Recession or not, Cisco will this week hit its prospective customers with a brand new router platform, the Integrated Services Router (ISR) G2. What does it do? Almost everything a remote or branch office could possible want, Cisco says.
Despite its dry-souding name, the ISR 2 is significant. Its predecessor, the ISR G1 was one of Cisco's most successful products of the last decade, selling around 7.5 million units. A lot is riding on persuading that user base to dig into its pockets for more than spare change and invest in the new world of low latency, video services such as video-conferencing, and high quality telephony that the ISR promises to deliver.
Given that the ISR 1 was around for five years, Cisco has had to totally redesign the ISR G2 in a number of ways to offer an even longer rack life given the growing reluctance to throw money in 1990's style at infrastructure for its own sake.
The family has three threads to it, from the 1900 ISR G2 (replacing the 1800 ISR G1), the 2900 ISR G2 (replacing the 2800 ISR G1), and the top-of-the-range 3900 ISR G2 (replacing the 3800 ISR G1). In ascending order these add more power, features, and a wider range of features, moving closer at each level to the backbone.
All three replace the ISR G1's single-core architecture with Intel's multi-core CPUs, and replace the old obsolete PCI internal bus with a multi-gigabit equivalent, but the biggest change for admins is probably in Cisco's IOS router software itself. In the G1, every service module had to implemented, licensed and to some extent managed separately. The new system comes with a single IOS r15 image, which means all the features are latent in every box, waiting to be paid for and turned on if needed.
"The market is looking for an extended lifecyle, so it is going to cost you less over time," insists Cisco's European product manager, Paul Melton. "The lifetime of the box has been increased."
Almost no software can harness the power of Intel's multi-core architecture yet, and that includes Cisco's IOS. According to the company, only two cores will be turned on from day one inside the ISR G2s, but the ability to access the others will come over time. This, and the upgradable Service Performance Engine I/O card, gives the ISR G2 the air of a system that could stretch as long as a decade in service with careful tendering, assuming Intel comes up with more cores in future CPUs.
The performance is claimed to be "five times" the old ISR G1, which allows businesses to distribute latency-sensitive applications such as video, VoIP, and even virtualisation to every part of the network. Important, the traffic for these services can now be separated using VLANs from other traffic, on the face of it a more convincing quality of service argument. Encryption, another key app, is now accelerated in hardware.
Power consumption is also said to be lower through a mixture of efficient power supply units and the ability to manage remote devices connected to the ISR G2 routers, turning them off when not in use.
Will businesses buy the new boxes? Almost certainly, the answer is yes. The ISR G1 is long in the tooth and few deny that the next stage of business IT will require more power to make possible the furnace of new applications such as high-definition video that will define the top businesses. Large businesses are becoming like shops built on mini Internets.
Cisco has produced a number of promotional videos for the ISR G2 hardware, including one that shows off its video capabilities.