Why just buy a router when you can buy a network? That's the message underlying Cisco Systems' new access routers announced last month. The 3800 series enterprise branch office routers and the 2800 series small branch office routers can ship with intrusion detection and prevention, firewall, NAT, Ethernet switching, and low-end IP PBX and call center applications. The 1800 series small-to-medium-sized business routers don't support voice functionality.
Inevitably, this announcement will be compared to Juniper Networks' access router announcement made last June (see "Juniper Networks' J-series," Product Roadmap, July 2004). The two reflect very different approaches to the problem of TCO for remote sites. Cisco focuses on the enterprise's TCO challenge of managing and deploying multiple infrastructure applications at remote sites.
Juniper's J-series, on the other hand, is carrier-focused, aimed at lowering carrier TCO by employing a common OS (JUNOS) across a carrier's core and access routers. Juniper announced plans to integrate applications into its access router, but as we noted in July the company's lack of portfolio breadth is hindering those efforts.
While Cisco has the portfolio, performance and reliability problems have dissuaded IT architects from implementing applications in the router. Cisco aims to address the former through a redesigned hardware platform that it claims can reach 400Mbits/sec in throughput. ASIC and Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technologies are used to boost packet and voice processing performance.
Cisco's bigger challenge may be in the potential availability risks of centralizing functionality in a single routing platform. While Cisco has invested much in the applications that run within the access router, the stability and functionality of IOS is another matter. IOS doesn't contain the advanced modularity found in Cisco's new carrier-grade OS, the IOS XR, and Juniper's JUNOS. In-line upgrades and enhancements aren't possible on all modules, which may limit IT an architect's ability to migrate individual software components within the routers.