Cisco adds app performance to branch routers

Cisco ISR line to get WAN optimization, application performance monitoring, WAN path management and security license

Cisco this week extended the software capabilities of its ISR branch routers with previously separate security and application performance features, including WAN optimization.

Cisco rolled out the ISR-AX line, which takes existing ISR G2 models 3900, 2900 and 1900 and adds a security software license for VPN, firewall and intrusion prevention, as well as software-based Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) WAN optimization, application visibility and control, and WAN path management. Also included is the Cisco Services-Ready Engine processing hardware or additional random access memory to run the software.

Cisco ISR 3900

Credit: Cisco

Cisco's ISR-AX line adds security, application performance and WAN optimization features to existing models, such as the ISR G2 3900 shown here.

Cisco says it is doing this because with the advent of application centralization in data centers or hosted in the cloud, the branch office router needs to evolve to become a Layer 2-7 application service delivery engine. Customers at remote sites need applications to run faster, and require networkwide visibility and control for accelerated application deployments, performance monitoring and problem resolution without the need for additional devices, Cisco says.

Indeed, Cisco says software will be the way it delivers its WAAS WAN optimization product to the branch office. The physical hardware appliance will be targeted predominantly at data centers where WAN optimization requires scale, company officials said.

And to catalyze adoption of the ISR-AX, Cisco says it is 20% to 35% less expensive than a stand-alone WAN appliance for the branch office. Cisco is offering the AX line at up to 45% less than non-AX 3900s, 2900s and 1900s.

The ISR 3900 is at the center of a current contract controversy between Cisco and the state of West Virginia.

[ CUSTOMER SAT: Cisco looking to make things right with West Virginia ]

The ISR line has 500,000 customers worldwide. Cisco had a 77% share of the $855 million enterprise router market and an 84% share of the $671 million enterprise access router market in the third quarter of 2012, according to Dell'Oro Group. It's aiming the ISR-AX squarely at Juniper and Riverbed, which recently entered into a technology licensing deal, even though Dell'Oro cites HP, Adtran and OneAccess as Cisco's closest competitors in access routing.

Asked why HP, for one, wasn't on Cisco's competitive radar for the ISR-AX, a company spokesperson stated in an email:

"While HP has the ability to host applications, they do not have an integrated offer for application performance monitoring, WAN path selection or optimization. We realize they have some APM partners and work with Riverbed, but we view that as [a] gap since [they] do not solve the problem directly, which creates integration, management and cost challenges for customers. Much like Juniper, they have too many gaps to solve the application challenges our customers are facing today with virtualization, cloud and BYOD."

HP didn't respond to a request for comment by press time.

But Juniper did respond:

"Juniper believes the market is moving towards high speed Ethernet WAN connectivity and the need for WAN acceleration in the branch is decreasing," says Brad Brooks, vice president of business strategy and marketing for Juniper. "Rather than integrate WAN optimization in branch SRX and penalize customers with a higher priced solution, Juniper has partnered with Riverbed, the leading WAN optimization provider, to deliver this service to customers should they require it. Riverbed has continuously maintained their competitive edge where other technologies have trailed behind. This partnership is aligned with Juniper's strategy of offering an open architecture with a growing ecosystem of partners that allows customers to select solutions that best fit their network needs."

Brooks also says Juniper's branch SRX router provides application level security and unified threat management, integrated with routing and network security, to eliminate the need for multiple devices and reduce TCO. Juniper also offers an application monitoring solution along with WAN path selection functionality in the branch SRX devices, Brook says.

All Cisco 3900-AX, 2900-AX and 1900-AX products are currently available. The 3900-AX is priced from $16,200 to $24,700. The 2900-AX is priced from $3,595 to $12,900, and the 1900-AX costs from $2,945 to $2,995.

Cisco says it will soon extend the AX capabilities to the 800 ISR, ASR1000 and CSR1000V routers for teleworkers, enterprise network edge, and data center and cloud, respectively.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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