppiger, an analyst with Pacific Growth Equities. "But it strikes me as a surprise that Li would go back there."

Li did not return phone calls or e-mails for comment on this story.