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Cisco is a curious company. Although it powers most of the knots that keep the Internet connected, it has very low visibility outside the IT field. Nonetheless its pre-eminence in the world of routers means that a recent launch possesses huge symbolic significance.

According to the press release for the launch of its new ASR 1000 Series Aggregation Services Routers:

Cisco invested $250 million U.S. over more than five years in the research and development of the Cisco ASR 1000 Series.

This is serious money, even for a company like Cisco. And the units aren't exactly cheap, either:

The Cisco ASR 1000 Series Is scheduled to be generally available in April 2008 in two-, four- and six-rack-unit sizes, with pricing starting at $35,000 U.S.

But what's most interesting about the ASR 1000 series is what's not said in the press release. A post on internetnews.com provides some crucial extra information:

The ASR 1000 also marks the debut of Cisco's IOS XE operating system, which virtualizes IOS and enables high speed services at the edge of networks. Jonathan Davidson of Cisco's midrange routing business unit explained that IOS XE gives users the ability to run two versions of IOS on a simple piece of hardware.

Cool, but what's cooler is the following:

IOS XE is also an innovation that takes advantage of Linux at its core. "IOS XE is actually IOS that has been put on top of a Linux kernel," Davidson said.

Davidson noted that Cisco is using a 'plain vanilla' Linux kernel and not something from any specific Linux vendor or distribution.

Got that? This entire $250 million project, with its vaunted ability to run two version of IOS simultaneously, has at its heart a “plain vanilla” Linux kernel. So not only will free software be running most of the Internet's software infrastruture – BIND, Apache, Sendmail etc. - it will soon be running many of the underlying routers as well, assuming that Cisco manages to sell a few of its new systems. If anyone needs proof of the unparalleled reliability of open source, I think they've just got it.

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