Cisco revamps the router

Defending its position atop the market for enterprise routers, Cisco optimizes its latest entrant for upcoming advancements in the market.

In the words of John Travolta and Oliva Netwon John, Cisco and enterprise routers "go together like rama lama lama ka dinga dong." This is the business that kicked off the company’s incredible rise to where it is today. It’s also the part of the business that comes under fire as being the most vulnerable to competition. Cisco has greater than 90% share in the enterprise router market, and has by far the highest price points in the industry. Many have tried to take share, at what should be some low-hanging fruit, but all have failed. Why? Because Cisco flat out makes the best router and has never taken its eye off the router ball.

Today, Cisco announced its latest enterprise router, the Integrated Services Router with Application Experience, or ISR-AX, which is the evolution of the widely deployed ISR G2, the latest in a long line of enterprise routers including the ISR, x800 (3800, 2800, 1800, 800)/x600/x500 series routers.

The ISR AX was built for the upcoming cloud computing world as it’s loaded with security and application optimization features. All data traffic into and out of a branch must pass through the router, so its role in the application experience is arguably the most important one in the network.

Historically, the router connected branches to a central location in a hub-and-spoke model where all applications were served up through the data center. This isn’t the case any more where some applications are moving to the cloud. Many companies have started to migrate the Internet edge to the branch edge, which creates better network efficiency but causes different security and application experience challenges. ISR AX is designed to help alleviate these challenges by converging its core routing and security capabilities with integrated layer 4-7 technologies such as WAN optimization and network visibility and monitoring tools. This moves capabilities that were once found only in the data center to the branch edge to accommodate the shifting Internet edge.

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. 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.

I’m also a big fan of the performance monitoring capabilities in the ISR AX. I’ve written on this topic many, many times and I’ve said one of the keys to success in the cloud computing world is that network managers need to “know the network.” Most companies, over 75% according to ZK Research, do not have the tools to truly know the network, particularly out in the branch where deploying probes and TAPs just isn’t feasible. IRS AX gives the network manager an easy way to see what’s going on with the WAN to ensure that branch workers have as good an experience as possible.

As a network engineer, I deployed thousands of Cisco routers because they had, by far, the broadest set of features, making them the gold standard for enterprise routing. In fact, I worked at a few companies that hated Cisco and bought almost everything they could from any other vendor – except routers because, as I said, Cisco routers just do more than any competitive product.

The release of the ISR AX will allow customers to get more out of the current WAN and enable Cisco to maintain its dominance in the enterprise router market.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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