End of the router as we know it
Voice and Data|September 2020
End of the router as we know it
The changing nature of internet services and applications are driving manufacturers to develop better and cost-effective router systems
HANNES GREDLER

Since its beginning in the 1980s, network routers have evolved significantly. The greatest leap in development was observed when the World Wide Web was introduced. Network providers were suddenly faced with the challenge of having to keep up with the rapid introduction of internet services and the demand for bandwidth-intensive applications. In order to meet the demand, they invested enormous amounts in networks, which they had great difficulty in refinancing. They asked network equipment manufacturers to help them build value-added services, which in the years that followed led to a flood of new features that are now available for almost every router.

Critics argue that by adding new features but not removing obsolete ones, the cost of the routers has risen so much that they are no longer in proportion to the actual benefits. James Hamilton, VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services expressed this observation as follows: “The network is anti-Moore.” In this context, here are some functions that have become redundant in the course of the current technical developments.

Hardware-buffer

In their Paper Sizing Router Buffers (2004), researchers at Stanford University describe their observation that buffers with a depth of up to 2000 ms are clearly suitable for services with low bandwidth and data stream diversity. But at speeds of 10 GBit per second and diversity of up to 10 million data streams, the advantages of buffering become extremely doubtful with a typical internet backbone connection.

The benefit is also questioned by the fact that there is no signalling to the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) layer during “buffering”. Most routers, however, still support a buffer depth of over 100 ms for 100 Gbps switching. A simple calculation shows that 1.25 GB DDR4RAM is required for every 100 GBit/s port in a given router.

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September 2020