Cisco takes wraps off new branch-office routers

Cisco Systems Inc. has designed a new router that comes with some erstwhile separate networking functions built in. The company says this integrated platform paves the way for extra efficiency in enterprise connectivity, but one industry analyst says Cisco is playing catch-up with its own ambition.

The San Jose-based network gear maker in September unveiled its integrated services routers. These boxes ship with embedded security and voice functions, so customers looking to enable VPNs and PBX remote-site survivability, for instance, need not install separate boxes to make it happen.

According to Julie O’Brien, a Cisco marketing manager, the new 1800, 2800 and 3800 series routers best their predecessors, the 1700, 2600 and 3700 series, by freeing up some of the slots for additional functions.

For example, with the previous routers a network manager would have to use application integration modules (AIMs) to attach new services such as encryption hardware. The latest routers, by contrast, come with built-in encryption functionality, which frees up AIMs for other features, such as compression.

The new routers also come with Cisco’s CallManager Express, a light version of the vendor’s enterprise-class IP PBX (Cisco says customers must use a particular version of the router operating system, IOS, for CallManager Express to work) and Cisco Unity Express for voice mail.

“By moving the services inside the router, we’ve made the platform more modular, and given customers the flexibility and the density to add things very quickly,” O’Brien said.

The 2800 and 3800 series routers in particular also offer embedded digital signal processing (DSP) slots for voice connectivity to the public-switched telephone network, conferencing capabilities and transcoding.

David Willis, an industry analyst at the Meta Group, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., said Cisco is employing “the Swiss Army knife approach. You could go out and buy individual devices to do all these functions, but this is something that’s well integrated together.”

Willis also said the new routers brings Cisco hardware up to par with its software.

“Cisco kind of got ahead of themselves in terms of the software that they could provide, so much so that they weren’t able to deliver performance in the previous iterations. You turned some of the features on and suddenly the router wouldn’t do its basic functions. They’ve had to rev the hardware and come out with this suite of services that ride on top.”

Cisco will have to wait and see if its integrated services solution speaks to the market, he said. “It takes a long time for the market to absorb this type of device. A large company will buy these things by the hundreds, by the thousands, and expect them to be in place for a matter of five years, maybe longer. Cisco’s going to have to wait for replacement cycles.”

Willis also pointed out that Cisco rival Juniper Networks Inc. recently unveiled a line of branch office routers. “That’s going to be an interesting battle, the feature functionality and performance of Cisco versus Juniper here.”

O’Brien said the advent of these new routers does not spell demise for the existing 1700, 2600 and 3700. Cisco plans to offer both sets concurrently for 18 to 24 months. After that support for the older line will continue for another five years.

According to a survey conducted by The Yankee Group on Cisco’s behalf, most network managers prefer to have services built into routers, especially for small and branch offices. Firewalls, VPNs, intrusion detection, antivirus software and IP telephony were high on the survey respondents’ wish list for integration.

The Cisco 1841 router is priced at US$1,395. The 2800 series routers cost US$1,995 to US$6,495 depending on configuration, and the 3800 series routers cost US$9,500 to US$13,500. For more information visit

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