Cisco's New NetSec Hotrods Run Linux Under The Hood

Cisco is launching a major new push into the small-business network security market. And Linux lies at the heart of the company's strategy.

Matt McKenzie

September 16, 2009

2 Min Read
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Cisco is launching a major new push into the small-business network security market. And Linux lies at the heart of the company's strategy.This week, Cisco released a line of all-in-one security appliances designed for companies with fewer than 100 employees. Its SA 500 series routers combine firewall and VPN capabilities with optional Web security and cloud-based email security offerings.

The product line currently includes three models. An entry-level model with four LAN ports and support for 2 SSL seats or 50 IPsec VPN tunnels retails for around $400. The same model with WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) support will cost around $100 more. And a high-end model with eight LAN ports and additional VPN capacity costs around $600.

(Cisco's SA 500 rollout, by the way, is just part of a bigger strategy aimed at winning a bigger share of the small-business networking market.)

What makes this hardware different from Cisco's enterprise network security products? Obviously, capacity is a big issue; all three SA 500 models, for example, offer a firewall throughput capacity of 200-300 Mbps and IPsec throughput of 65-85 Mbps. Look under the hood, however, and you'll find another important difference.

Cisco uses its IOS operating system to power its enterprise-class networking products. IOS is an outstanding OS; it's powerful and reliable, and it is incredibly flexible in the hands of a knowledgeable professional.

IOS, however, is also a relatively demanding and complex OS choice. Cisco's enterprise resellers typically invest a great deal of time and effort mastering IOS, and many big enterprise customers employ full-time IOS experts in their IT departments.

This time around, Cisco is using a customized Linux distro to power the SA 500. It's a move that allows the company to build functional, highly reliable network security hardware while still differentiating its small-business and enterprise product lines. More resellers are also likely to have existing Linux expertise, although these devices will also work perfectly well out of the box for most small-business users.

Of course, Cisco also owns Linksys, which sells consumer-grade residentail gateways. While Linksys hardware isn't intended for small-business use, it's worth noting that the company's WRT54G series of gateways is well-known for its ability to work with open-source, third-party firmware that often gives these products an impressive performance boost.

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