Enterprise router buyer's guide

This tip provides a concise buyer's guide to companies and their products that compete in the enterprise and branch office routing arena, along with brief descriptions of those products and links to help you dig more deeply into something that might catch your interest.

When it comes to choosing an enterprise router many different features come into play. In fact, Ken Milberg's recent story Purchasing a new router: How, why, and which one to buy deals with related features and functions quite nicely (and you'll find pointers to other good stories in this area including one on features to look for, along with a couple of crash course stories as well).

This tip provides a concise buyer's guide to companies and their products that compete in the enterprise and branch office routing arena, along with brief descriptions of those products and links to help you dig more deeply into something that might catch your interest. Information is presented in alphabetical order by vendor (and within vendor lines, by model designations). Note also that while the list of product families below concentrates...

on out-and-out routers, nearly all the vendors mentioned also offer switching routers (or switches with routing capabilities) as well.

Vendor Product Description Supports
3COM 3COM Router 6000 Family Modular, rack mountable units. Enclosures, hot swappable interface cards, redundant power supplies, dual software images and other advanced features available. Various LAN and WAN interfaces, VPN, stateful firewall, encryption, QoS and multicast routing, RIPv1/v2, OSPF, BGP-4, MPLS and other protocols.
3COM 3COM Router 5000 Family High performance modular routers for medium enterprises or remote branch office use, built around a series of rackmount smart interface cards and multi-function interface modules. Some resilience and limited redundancy features. Various LAN and WAN interfaces, VPN, QoS, OSPF, BGP-4, MPLS and other protocols supported.
ADTRAN NetVanta Product Family Medium- to high-end routers come in the 3000, 4000, and 5000 series from this company. Various LAN and WAN interfaces are available, along with BGP, OSPF, RIP v1/v2 and static routing. Numerous VPN options, plus various encryption and authentication schemes are supported. Higher end models support limited resilience and redundancy.
Allied Telesyn Modular Enterprise AR7xxx Routers Product Family Medium- to high-end routers with various models specifically for VPN, central office and branch office use. Protocols supported include RIPv6, PIM, BGP-4, IGMP, IS-IS and more. Branch and central office models will accommodate an external redundant power supply.
Cisco 12000, 7600, 7200, 3800 Series Product families Cisco has routers for nearly every situation and circumstance that enterprises (or even communications carriers) might contemplate. All series mentioned except 3800 are central office, high bandwidth, large-capacity offerings; most are modular, rack-mounted designs. Protocols include RIPv6, PIM, BGP-4, IGMP, IGRP and more. High-end routers offer advanced redundancy and resiliency features and advanced VPN, encryption and authentication capabilities available are second to none.
Enterasys Networks Matrix X Secure Core Routers, XSR Security Routers While the Matrix X routers concentrate at the extreme high (and even carrier) end of the spectrum, the XSR routers service branch and regional office needs. For the former, resilience and redundancy options apply to power supplies, switching fabrics, routing modules, cooling fans and software management. For the latter, add-on VPN and firewall modules are available, as are redundant power supplies for the higher end 3150 and 3250 models. All of these routers support IPv4 and some IPv6 capabilities, including RIP v1/v2, OSPF, PIM and IGMP. All support QoS, a wide range of VPN capabilities and advanced security features.
Extreme Networks Modular Switches: Black Diamond, Summit, Alpine Series Though these devices are called switches they also include extensive routing capabilities. The Black Diamond family includes both access (edge) and core components, where the Summit and Alpine series are more edge oriented (the Summit line even includes wireless network integration components). All of these units support a broad range of LAN and WAN interfaces, numerous protocols including IPv6 and IPv4 multicast forwarding, RIP v1/v2, OSP, IS-IS, BGP-4 and IGMP, as well as IPv6 RIPng and OSPFv3. They also offer QoS, MPLS and numerous VPN options, and higher-end models include redundant power supplies and cooling fans (Black Diamond models also offer redundant switching fabrics and routing modules as well).
ImageStream Internet Solutions Inc. Pro and Industrial Series Routers Based on a combination of a hardened Linux kernel and the Inetics routing technology platform, these products use standard off-the-shelf compact PCI and PMC component modules and standard rack-mount enclosures and elements to offer highly capable solutions at competitive prices. Their offerings support most common LAN and WAN interfaces, numerous protocols such as IPv6 and IPv4 multicast forwarding, RIP v1/v2, OSPF, BGP-4, IS-IS, IGMP and all IPv6 routing protocols. Higher-end models support redundant power supplies, routing modules and cooling fans.
Nortel Networks Multiprotocol Routers, VPN Routers Much like Cisco, Nortel has routers to meet nearly every need. Their multiprotocol routers are designed for everything from small branch or remote office situations all the way to carrier-grade core networking situations. Nortel's secure (which encompass products from the former Tasman Networks) and VPN routers support all kinds of advanced encryption, authentication and VPN technologies. Though the number and kind of interfaces supported vary by make and model, all important LAN and WAN interfaces are supported in most families. Their offerings support most common protocols, including IPv6 and IPv4 multicast forwarding, RIP v1/v2, OSPF and BGP-4. Surprisingly, IPv6 routing protocols are not widely supported (yet). Higher-end family models support various types of resilience and redundant power supplies and routing modules.
Riverstone Networks 15000 Family, RS Family With one eye on the big enterprise and the other on carrier companies, Riverstone offers state-of-the-art switching router solutions, primarily in the form of rack-mountable modular components. All kinds of LAN and WAN interfaces are available, and most common protocols are supported, including IPv4 multicast forwarding, RIP v1/v2, OSPF, IS-IS, BGP-4 and IGMP (IPv6 support has recently been added to the 15000 family offerings). Higher-end offerings support redundant power supplies and router modules.

Interested readers and researchers will notice that some router vendor names will immediately be recognized by executives with sign-off power; these include well-known companies such as Cisco and Nortel, and may be easier to "sell" to management for that reason. But other companies such as Riverstone and Extreme Networks can counter with high-performance and capacity options. For those prospective buyers looking to maximize price-performance ratios, however, it's hard to go wrong with the offerings from ImageStream, because their use of Open Source software and standard building blocks makes their pricing extremely competitive.

About the authors:
Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer and trainer based in Austin, Texas, who specializes in markup languages, networking technologies, information security and IT certifications. Justin Korelc is a long-time Linux hacker who works with Ed, and concentrates on hardware and software security topics. Together, both contributed to a recent book on Home Theater PCs; right now, both are busy at work on a book about Linux-based MythTV environment.

This was first published in March 2006

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