Cisco Brings Security, Network App Services to the Router

Cisco officials said the converged appliance addresses application-performance issues brought on by such trends as the cloud and BYOD.

Cisco Systems officials are introducing a router they say is built for a more mobile business world that is increasingly housing its applications in the cloud or centralizing them in the data center.

In its new Integrated Services Router with Application Experience (ISR-AX), Cisco is integrating features that in the past had been outside the appliance—such as security, WAN optimization, and networking monitoring and visibility tools—creating a converged networking offering that addresses such issues as security, reliability and performance, according to company officials.

The ISR-AX, announced March 12, comes at a time when businesses are increasingly centralizing business applications in the cloud or in the data center, and when trends such as virtualization and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) are becoming more prevalent. Businesses are demanding products that will run applications for remote employees and customers—such as in a branch office—and that also give IT greater network visibility and network management capabilities.

"The goal with the new offering is to lower the barrier to do whatever it takes to move the applications where they're required" and to improve the user experience, Raakhee Mistry, senior marketing solutions manager for Cisco's Enterprise Networking Group, told eWEEK. "It's inefficient to move traffic through the data center to get it to the [Internet] edge. Campuses need to be able to directly connect to the cloud. ... Ultimately, the new trends [in the data center] are putting more challenges on the network."

With the ISR-AX, Cisco is making the router a Layer 2-7 platform for delivering applications, and is offering the security and management capabilities that network administrators need, Mistry said.

The appliance integrates Cisco's ISR G2 1900, 2900 and 3900 models with security technologies—such as firewall, intrusion prevention and VPN—and Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) for WAN optimization. At the same time, the appliance includes application-management technologies and Cisco's Services-Ready Engine or "maximum RAM," all offered in a single box for the branch office or campus, Mistry said.

Cisco is offering the 3900-AX, 2900-AX and 1900-AX models now, and eventually will extend the AX capabilities to the 800 ISR, ASR1000 and CSR1000V Series, which will bring integrated application services to teleworkers, the cloud and the data center.

The ISR-AX not only offers an integrated appliance that brings greater capabilities that competing routers, but also costs 20 to 35 percent less than traditional stand-alone WAN optimization offerings aimed at remote offices, she said. Cisco is looking to price the ISR-AX appliances at up to 45 percent less than Cisco routers without the application services features.

"Getting app services at this price point is just not heard of," Mistry said.

Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, said that with the ISR-AX, Cisco is moving capabilities that had only been found in the data center to the edge of the network, which is important as enterprises move their applications to the cloud.

"In actuality, Cisco has had these features for a while, but they weren't truly integrated (they ran as separate functions) and they were sold separately," Kerravala wrote in a blog post on the NetworkWorld site. "Cisco had attempted to use a 'burger and fries' model to sell some of these features, but in some cases the fries would cost three times the price of the burger, and were thus less appealing. By integrating the services into the operating system, customers can get the same set of features at over a third less than it would cost to buy separate modules or appliances."

Cisco's Mistry said the ISR-AX is taking aim at both Juniper Networks and Riverbed Technology, offering more capabilities at a lower cost. Juniper and Riverbed in July 2012 announced a partnership that officials for both companies said would improve application delivery in traditional data centers and the emerging cloud environments.