Cisco adds more software, hardware capabilities

For some time Cisco Systems Inc. has been cramming more services into its IOS operating system, giving network managers the choice of buying capabilities in software rather than more hardware.

On Tuesday the company continued the trend, adding optional WAN optimization and application acceleration features to its ISR G2 integrated routers often used in branch offices. In addition, there a new hardware module for the ISR G2 allows organizations to use the router as a backup server for critical applications.

At the same time Cisco unveiled what it says are the fastest midrange switches and firewalls in its lineup.

Finally, the manufacturer tossed in a new Aironet wireless access point for small businesses.

Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior marketing director for what Cisco calls its Borderless Network strategy, said the new products are aimed at meeting the shifts in organizations to virtualized and mobile environments.

“We’re rolling out a whole set of performance optimization tools to enable the delivery of those applications from consolidated data centres to the endpoint,” she said in an interview.

One of the main capabilities is what Cisco groups under the name Application Velocity, a set of services in the ISR G2 routers that can be turned on by purchasing a software key, or through plug-in modules.

They include

–WAAS Express, which is integrated into the ISR G2’s IOS operating system. WAAS is usually sold as a standalone application acceleration and optimization appliance or an ISR G2 module. However, the module couldn’t be used on the ISR G2 800-series routers. With WAAS in software, uses of that series can now get application acceleration without buying an extra box. WAAS starts at US$1,000;

–WAAS SRE, an enhanced module for acceleration from Layers 4 to 7. Unlike the Express version, the module is aimed at sensitive applications such as video. It starts at US$2,500;

–UCS Express for VMware and Windows Server, also a plug-in module, allows IT departments to deploy core Windows services such as HTTP or DNS, or their own applications in branches for remote survivability. It could be very useful for organizations that have pulled servers out of branches, Lasser-Raab said, without increasing the hardware there. The module starts at US$2,795 and will be available next month.

On the hardware side, Cisco has come up with big numbers, starting with the Catalyst 4500E, an upgraded midrange modular switch for large offices and small data centres. The E means it comes with a new supervisor card that makes it the fastest switch in the manufacturer’s lineup: It can handle throughput of up to 848 Gigabits per second (Gbps). It runs on the IOS XE operating system, which means it can also host third party applications. Prices start at US$27,480.

The new ASA 5585-X security appliance is twice as fast its predecessor, says Cisco, supporting 20 Gbps of throughput. The 2U-sized firewall can handle up to 10,000 VPN connections or 8 million total connections. Prices start at US$29,995.

Then there’s the ASR 1001 router, a slim 1U-sized device that out of the box can handle 2.5 Gbps for high-end branches, or, double that if a software key is purchased to turn on the extra service. It can support up to 1,250 standard or 500 HD video sessions, Cisco says. Priced at US$30,000, it won’t be available until December.

Lastly, the 802.11n capabilities of the Aironet access points have been move down for small businesses into the 1040 series. Prices range from US$495 for the single band version to US$795 for the dual band version.

“Almost the entire (Cisco) product line has been re-vamped over the past 24 months,” observed Zeus Kerravala, vice-president of Yankee Group. Tuesday’s announcements “demonstrate the enormous breadth of the product they have.”

He took particular notice of the Express products, which gives customers the ability to try a “light-weight” version of fuller-featured products. “Those have always helped Cisco gain traction into markets.”

The upgrade to the Catalyst 4500 line was also notable because it has been criticized by some as a bit “long in the tooth,” he added. Being the fastest Catalyst switch it’s likely the 6500-series line will be boosted soon, he predicted.

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