Cisco Rolling Out Big New Box

But analysts wonder how much demand there will be for the so-called huge fast router.
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After some false starts, a few rejections and the inevitable delays, Cisco (CSCO) - Get Report will wheel out its much anticipated megarouter Tuesday at a half-day celebration in San Jose, Calif.

Seismologists and industry watchers alike will probably take note of Cisco's

belated introduction of telecom's largest Internet traffic sorter, known in most circles as the HFR, or huge fast router. Cisco is expected to name the new device Cisco Routing System 1, or CRS1, an answer to rival

Juniper's

(JNPR) - Get Report

big T640 "Gibson," which has been on the market for two years.

Perhaps bigger still, Cisco's HFR operates on a new software system -- tentatively dubbed IOX -- that the company hopes to extend across its corner of the industry, say analysts.

Cisco rode to success in the 1990s on the advent and widespread adoption of routers, devices that link and manage traffic over computer networks. But the data networking king has seen its dominance of the core router market dwindle in the past year as Juniper won more of the business.

In fact, in the first quarter of this year, Cisco's share of the big router market fell to around 66%. Juniper nudged its way up nearly 3 percentage points to 34%, according to a Dell'Oro Group tally.

While Cisco is treating the intro of CRS1 as a big event, complete with presentations from CEO John Chambers and router chief Mike Volpi, industry observers say there's still a lot of work ahead and potentially little payoff for all the effort.

At least one big customer tried Cisco's big router and returned it. People familiar with the HFR trials say that in addition to requiring twice the power of standard gear and enormous cooling systems to keep it from overheating, it runs on an entirely new software platform.

Power and cooling issues are considered troubling but nonetheless manageable. Incompatible software, on the other hand, requires a great deal of technical labor and upgrades, especially since most Net gear runs on Cisco's Internetworking Operating System, or IOS, say analysts.

A Cisco representative declined to comment.

But some analysts see the software angle as the real important aspect of the new router. CIBC analyst Steve Kamman argues that Cisco's router operating systems are the equivalent in their broad use to

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

Windows software. The big opportunity, says Kamman, is down the road as Cisco moves all its routers to the new software and convinces customers to upgrade to the HFR's new, more stable operating system.

Apparently, unlike the old monolithic IOS software, the new IOX system is modular, making it easy to add features. It is also continuously available, meaning upgrades and system reboots can be done without shutting down the machine. This characteristic is aimed particularly at service providers who demand always-on capability.

Though Cisco will likely announce a couple customers for its CRS1 box, few observers expect immediate earth-shaking success.

One problem is Juniper's strength with phone companies, an area where Cisco has repeatedly proven weak.

Another issue is the changing nature of networks.

Early in the Internet age, experts believed that the best system would feature massive routers in the center fed by small routers spread around the edges. But over time, engineers have shown a preference for decentralization. Increasingly, routers installed toward the edge have reached higher and higher capacity, reducing the need for a lot of big central boxes.

"I think we've seen that even the biggest customers need about 10 of these HFR-type routers, not 100, as originally hoped," says one industry analyst.

Cisco's stock is down 27% from its January high this year and was largely unchanged at $21.57 Friday.