Cisco ISR-AX: Cheaper Branch Router with Bundled Layer 4-7 Services

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Faced with branch router competition from the likes of Juniper Networks and HP, Cisco dropped the prices of its Integrated Services Routers (ISR) and will start shipping the devices with a standard bundle of security, WAN optimization and application performance management technology.

Cisco rolled out the ISR-AX line, which takes existing ISR G2 models 3900, 2900 and 1900 and adds a security software license for VPN, firewall and intrusion prevention, as well as software-based Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) WAN optimization, application visibility and control, and WAN path management. Also included is the Cisco Services-Ready Engine processing hardware or additional random access memory to run the software.Cisco ISR-AX line

The ISR-AX is a new brand of branch routers based on Cisco’s popular ISR-G2 hardware, but it ships with a package of advanced services that typically require additional license activations. Cisco ISR-AX includes a security package with firewall, intrusion prevention and Secure Sockets Layer VPN functions. It also includes an application performance and visibility package with Cisco’s WAN optimization product, Wide Area Applications Services, as well as Application Visibility and Control (AVC), a suite of service management technology based on stateful deep packet inspection and NetFlow v9. 

The consolidation of Layer 4-7 services on the ISR will make it easier for customers to deliver good application performance to workers in branch offices, which is becoming important as the nature of branches change, said Andre Kindness, principal analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

“These offices are getting smaller, but there is a lot more variety of people in them,” he said. “These are no longer just sales offices. We see marketing, HR and even engineers in a generic office, which changes the types of applications running there. So you need not just routing but application visibility to make on-the-fly decisions [about Quality of Service].”

These bundled technologies on the ISR-AX should also allow enterprises to simplify their WAN architecture and ready them to use cloud services. Today many enterprises backhaul all Internet traffic from branches through a central data center. As they embrace more cloud services, they want to reduce the amount of traffic they backhaul and connect those branches directly to the Internet.

“We’re hearing about this across the board,” said Brad Casemore, research director for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “People are looking at going from private cloud to public cloud and cloud bursting, and they need to align service level agreements and network and security services.”

Boxwood, a provider of online career services for professional associations, has three ISR-G2 routers deployed on its MPLS network, with Cisco’s AVC technology enabled. “[AVC] helps us prove that the network is not to blame for performance issues,” said Will Bordeau, systems administrator with Boxwood. “We get a lot of complaints about slowness [with an internally developed application], but with AVC enabled, I can see that there are no retransmissions on the network — no latency or congestion. So it’s more to do with back-end application performance. It helps us point troubleshooting in the right direction.”

While enterprises need more advanced security and application services in a branch router, they don’t want to add too much management overhead to the branch infrastructure.

“Having all this consolidated on a single box makes it much more scalable for customers,” said Raahkee Mistry, senior marketing solutions manager with Cisco. “If you do this with point products, you have integration challenges and manageability challenges.”

Vendors in general are converging network devices from Layer 2 through 7 to reduce cost and complexity, Kindness said.

In addition to the bundled services, Cisco’s ISR-AX series will be cheaper than the ISR-G2 devices Cisco currently sells. For instance, the ISR-G2 2951 had a list price of $17,695. The ISR-AX 2951 — based on the same hardware, but with the additional security and application services — has a list price of $12,900. The ISR-G2 3945 was listed at $24,495, and now the ISR-AX 3945 sells at $19,700.

“From our conversations and from early response [to this product], we know that this is a price-elastic market,” said Cisco’s Mistry, who compared the lower-priced platform, with security and applications services enabled, to a fast food restaurant’s happy meal. “Price has made it very difficult for customers to [use] this type of technology where they really needed it. They have had to make very selective choices on where they deploy it.”

“Cisco needs to stay ahead of their competitors from a commodity standpoint and put more value into that router so Juniper and HP don’t take any more market share away from them.”

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