Cisco's New Line Promises Easier Branch Office Integration

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Confession time: I don't really keep up with the hardware and network stuff. I mean, I skim through our Archi-TECH blog, which covers network architecture, each week. I scan the tech headlines. And I'm a sucker for all things security -- hey, my dad was a cop and I covered the police beat back in my print days.

But, by and large, if it involves connecting a router, server or PC to the network, then I'm easily distracted. I admit it: I may not be that up on integration issues at the hardware level.

Still, even I know if there's an easier way to integrate branch offices into the corporate network, lower the total cost of ownership for branch hardware, and provide better connectivity.

And that's exactly what Cisco promised, according to Sci-Tech Today, when it announced its new Empowered Branch line, a collection of products that promise easier network integration at branch offices.

The line is capitalizing on the corporate trend -- now at least six years old -- to "get closer to customers" by moving business leaders into branch locations, according to Nick Lippis, a communications consultant and president of Lippis Enterprises. Lippis told eWEEK the trend dates back to 2000, when the market crashed.

So, Cisco's a bit late on responding, but my guess is, there are still a lot of branch offices that will be very glad to hear about this offering.

The idea is that companies would be able to buy Cisco's product and ship it to branch offices, where it could be plugged in and work out of the box. Any updates could then be handled at central IT.

Here's what's included and how each will support branch offices:

  • Cisco 1861 Integrated Services Router (ISR). Supports up to eight users; combines Unified Communications with a secure router and support for VoIP.
  • Catalyst 2960 Series Switches with LAN Lite IOS Software. Designed to fit into a small wiring closet. Cisco says the 2960 switches will also lower the cost of ownership for branch office networks by simplifying management of such things as network configuration, monitoring and troubleshooting. According to eWEEK, LAN Lite offers IPv6 support, but with fewer quality of service functions in the new switches, which lowers costs.
  • Intrusion Prevention System Advanced Integration Module (IPS AIM) for the ISR. Stops malicious traffic from entering the branch network, but also protects the corporate WAN from viruses caught at the branch. eWEEK reports the new NAC module provides an entry point at 50 to 100 users. The cost is lower, too, starting at $3,500 per branch versus the $9,995 for an entry-level appliance.
  • IOS Performance Routing (PfR) and High-End Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) Network Module. These tools are designed with an eye toward the traffic bottlenecks branch offices can encounter. Cisco says the ISO Performance Routing will optimize network routes. The WAAS module lets branches consolidate servers into a data center, but without the performance hit remote users generally experience, says Cisco, according to Sci-Tech Today.
  • Wireless LAN Controller support for IEEE 802.11n. Cisco's press release notes this will allow "smooth migration path to new wireless technologies and services, while preserving existing investment."
  • Cisco Unified Messaging Gateway. Supports routing of voice mail messages and the exchange of subscriber information for up to 10,000 voice mail systems, according to Sci-Tech Today.