Cisco's next-gen ISR branch office routers deliver video, horsepower

Cisco's next-generation integrated services routers (ISRs) offer more service capacity, faster WAN speeds and branch office video capabilities.

In response to the evolving requirements that enterprises have for branch office routers, Cisco Systems has launched its second-generation line of integrated services routers (ISRs).

The ISR G2 is Cisco's first major upgrade to its vastly successful branch office router line since its initial 2004 launch. The new routers have more horsepower, simpler configuration and maintenance requirements, and video capabilities.

First of all, the new ISRs simply have more capacity and speed, allowing enterprises to deploy up to seven times the number of service modules that the first-generation ISRs could hold. This will allow enterprises to deploy more applications from Cisco and third-party vendors directly from the ISR box rather than having to maintain servers and other appliances in the branch office. These multi-purpose computing and storage modules allow remote deployment of these applications without onsite configuration. Cisco has also pumped up WAN performance from 45 Mbps to 150 Mbps in the very highest-end ISR models.

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"In the past, a lot of ISR customers ultimately ran out of space because they put a lot of modules in," said Robert Whiteley, principal analyst and research director at Forrester Research. "There are only so many slots, so as you're trying to light up all these great services, it [becomes] more of a pick list. With the platform upgrade, they can accommodate more of those services, and many of the services are more baked into the actual base router itself. Security, for example, gets more heavily assisted. This is important because, from our perspective, only about 40% of these services were getting turned on – not because they weren't available or didn't work or because of the performance hit, but because of simple space constraints."

New Jersey-based healthcare sales and services company inVentiv Health ran up against this capacity problem with its deployment of first-generation ISRs, according to Sean Burke, vice president of network operations. Across 30 remote sites, inVentiv has deployed 50 ISRs.

"We have a number of sites where we have one ISR that functions as a WAN router and another ISR that functions as a voice gateway," Burke said. "Then we have a couple of small switches, and we have a separate device for WAAS [wide area application services], just because there wasn't enough capacity in the first-generation ISR to fit everything we want. We see an opportunity in some of those sites to collapse some of that into a single platform, which has tremendous cost savings for us. We don't have to maintain it, we don't have to deal with multiple upgrades, and we can do a lot more things remotely. A lot of efficiencies are coming with this second-generation ISR."

Whiteley said operational efficiency is also a key element of the new ISR branch routers.

"They clearly went back and rethought some of the administrative and configuration," he said. "You can do a lot of zero-touch upgrades. So there is a bit of an automation angle in this, which is still a sore point in the networking industry, given how high-touch and high-configuration so many of the products are."

Burke said the ability to have multiple services running on a router and the ability to ramp up services natively without having to add hardware is a big boon for him.

"Right now, with the first-generation ISR, if we want to add a service module, we have to take the router down," he said. "It looks like you can add functionality on the fly with the new generation."

Finally, the ISR G2 expands its media capabilities from voice to video with a video digital signal processor.

"[Cisco] has made this part of their vision for video, which is clearly part of Cisco's DNA now," Whiteley said. "I think that's important because so many companies today still think of video as an overlay in their network, and they don't re-work some of the plumbing. This goes beyond traffic engineering."

At inVentiv Health, the business let IT know that there was an increased need for high-definition (HD) video-conferencing services, both between branch offices and for remote workers looking to connect with offices and customers, Burke said. He will be testing the new video capabilities of the ISR G2 to see how it works with his current video conferencing vendor, LifeSize.

There are three categories of ISR G2 routers. The entry-level 1900 Series is ideal for small offices requiring service virtualization and basic secure mobility. It offers up to 25 Mbps WAN connectivity. The 2900 Series delivers up to Telepresence-level video services, service virtualization, and up to 75 Mbps for midsized branches. The 3900 Series offers high-density service module capacity and up to 150 Mpbs with WAN optimization, unified communications, video and customized applications.

The ISR G2 1900 Series starts at $1,595, the 2900 starts at $1,995, and the 3900 starts at $9,500.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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