Cisco unveils new generation of branch routers

ISR G2 optimized for video, virtual services

Cisco this week unveiled a new generation of its Integrated Services Router, a branch office platform optimized for video and virtualized services.

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The routers had been expected.

The ISR G2 is designed to address increasingly distributed and collaborative workforces, and is the cornerstone of a new Cisco architecture called Borderless Network. Borderless Network is a five-phase plan to deliver services and applications to anyone anywhere, regardless of device or network technology.

Borderless Network is intended to support applications, processing cycles and services that are increasingly distributed and virtualized, such as those in cloud computing and software-as-a-service environments. Some analysts say it is more than another Cisco "marketecture," though.

"Application and device borders are eroding," says Rob Whiteley of Forrester Research. "This is not like SONA (Cisco's Services Oriented Network Architecture) where it was very hard to point to things to implement. SONA was more of a marketecture, more of a religion that you adopted. It was trying to convince you of value, whereas (Borderless Networks) has value."

Cisco introduced the first-generation ISR in 2004 and has sold more than 7 million units since then, an installed base of $10 billion, company officials say. Some analysts say its popularity is unmatched.

"The ISR line is perhaps the best-selling network product line of all time," says Zeus Kerrvala of The Yankee Group. "They've done a great job of keeping the ISR features set way ahead of any competitor, which is the reason they have north of 90% share. There's no product set that Cisco has put more focus on and it remains the cornerstone of their enterprise penetration strategy."

According to Dell'Oro Group, Cisco owned an 84% revenue share of the $709 million access router market in the second quarter of 2009.

With the economy turning around and video expected to boom as a percentage of network traffic, that share may increase. ISR G2 routers -- the 1900, 2900 and 3900 series -- include new video digital signal processors key to delivering what Cisco calls "medianet" capabilities for TelePresence, surveillance, collaboration and digital signage.

Other medinet-enabled enhancements of ISR G2 include a video-ready media engine, scalable audio-conferencing, up to 1Terabyte of video storage per module, a multigigabit switching fabric for high performance, and WAN optimization and application acceleration.

But the ISR really owes its success to service enablement -- Cisco says there are hundreds of services available for the first generation. On that front, Cisco introduced a number of enhancements including a software license to turn up new services on the router rather than going through a hardware upgrade.

The ISR G2's service-ready engine lets users dynamically deploy remote, virtualized services in branches without on-site support or network downtime. The ISR G2 services module includes up to 1 Terabyte of on-board storage for these virtualized services.

InVentiv Health, a provider of commercialization services to pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, has 50 of the first generation ISRs installed at 30 sites. The Cisco customer is anxious to try out the video and service activation enhancements of the new line.

"The video integration…is a really big need throughout our business, especially the ability to optimize it and make it available for low bandwidth sites," says Sean Burke, vice president of network operations at the company. The license key service activiation feature will allow inVentiv to buy a service software license and turn it up during routine maintenance cycles, instead of taking a router out of commission to add new hardware, Burke says.

The routers also enable organizations to better manage their power consumption and costs through switch modules that include the company's EnergyWise software for power efficiency. EnergyWise debuted early this year for Cisco's Catalyst LAN switches to allow users to be able to control Power over Ethernet-connected devices and track energy consumption.

The routers support Cisco IOS Release 15, the most recent version of the company's routing software, which features enhanced security, voice support and manageability, and license-based activation for faster deployment of services.

Cisco is also introducing a fixed-configuration version of its ASR 1000 edge router. The ASR 1002-F is designed for small-scale WAN aggregation, private WAN and Internet edge applications. It features four integral Gigabit Ethernet ports and 4 Gigabytes of memory.

The ISR G2 1900 starts at $1,595; the 2900 at $1,995; and the 3900 at $9,500. Services ready engine modules start at $1,000, and the video DSP modules start at $800. EnergyWise switching modules start at $1,295.

The 3900, 2900 and 1900 will eventually succeed the first generation ISR 3800, 2800 and 1800 platforms. Ninety percent of the interface modules can be carried forward to the new routers, and Cisco believes the transition period to the ISR G2 line will take two years or more.

The base price for the ASR1002-F is $20,000. All products are expected to be available in November.

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