All-in-one, branch-office box ready to roll

Cutting down clutter and costs in the branch office isn't always easy, but one vendor says it has a branch-in-a-box appliance that can take the place of several appliances and rival a few popular multi-function routers.

Branch offices are tough territory. Keeping them up and running boosts operating expenses, requires added devices and can be a burden on IT staff.

Recent studies have found five major pain points tied to running a distributed network of branch offices. According to a survey conducted by Ziff-Davis Media, some of the biggest branch office concerns include downtime leading to a drop in productivity and revenue; security; cost; the productivity of the central and remote IT staff; and downtime leading to disgruntled employees.

Experts suggest that most branches typically have several different appliances for necessary services, such as caching, VoIP and intrusion detection and prevention. They also have routers, switches and firewalls leading back to headquarters. Maintaining all of these devices at office locations that are frequently understaffed can be challenging.

"We need to minimize these six-plus products we have at branch sites," said Mark Weiner, senior director of marketing for NetDevices Inc. "The branch is ripe for new architecture."

NetDevices this week introduced its SG-4 service gateway, a "branch-in-a-box" that features a multi-function router, a VoIP gateway and a firewall on one platform. The SG-4 offers similar features to the vendor's SG-8 gateway, which is intended for enterprises. The SG-4, however, is targeted at small- and mid-sized businesses.

NetDevices took a backward approach to solving branch-office clutter. First it built a platform to solve some of the pain points, then added in the services. Having varying services in one box cuts down on the number of devices needed, eliminates the need for various service contracts, and helps reduce operational costs and management time.

The SG-4 has a modular, four-slot chassis that is one rack-unit high and supports a 2 Gbps stateful firewall, a high-volume IPsec VPN, intrusion detection and prevention systems, a SIP application-layer gateway with quality of service for VoIP, high performance routing with 900 Kbps forwarding and a Layer 2 Ethernet switch.

Other major vendors offer similar products, but those don't include all of the same services. For example, Cisco Systems Inc.'s Integrated Services Routers are multi-service routers with a full firewall, VPN and routing, but do not offer hitless upgrades, remote management and scalable performance across all services. Juniper Networks also offers a multi-service router in its Secure Service Gateway, with the same features as Cisco's.

Additional features of the SG-4 gateway include:

  • The Lifeline management framework, which consists of independent, dedicated backplane and processors to guarantee accessibility and manageability of all services.
  • OnePass packet processing, which guarantees enterprise-level performance as new services are added.
  • An open, software-based architecture that easily enables the addition of new services.

"Enterprise branch networks are changing at a rapid pace, and the equipment market is changing quickly with it, as evidenced by the formal arrival of the 'services gateway' product sector," said Yankee Group vice president, Zeus Kerravala, in a statement. "NetDevices' services gateways are a cutting-edge example of next-generation branch network infrastructure."

⇒ See where branch office in a box devices are headed in this article.

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