Simplifying the branch office infrastructure

* Growing range of options and services for simplifying the branch office

IT executives interviewed for Nemertes’ upcoming benchmark, Building a Successful Virtual Workplace, have told us that on average, branch offices have five separate network and telecom classes of devices, typically consisting of a router, Ethernet switch, PBX, file/print server, wireless access point, and firewall or VPN gateway. Branch offices may have more than one of each class of device depending on site size, resiliency, and security requirements.

Enterprises are telling us that they are seeking to reduce devices in order to limit cost, complexity, and support requirements for their branch locations. Fortunately, vendors are getting this message, and opportunities for consolidating necessary branch office functions into a smaller number of devices are growing.

Approaches vary, one class of device that has emerged in recent years is the “branch in a box,” which consolidates functionality such as routing, Ethernet switching, wireless access capabilities, security, and often network optimization capabilities such as compression or rate shaping into a single manageable platform.

In the VoIP space, Cisco has long touted its “Survivable Remote Site Telephony” and “CallManager Express,” software-based applications that can be run on existing Cisco routers, as key differentiators from its competitors. Other vendors are following the same approach, witness Juniper and Avaya’s recent announcement of Avaya branch office gateway modules that can be integrated into Juniper’s J-series of routers.

Many enterprises we’ve interviewed are also looking to move file/print services out of branch locations, taking advantage of wide-area file services (WAFS). But the use of WAFS places new requirements on the network for resiliency and guaranteed application performance. Once file/print services are removed from a branch, the branch becomes dependent on the WAN for even the most basic of computing services. Fortunately products to support WAFS continue to grow in number and capabilities. Cisco embeds its WAN Application Engine in its branch office routers. Juniper’s acquisition of Peribit in 2005 was driven in a large part by the need to support WAFS.

So as enterprises continue to look for ways to simplify branch office networks they will find an expanding range of options and services. Keep close tabs on this growing market space.

Irwin Lazar, Principal Research Analyst and Program Director, Collaboration & Convergence, Nemertes Research. Reach him at:

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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