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Cisco, 3Com fire up new WAN routers

Sep 13, 20046 mins
Cisco SystemsNetwork SecurityNetworking

Cisco this week is scheduled to announce a complete refresh of its enterprise WAN access routers, promising customers a menu of faster and more reliable hardware for running security and VoIP services at the WAN edge. This week 3Com will launch a high-end edge router aimed at undercutting Cisco on price. The box is derived from 3Com’s joint venture with Huawei.

Cisco this week is scheduled to announce a complete refresh of its enterprise WAN access routers, promising customers a menu of faster and more reliable hardware for running security and VoIP services at the WAN edge.

Cisco’s new 1800, 2800 and 3800 Integrated Service Routers will combine VoIP, VPN, firewall and intrusion-detection system (IDS) support. Customers today have to add these capabilities with modules and IOS software upgrades. The boxes will replace current 1700, 2600 and 3700 offerings and deliver more services with better performance in one platform, Cisco says.

Despite its 80% enterprise router market share, Cisco faces more competition than ever and needs this refresh to counter the momentum of Juniper, which announced its first corporate edge products in May.

Cisco also has to worry about low-cost competition from Asia. This week 3Com will launch a high-end edge router aimed at undercutting Cisco on price. The box is derived from 3Com’s joint venture with Huawei.

“Clearly, the router wars are on,” says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group. Over the past few months, Adtran, Juniper and Foundry Networks launched products that compete with those of Cisco, which made $5 billion in router sales last year. Other players include Enterasys Networks and Nortel.

For Cisco, the 1800, 2800 and 3800 routers represent the broadest upgrade to its enterprise router line in two years. Cisco says the new routers address two major concerns of customers: the upgrade costs associated with stacking service modules into previous router platforms; and reliability concerns about VPN, IDS, firewall, VoIP and other services running on a single processor in one box.

The 2800 series was tested this month on the WAN of RBC Dain Rauscher, a Minneapolis retail brokerage firm, owned by RBC Financial Group in Toronto. The firm, which has dual 2600s deployed throughout its 180 offices in the U.S., plans to upgrade its routers to the 2821 for an upcoming IP telephony deployment.

RBC runs firewall services and some VoIP on its 2600s now, says Rich Blesing, managing director of infrastructure services for RBC. But deploying the 2800s “will help cut the expense and the labor that goes into upgrading routers,” he says, because voice and security services are built in.

Users and analysts familiar with Cisco routers say that adding security and voice features – through IOS and memory upgrades – and adding service modules can drive up the cost of a box by anywhere from 50% to 100% the device’s list price. In large businesses distributed across multiple sites with hundreds or thousands of routers, those costs can add up fast.

Cisco says its routers now run embedded processing for VoIP and IPSec VPN encryption, as well as IOS firewall packet inspection and IDS functions. These services previously ran on various service modules fitted into older routers, and they used the router’s CPU more heavily. The new architecture lets the embedded services talk directly to the router’s system memory, freeing up the router CPU for faster packet routing. This leaves room for more service blades, such as content networking, integrated Unity voice mail or network management modules. Four- and nine-port Ethernet switch modules are available for the routers, which let smaller offices further consolidate equipment.

The 1800-3800 series includes up to five times the standard memory shipped with previous 1700-3700 series routers, Cisco says. A new IOS version – IOS 12.3.8T – also is part of the new product line.

Pricing for Cisco’s Integrated Services Router 3800 series ranges from $9,500 to $13,500. The 2800 series is priced from $1,700 to $6,500, and the 1800 series will start at $1,400.

3Com offerings

3Com, meanwhile, will uncover its 6000 series router, which includes built-in security and fast packet processing. But the vendor says its router – starting at $7,000 – will cost 30% to 50% less than similar Cisco offerings.

3Com is pitching the 6000 series routers at businesses that want security features included as standard. The company says it is offering an alternative to what it calls the “nickel-and-dime” upgrades Cisco customers must go through to build WAN connectivity, firewall and VPN into one edge device. (Cisco says it addresses this issue with its new offerings.)

The 6000 includes eight slots for WAN interface cards, with support for T-1, T-3 and DS-3 blades. Software support is included for firewall, IPSec VPN, denial-of-service attack blocking (via attack signature recognition), and support for Layer 2 and Layer 3 MPLS tagging. The new box adds to 3Com’s other Huawei-based Router 5000 WAN boxes, announced last year.

The Ventura Unified School District in California runs a 3Com-based Gigabit Ethernet metropolitan-area network over fiber, which connects 26 schools and other facilities. The network replaced a frame relay WAN consisting of Cisco 2600 routers two years ago. For the few buildings not on the fiber grid, the district uses 3Com Router 5000 series devices with multiple T-3 lines.

The school district previously used Cisco 2600 series routers in its schools connected via frame relay. Ted Malos, IT director for the school district, says he looked at a Cisco 3700 series router with a T-3 card, which cost about $13,000, but chose the 3Com Router 5000 because it offered nearly equal functionality for about $7,400. As the school expands to more sites that don’t have access to fiber, he says he would consider upgrading to the Router 6000 series to support multi-T-3 sites.

Malos says the only issues with the 3Com routers involved support for Cisco-based protocols.

“It appeared they would support some proprietary Cisco protocols, such as [Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol],” when he first looked at the 3Com routers, Malos says. “In the end, Cisco’s attorneys made certain they didn’t.”

Cisco sued Huawei last year for using EIGRP, and Huawei took the protocol out as part of a court settlement. Malos says it would have been nice to have EIGRP running, which simplifies how routers identify each other on a WAN, but his staff worked around the issue.

While 3Com pushes hard into Cisco’s turf, the routing leader is eyeing Juniper more warily, as its biggest high-end router competition also moves into the enterprise WAN edge market. After acquiring security appliance vendor NetScreen Technologies, Juniper released its J-Series WAN edge routers in June, which will compete with Cisco’s 1700-3700 and the 1800-3800 series. The J-Series is scheduled to ship this month.

Juniper says its routers offer customers better security and software reliability than Cisco’s, because Juniper’s Junos software has a modular-based architecture. This makes the code more reliable and easier to upgrade and maintain, Juniper says.

While not directly referring to Juniper, Jeanne Dunn, a Cisco marketing director, says, “we’re seeing competition trying to enter the enterprise market from the service provider space. But they’re coming in at a technology level that’s three or four years behind what we’re doing now.”

Cisco’s 1800, 2800 and 3800 Integrated Service Routers are scheduled to ship this month. 3Com’s Router 6000 is shipping now and starts at $7,000 for the chassis. Juniper’s J-Series also is expected to ship this month.