Cisco targets branch offices

By Kevin Komiega

Cisco recently introduced additions to its branch office product family, including an integrated hardware and software solution that promises to aid in the consolidation of branch office server, storage, and backup systems and to boost the performance of TCP-based applications across WANs.

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The new package combines Cisco’s Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) networking software-which enables WAN optimization, application acceleration, and wide area file services (WAFS) functionality-with a new network module for running the WAAS software on Cisco’s Integrated Services Router (ISR).

The WAAS software uses WAFS technology and WAN optimization techniques, including data compression, redundancy elimination, transport optimization, caching, and content distribution to keep branch office applications humming. Cisco claims its WAAS solution overcomes WAN latency, thereby letting IT organizations consolidate distributed branch servers, storage, and backup systems without performance degradation.

Mark Weiner, Cisco’s director of marketing for application solutions, says the new branch office package is built on Cisco’s existing WAFS technology and now allows users to better manage IT operations in remote locations by taking advantage of the Cisco networking products they already have installed.

“We integrated this so that customers can extend the Cisco architecture out to branch offices without having to change the way they configure their networks or the way they do business,” says Weiner.

Cisco is betting that a large number of its more than one million ISR hardware customers with remote office locations will take advantage of the new network module, but the company is also offering the WAAS solution as a stand-alone appliance based on Cisco’s Wide-Area Application Engine (WAE) line of network appliances.

The WAAS technology is designed to work in tandem with Cisco’s Application Networking Service to transparently support thousands of branch offices and millions of TCP connections with potential performance of up to 16Gbps in a load-balanced deployment.

Cisco’s argument for the need for WAAS technology is that the major obstacle facing most enterprise consolidation and centralization projects is the impact of latency and application performance over the WAN. This argument is shared by competitors such as Brocade, Packeteer, and Riverbed, each of which offers some combination of WAFS and WAN optimization appliances and software for branch office IT management.

William Hurley, a senior analyst with the Data Mobility Group consulting and research firm, says Cisco’s WAAS approach to branch office consolidation and WAN optimization is heavily protocol-oriented versus the file-focused style used by competitors such as Brocade.

“Cisco’s approach is transport- and protocol-driven, while Brocade’s is a Windows-driven solution,” says Hurley. “They have two distinct styles, but there is a high degree of parity. If you’re a Windows shop you might be more likely to look at a Brocade style deployment, but if your organization has a lot of in-house Cisco expertise it might be prudent to adopt the Cisco approach.”

Cisco’s WAAS solution includes the WAAS software and WAE appliances, as well as new network modules (WAE-NMs) that integrate with several models of Cisco’s ISRs, such as the 2800, 3700, and 3800 series. Pricing for the appliance-based branch office solution starts at $8,500; network modules, to be priced from $4,000, will be available later this year.

This article was originally published on October 01, 2006