The market for small branch office routers is hotting up, with both Cisco and 3Com introducing new products for linking branches to corporate networks.
Cisco has launched a line of branch office routers that offer integrated IP voice support, data caching, security tools and other functionality integrated with the basic routing capabilities.
"Integration of voice and network security capabilities into routers is a great way to help organisations save money and time, but the addition of these features cannot be allowed to negatively affect network performance," said Jeff Wilson, an analyst at Infonetics Research.
To avoid such problems, the Cisco 1800 Series, Cisco 2800 Series and Cisco 3800 Series integrated services routers have been bundled with increased memory and CPU capacity to cope with the new features, which were previously only available as optional extras.
Integrated IP support to allow firms to use voice over IP systems should enable companies to reduce their implementation costs in this area, particularly as branch office workers will be able to add and change IP phones on their own without having to use central IT support.
Norbert D"hne, head of projects communication services at airline Lufthansa, said, "We have been impressed with the enhanced security capabilities of the Cisco integrated services routers in our evaluation and believe they could help provide a scalable platform for a number of projects.
"As we expand our network infrastructure to support innovative projects, such as voice over IP, this requirement for security without performance degradation is a key benefit to us."
Following its acquisition of Netscreen Technologies earlier this year, Cisco rival Juniper Networks plans to integrate some of Netscreen's security technology into its routers. Juniper's move is one reason why extra security features have been bundled into the new Cisco line, a company spokesman admitted.
However, the move to bundle more features seems to contradict Cisco's stated intention of simplifying the operation of its routers by stripping out features that are not required by all users.
Mike Volpi, senior vice-president and general manager of Cisco's Routing Technology Group, said, "By embedding and integrating security, voice, and video services inside the router, customers gain modularity and adaptability.
"And because these services are built right into the router's motherboard, the router's 'real estate' is increased by freeing up the network modules and interface cards that were formerly used for those services.
"As a result, customers have more flexibility in the type and number of services they deploy, both today and in the future."
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3Com extends its entry-level family
3Com has extended its branch office router range with the entry-level 3000 DSL family of products.
The range consists of six new router models that are set to compete with Cisco's existing 82x/83x routers.
Service providers deploying DSL-based managed business-class services can use the Router 3000 DSL line to give users advanced features, such as quality of service standards and firewall security.
Unlike on competing Cisco products, ISDN back-up interfaces are included on some models.
All models include 64Mbytes of operating memory and a software suite including routing, VPN and security.