Cisco is retiring three of its multi-service router platforms, including the 2600 - one of the most widely-deployed WAN products for enterprise branches and mid-size businesses.
Cisco's end-of-life announcement for its 1700, 2600 and 3700 series of router platforms isn't catching users by surprise.
Cisco recently said it will stop selling these platforms in March 2007. Among them, the 2600 is one of Cisco's most widely deployed products, with more than 2 million units shipped. Technical support will continue for the devices until 2012. With plenty of time, users say they've already started to upgrade, but such moves will be gradual.
The bell began tolling for the 1700, 2600 and 3700 series two years ago, when Cisco released its Integrated Services Router (ISR) line - including the 1800, 2800 and 3800 series. Large Cisco shops that rely on hundreds of 2600s as the base of their WAN infrastructure have been preparing slowly for the changeover.
"We're in the process of swapping out our 2600s right now," says Dick Emford, lead network analyst for plastics manufacturer Newell Rubbermaid of Freeport, Ill. The company, which has more than 250 Cisco 2600s installed, has migrated around 30% of its WAN to the ISR 2800, with 2600s making up the other 70%.
"We saw this coming a long time ago, and we've gradually been swapping them out," Emford says of the 2600s. He says the ISRs provide better performance and more features and cost roughly the same. "Under the covers, the ISRs have more memory and lots of built-in features for security and VoIP; it's just a better box."
To ease migration, Newell Rubbermaid prestages all the ISR 2800s it deploys with IOS configurations similar to the retiring 2600s', and tests the newer boxes for backwards compatibility with protocols and services running on the older routers.
"It's not really an issue for us," he says of the swap-out.
The 2600-to-2800 series migration also is happening slowly at Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., which uses more than 50 of the 2600 series routers across its worldwide Frame Relay and IP VPN networks.
"We don't have a regularly scheduled upgrade or refresh cycle for our routers," says John Parsons, project manager for Kodak Global Telecommunications, Worldwide Information Systems. "A lot of our routers come from the service providers, who give them to us as part of a managed service, so we rely on them to make a lot of those changes."
With IT budgets tightening, getting funding for a wide-scale upgrade is hard anyway, he adds. "We're taking [older Cisco routers] out gradually as they need to be replaced."
As with Rubbermaid, prestaging and testing gear is essential, Parsons says. When making such changes to a WAN, administrators must prepare for network downtime and potential issues with new technology, he says.
"There may be IOS versions in the newer equipment that may not support features you had before, so that has to be examined and figured out beforehand," he says.
Cisco watchers say the move from the 2600 series to the ISR 2800 is another step in the vendor's goal to make routers a valuable and strategic technology for business, instead of a commodity product.
"The 2600 was a workhorse for Cisco, but it's time for a refresh," says Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects. "Part of the issue is that the 2600 was never really a platform," he says. "You sold it, it was installed out in the field, and you never really touched it again; it's hard for Cisco to sell into that."
The ISR 2800 series offers more expansion options - such as modules that add VoIP, built-in IP PBX and voice mail, caching, firewalls, and intrusion-detection and intrusion-prevention capabilities - all without taxing processor and memory power for core WAN routing, Dzubeck says.
Cisco says its ISR line, introduced in 2004, has reached more than $1 billion in sales, and the vendor has shipped more than 500,000 ISRs - the fastest single product run rate in the company's history.
While this has helped Cisco keep its more than 70% market share in enterprise WAN routing, the company also has seen a ramp-up in competition from Juniper with the release of its SSG - an integrated Juniper WAN router and NetScreen firewall. Nortel's acquisition of enterprise router maker Tasman Networks last year and Alcatel's recent launch of its OmniAccess WAN router series also are attempts to dig into Cisco's base.