Enterprise branch offices increasingly need the same IT tools that the head office has, and Cisco Systems Inc. has unveiled branch networking gear to help fill that need.

The dominant enterprise network vendor is adding security and application-performance features for its branch offerings and rolling out a fixed-form-factor Integrated Services Router (ISR) and a managed switch for the outlying offices.

Organizations with dispersed sites are starting to make the IT setup consistent all around to boost productivity, according to Yankee Group Inc. analyst Zeus Kerravala. In some cases, the smaller offices maybe doing a big part of the job, such as in an insurance company, he said. Their technology hasn’t always reflected that.

“The application performance in the branches hasn’t been at par with what you’ve had in the headquarters…or even the services available,” Kerravala said.

To tackle application performance, Cisco is introducing its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) in a module for the 3800 Series ISR. The module can speed up applications and make more efficient use of a network connection, allowing branch workers to work faster and enterprises to consolidate applications at a central site.

At Nanometrics, a wafer-making test and measurement equipment company with 20 locations around the world, IT director David Kizer came on board last year and started to make the IT infrastructure consistent across all sites. The company deployed a CRM (customer relationship management) application for the first time and also rolled out its ERP (enterprise resource planning) software company-wide, he said. Knowing what resources are available everywhere in Nanometrics helps the company operate more like a single unit than like a collection of workgroups, Kizer said.

To make the change possible, he rolled out the WAAS module on branch routers. Previously, data traffic had taken up as much as 90 per cent of the WAN (wide-area network) connections to Nanometrics’ branch offices. With the WAAS module, the data takes up just 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the bandwidth. That let Nanometrics deploy IP (Internet Protocol) telephony and shut down expensive circuit-switched phone lines, Kizer said. Also, branches can send application data back and forth to the central data center to maintain the same information in both locations, he said.

Cisco customers are putting more emphasis on their branch offices, giving them more decision-making power, partly because of globalization, said Inbar Lasser-Raab, a director of market management at Cisco.

The company’s branch roll out Wednesday includes a variety of platforms and tools, including:

• The Cisco 1861 ISR is a fixed-form-factor branch router with unified communications capability for as many as eight users.

• The Cisco 2960 LAN Lite Series Switches come in three form factors and use a simplified Cisco IOS (Internetwork Operating System) image for simpler configuration.

• The Cisco Intrusion Prevention System Advanced Integration Module (IPS AIM) can be added to ISRs to identify, classify and stop malicious Internet traffic.

• Cisco Performance Routing (PfR) software, which can now be added to ISRs with some software feature sets, monitors multiple network routes to help companies get the fastest possible performance.

• A software upgrade for the Cisco Wireless LAN Controller Module on 2800 and 3800 ISR platforms adds IEEE 802.11n capability for use with Cisco Aironet 1250 Series Access Points.

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