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Cisco targets SMBs with VoIP-friendly routers

When they debut tomorrow, Cisco's new line of speedy small office routers will be able to support VoIP deployments without bogging down. It's the latest move in an all-in-one device strategy that Cisco hopes will keep it a step ahead of its competitors.

Tomorrow Cisco Systems Inc. will announce an upgrade to its small business and branch office line of routers, incorporating more processing speed and a raft of new features.

The new 1800, 2800 and 3800 routers will be capable of routing packets at wire speed with all of their various services turned on, a weak point for Cisco's previous 1700, 2700 and 3700 router lines, said Burton Group research director Dave Passmore.

"The current line of routers ran out of gas when all the features were turned on," Passmore said. He said Cisco's new routers now stack up more competitively against rival vendors like Juniper Networks Inc., whose similar routers did provide better throughput.

In addition, Cisco has built new features into its Internet Operating System, allowing users to deploy many functions from a single box, said Jeanne Dunn, senior director in Cisco's product and technology marketing group.

The company's router now supports modules for voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a dynamic multi-point IPSec VPN, intrusion detection, a firewall, network monitoring, a content engine and others.

The 3800 series router runs at up to T3 speeds with all its services activated, and supports up to 240 IP phones. The 2800 supports T1 speeds and up to 96 IP phones. The 1800 supports only security features and accommodates T1/DSL data rates.

Such a combination of features can be appealing to branch offices and small businesses, which often don't have the staff or expertise to manage a number of appliances from different vendors, said Meta Group senior analyst David Wills.

The ability to enable VoIP in addition to routing was what drew Minneapolis-based investment firm RBC Dain Rauscher Inc. to the new routers. The company has 180 offices and had been testing VoIP in five of those locations.

Now that Cisco's new routers allow it to integrate VoIP with a router, the company plans to deploy VoIP to all of its remote offices, said Rich Blasing, managing director of infrastructure services at RBC.

"Having all these features in one box makes deployment easier," said Blasing. "You don't have all these heterogeneous systems to worry about."

After testing the Cisco 2800 series router, Blasing is confident that his company's VoIP deployment will achieve a 20% savings over what it currently pays for a traditional phone system. Most of those savings are in service costs for user-related moves, add-ins and changes.

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Cisco is targeting the small and medium-sized market because businesses increasingly want to deploy more complex applications in branch offices and small business locations, Dunn said.

"Medium-sized offices increasingly rely on the network to get applications from corporate data centers," said Wills, and that makes a single network device with so many features appealing.

The 3800 series router costs between $13,500 and $9,500. The 2800 sells for between $6,495 and $1995. The 1800 series sells for $1,395.

But Cisco faces some competition in the branch office market. Juniper has already integrated some security features into its router. 3Com Corp. offers businesses a lower cost alternative. But neither company has as many features as Cisco, Wills said.

Companies are looking for security, affordability and features, Wills added, and Cisco's new product is certainly the most feature-rich and leads the pack on security.

"This is Cisco's market to lose," he said.

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