Cisco adds tunnel-less VPN to routers

Cisco Systems Inc. Monday announced the addition of “tunnel-less” virtual private network technology and several other improvements to its family of integrated services routers (ISR), which are widely used in branch offices.

The new VPN technology allows secure transport of data in a variety of WAN environments without the need for point-to-point tunneling, said Inbar Lasser-Raab, Cisco’s director of product marketing for the ISR line. Tunnel-less transport lowers latency to improve the performance of voice and video applications in large networks, she said.

Cisco intends to work with standards bodies to standardize its technology, which it calls Group Encrypted Transport (GET), Lasser-Raab added.

Other changes to the routers include an improvement in the throughput of the ISR services engine, from 40Mbit/sec. to 100mbit/sec., Lasser-Raab said. Cisco has also integrated its Wide Area Application Services technology in the ISR products to enable increased WAN capacity, and it added a Network Analysis Module that’s designed to give IT staff visibility into WAN traffic conditions and performance.

In addition, the routers can now connect to cable broadband systems, Lasser-Raab said.

Rob Whiteley, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said that, of the innovations announced by Cisco, the GET VPN the most important for IT managers because it will simplify the process of setting up VPNs — especially for companies that are adding a number of offices proliferate. For example, instead of setting up a network tunnel to each of 50 people in a branch office, a user could employ the GET approach to create a single group domain, he said.

McHenry Savings Bank in McHenry, Ill., has been using seven Cisco 2800 and 3800 ISRs for about a year, and it is evaluating some of the new upgrades, said Bryan Nash, the bank’s senior vice president of IT.

The bank has five branches and a need for multiple layers of security, so it does not consider the GET VPN technology to be the most important feature in Cisco’s ISR products, Nash said. But making a connection to cable broadband for remote connections is important, since using a wireless connection would be a “big taboo,” Nash said.

When the ISRs were installed a year ago, the bank was able to eliminate its ISDN connections and consolidate the routing of teller machine data and voice and security video traffic. “It was cost effective for us,” Nash said, noting that the routers saved the bank more than US$45,000 a year.

Philip Skeet, CEO of Conxerge, a managed services provider in Houston, said the ability to connect to cable will be an advantage for branch offices in need of cost-effective broadband connections. Conxerge, which began offering network services about 18 months ago, has about 100 customers, many with workers who need the help of a managed services provider, Skeete said. Integrating WAAS capability in the ISRs offers new “compelling functionality,” he said.

The GET VPN and other enhancements show that Cisco “can add value to a product that many thought was a commodity,” said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. in Boston. Cisco controls more than 90 percent of the branch router market, which is valued at more than $7 billion globally, he said.

Lasser-Raab said Cisco recently passed the 2 million mark for sales of ISRs, which first appeared on the market 27 months ago and now account for 90 percent of Cisco’s router sales.

Pricing starts at $399 for the Cisco 800 series ISR and at $9,500 for the high-end Cisco 3800 series ISR. The new Wide Area Application Acceleration Services module starts at $3,750 and is available now. The new Network Analysis Module, which starts at $4,495, will be available first quarter 2007. Cisco’s Group Encrypted Transport VPN is available now as a feature in Cisco IOS 12.4 software, which will be loaded on new Cisco ISRs and is available free of charge to customers with services contracts.

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