30 years of QNX: Holy terabits, Batman!

If you’ve been following this blog series on the history of QNX, you’ll know that I’m still making my way through the 1980s. So I hope you don’t mind if I temporarily leap ahead 20 years — I was going to post this story when we got to 2004, but something happened last week that made me change my mind.

Confused yet? Well, brace yourself. Because this story really begins in 1998.

In 1998 QNX Software Systems released a self-booting demo that squeezed the QNX operating system, a windowing system, a web browser, a web server, some games, and lots of other goodies onto a single 1.44M floppy. Millions of people took this demo for a test drive, including a developer from Cisco who was impressed by the operating system’s elegance and efficiency.

So did he immediately tell his colleagues at Cisco to look into this cool OS from QNX? Nope, not a chance. Because at the time, the QNX OS worked only on x86 systems.

Little did he know that QNX engineers were working on a spanking new version of the QNX OS — a version that could run on multiple processor architectures, including those used in Cisco’s networking equipment.

Fortunately, he expressed his frustration to an acquaintance at QNX Software Systems, who immediately told him about the new OS. One thing led to another, and on May 18, 1999, QNX Software Systems announced it had been chosen as Cisco’s preferred realtime operating system vendor.

After that, things went quiet — until 2004. That’s when Cisco unveiled the CRS-1, the highest-capacity Internet router ever developed. How high? Enough to handle up to 92 trillion bits per second, which is equivalent to all the Internet traffic of a single mid-sized country. Or, as my colleague Andy Gryc likes to put it, enough to squirt out 18,000 CDs per second.

As you no doubt suspect, the CRS-1 is controlled by the QNX operating system. More specifically, the router’s IOS XR software, which manages hundreds of parallel processors, is based on a straight, unmodified QNX Neutrino microkernel and QNX transparent distributed processing.

So why am I talking about this now? Because Cisco has just unveiled the new CRS-3, which has triple the capacity of the CRS-1 — 322 trillion bits per second.

How much is that? Enough, according to Cisco, to download the printed collection of the Library of Congress in just over one second. (One assumes that the collection would have to be digitized first.)

Considering that my web browser has a hard time downloading a single web page in one second, I’m impressed. Holy terabits, indeed.

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