Cisco Systems is looking to bring greater consistency and faster performance to branch office networks, as well as lower the cost of adding more services, with a series of new products and enhancements.
Cisco, as part of its empowered branch launch Sept. 26, pulled together as many as nine new offerings that emphasize better integration of functions and lower cost. The aim is to make it cheaper to manage, operate and add new services to branch office networks.
The move parallels a trend developing over the last six years for businesses to get closer and become more responsive to customers, no matter where they are located, said Nick Lippis, president of Lippis Enterprises, a Hingham, Mass., communications consulting company.
"When the market crashed back in 2001, a lot of business leaders said, Get closer to customers. If they didnt have branch offices in key customer locations, they opened them and moved executives down there for more intimate contact with customers," Lippis said. "The execs that moved from headquarters and regional facilities into branch offices wanted the same kind of IT support they had in headquarters, with the same kind of services, [and access to] IP applications. Thats the major trend thats driving this integrated approach to the branch office."
"That means the role of the branch has changed," said Inbar Lasser-Raab, director of network systems at Cisco, in San Jose, Calif. "Strategy and decision making are now being distributed and done collaboratively. And [with the advent of] new Web 2.0 applications, which are still hosted in a central location but executed at remote branches, the experience at the branch needs to be consistent."
With the number of branch offices growing each year and businesses adding more employees at those locations, rather than headquarters, Cisco is working to make it cheaper and easier to add advanced services, such as unified communications, security, application acceleration and wireless access, in a way that is consistent from one branch to the next.
Toward that end, Cisco added a new model to its line of fixed configuration ISRs (Integrated Services Routers) that adds unified communications to the mix of services it supports.
The new Cisco 1861 ISR delivers security, routing and switching with POE (power over Ethernet) for up to eight IP phones along with support for Ciscos Unity Express or Call Manager.
Read more here about Ciscos ISRs.
Cisco also added the new Catalyst 2960 Series Switches with a "LAN Lite" version of Ciscos IOS (Internetwork Operating System) software.
The LAN Lite version eliminates such capabilities as IPv6 support and features fewer QOS (quality of service) functions in the new switches, offered at a lower cost.
Following the lead of Extreme Networks, Cisco chose to make the new switches 10/100 only, making them less costly than switches that support Gigabit Ethernet.
Ciscos aim in segmenting IOS is "to compete more effectively with the Dells and 3Coms in the low end of the [more price-sensitive] market," said Lippis.
On the security services front, Cisco sought to lower the entry level for using its NAC (Network Admission Control) offering by adding a new NAC module for the Cisco 2800 Series and Cisco 3800 Series ISRs.
While the previous entry level in the separate NAC server started at 100 to 3500 users, the new NAC module provides an entry point at 50 to 100 users. It offers the "same capability as the stand-alone entry appliance and same management, but at a lower cost," said Lasser-Raab. It starts at $3,500 per branch, as opposed to the entry-level appliance price of $9,995.
In addition, the new Cisco Intrusion Prevention System Advanced Integration Module for the Cisco 1841, Cisco 2800 and Cisco 3800 Series ISRs boosts the number of concurrent malware signatures the ISR can support without taking a performance hit.
The module, a daughtercard that plugs into the ISRs motherboard, brings along its own processing to boost the number of signatures from 600 to 2,200.
"There is a lot of value in having a fully integrated solution on a single device. If you need to ship it to branches, its integrated, so you just need to plug it in and it works. If there is an update, it can be done centrally," said Lesser-Raab.
Cisco also addressed performance issues in its Wide Area Application Services modules with a new version that adds hardware acceleration to the WAN optimization offering.
Although the new WAE 522 module for the ISRs provides similar software features to Ciscos existing WAE 502, it adds hardware acceleration for the same price in the 3800 series router.
"Those things are pretty CPU-intensive, but [the past performance problems] might have been an architectural issue. Well see if this fixes it," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with the Yankee Group.
Also on the performance front is a new IOS feature Cisco added, dubbed Performance Routing, or PfR, which can select the best wide-area route for the type of traffic accessing the WAN. The new algorithm is capable of monitoring the network on an ongoing basis and then selecting the path with the lowest latency for traffic such as VOIP (voice over IP).
"We bring application knowledge into the network to optimize application behavior," said Lesser-Raab.
Other branch communications enhancements focused on unified communications with the addition of the Cisco Unified Messaging Gateway, which extends Ciscos Unity Express voice messaging, and new software support in the Cisco Wireless LAN Controller Module for IEEE 802.11n draft 2.0 standard.
The new offerings are available between now and November. They range in price from $995 to $9,000.
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