Enhanced security, VoIP and video optimization and other features have made the branch router anything but a generic purchase these days. Here's a look at Cisco's proudest products.
Cisco Systems is very much king of the hill in the branch router marketplace. It has an 87 percent share of a $2.8 billion (2010) market, according to Shin Umeda, an analyst with Dell'Oro Group. When it comes to connecting to the network locally for voice, data or both, or acting as a gateway to the WAN for transmissions to and from headquarters, few CIOs look further than Cisco.
While the primary functions of the Cisco routers remain, the company has steadily been adding features such as enhanced security, LAN switching, WAN optimization and acceleration and Quality of Service (QoS). This has given rise to the all-in-one router.
"It may still be called a branch router, but it has become an all-purpose networking device," said Umeda.
Cisco's Market Take
In recent years, Cisco has been responding to trends such as the explosion of mobile devices in the workplace, the rapid adoption of cloud services and virtualization, and increasing use of video and collaboration applications, said Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior director of borderless networks at Cisco.
These trends have impacted branch routers in several ways. For example, Lasser-Raab said, there is a greater need for consistent quality of application experience as services tend to use more WAN bandwidth due to the fact that video streaming and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) have gone mainstream. Embedded security and reliability are also being demanded from branch routers, she said.
"Internet access in the branch for cloud services requires internal and external threat protection, as well as backup and survivability capabilities in case that WAN link drops," explained Lasser-Raab.
To reduce operating costs, she said, there has been a strong tendency toward consolidation of infrastructure, optimized services delivery and bandwidth optimization -- hence more all-in-one products. Consistency, too, has risen high on the priority list. Large organizations are demanding common capabilities across all branch offices to ensure they provide the same level of security, optimization and support through centralized policy and consistent set of services.
"Organization-wide visibility and control is now widely available through centralized management and troubleshooting of branch routers," said Lasser-Raab. "This is even more important these days due to limited local staff as well as support, planning and scaling for unexpected requirements."
Branch Router Selection
Cisco offers too many branch products to cover each of them in detail. They can be viewed here.
Lasser-Raab calls attention, in particular, to the Integrated Services Router Generation 2 (ISR G2), which she said "delivers a new borderless workspace experience through service virtualization, video-ready capabilities, and operational excellence."
ISR G2s are part of the Cisco Borderless Network Architecture that is described as enabling business innovation and growth across remote sites. "This architecture delivers a new workspace experience by meeting the performance requirements for the next generation of WAN and network services, enabling the cost-effective delivery of high-definition collaboration at the branch office and providing the secure transition to the cloud and virtualized network services," said Lasser-Raab. "Designed for service delivery on a single platform, ISR G2 routers help businesses deploy services on demand or using a pay-as-you-grow model as needs dictate."
On the security front, the routers provide integrated virtual private network (VPN), firewall, inline intrusion prevention services (IPS), content filtering and cloud-based Web security services. Application and WAN optimization is included via software (plus some hardware acceleration). Monitoring and performance-based routing capabilities are built in.
For access flexibility, wired and wireless services including integrated WLAN (802.11n) and either 3G or 4G wireless can be accommodated. In keeping with the video-aware theme, Cisco has added embedded media capabilities to provide video optimization, troubleshooting visibility and control, as well as integrated video/voice applications. Further, ISR G2 routers can host any application for localized server capabilities and backup.
"The ISR G2 provides the widest set of integrated services in the industry: security, collaboration applications, Wireless LAN and WAN, WAN/Application optimization, video awareness, backup and reliability, local application hosting and more," boasted Lasser-Raab. "They come with integrated management for wired and wireless including video and policy."
List prices for this router series start at $1,195.
Here are a few examples of ISR models:
The 3900 Series Integrated Services Router provides interactive media services, TelePresence, a field-upgradeable motherboard and 350Mbps circuit-speed WAN performance in a 3 RU modular form factor. It is aimed at high-end deployments requiring business continuity and collaboration.
The 2900 Series Integrated Services Router is also good for interactive media services as well as virtualization. It comes in a 1 or 2 RU form factor and provides WAN performance up to 75Mbps. It is more of a mid-range product.
The 1900 Series Integrated Services Router is an entry-level version which offers security along with performance of up to 25Mbps in a desktop form factor. Small offices would tend to use this one.