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Can unified branch services rival Cisco?

While some products offer similar functions, one analyst suggests looking under the hood for an emerging type of device that defies the boundaries of all current categories.

A new product segment surfacing in the router market proves the adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover," says one expert.

Keith Nissen, senior analyst with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based In-Stat/MDR, earlier this year predicted the emergence of office-in-a-box type "business gateway" devices in his SOHO and Enterprise Router Market Update report.

According to Nissen, VoIP migrations are spurring branch offices and small and midsized businesses to convert to gateway devices that function as a VoIP gateway, data router, firewall, IP PBX and Wi-Fi access point.

In recent months, companies have continued to deploy more multiservice gateway devices, rather than standard routers, at the branch office.. Cisco Systems Inc. is among the companies aiming to serve this market with its integrated services routers (ISRs).

Nissen said NetDevices Inc.'s SG-8 Unified Services Gateway (USG), announced this week, is not only a "business gateway" device; it's defining the category.

"After publishing [the report], I became aware of NetDevices. The USG fits the definition of a business gateway better than any product on the market," he said. "I believe it constitutes a new product segment."

Mark Weiner, senior director of marketing with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetDevices, said the USG unifies processing and management of remote enterprise services as well as always-available and -accessible performance.

Nissen said that while the Cisco ISR and USG share many of the same characteristics, Cisco is not interested in selling fewer boxes. It prefers the ISR to be optimized for selected functions, he said, not configured with all available functions.

Conversely, the USG is designed to allow remote monitoring and management at the module level. According to Nissen, most multiservice devices support some performance monitoring at the system level, but cannot drill down into a module to analyze performance of specific functions.

But, he said, the USG is different and does allow that capability; therefore, businesses minimize the number of devices that need to be remotely managed and can better isolate the root of problems such as security policies and throughput.

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In addition, Nissen said the USG's fault tolerance comes in handy when converging all communications into a single box.

For instance, he said IP PBX deployment currently requires two weeks of testing to ensure proper integration with a businesses data network. For a branch office, this is not feasible or cost effective, so a pre-configured office-in-a-box product is replacing all or most existing network devices.

Nissen said other next-generation multiservice products similar to the USG are coming to market in 2005 and 2006.

Available now, NetDevices' SG-8 USG starts at $14,990.

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