HP is number two in the branch router industry according to Dell’Oro Group. As such, the company is well positioned to comment on emerging trends. Kowshik Bhat, Global Marketing Manager for HP Networking, points out a number of trends impacting the branch router field. Reduced IT footprint, for instance, means companies are consolidating multiple devices and moving towards converged connectivity solutions. In smaller branches, therefore, all-in-one solutions are popular because they integrate wired, wireless and services into a single platform. Services like Voice over IP (VoIP), video on demand (VoD), WAN acceleration, security, wireless, monitoring and management are increasingly being integrated within the network platforms.
Another trend, he said, is toward managed services. Around the globe, branch office routers are predominantly administered by managed service providers (MSP). With all-in-one solutions, it is understandable that small branches are prime targets for soup-to-nuts services by MSPs.
“However, in larger branches we continue to see the routing platform (supported by MSP) segregated from the switching network (customer managed),” said Bhat. “This is a result of higher performance needs, compliance requirements, consistent user experience and required port density needed for larger deployments.”
Beyond that, he said that some industries are demanding sophisticated security and compliance capabilities beyond the traditional scope of firewalls or ACLs on the router. Adoption of cloud services, too, is raising the necessity to deploy WAN optimization technologies in the branch, be it an overlay or an integrated capability.
To address these trends, HP offers a wide portfolio of networking offerings. These are generally separated by HP into categories according to branch size, deployment flexibility and usage type.
HP Branch Router Segmentation
For size-driven segmentation, small or telecommuter branch office, medium branch office and large branch office are the designations. The routers designed for these segments vary depending in the needs of the customer. Each router can support varying functionality, connectivity performance and service needs of the branches.
In the deployment flexibility camp, segmentation is driven by product capability. Smaller routers tend to have a fixed configuration while larger models are modular and provide greater flexibility via interface cards. In addition, users sometimes seek converged solutions to deliver integrated services in order to deploy new capabilities faster.
“The customers in this category are divided by the desire for ease of deployment with fixed configuration versus flexible services with modular routers,” said Bhat.
Usage-based segmentation, he said, is divided up into basic connectivity (data connectivity and security), advanced connectivity (integrated services, compliance enablement) and high performance (high bandwidth connectivity, MPLS connectivity, WAN optimization, video traffic, T1/T3 connectivity).
Bhat highlights a couple of models within the HP lineup – one at the lower end and one nearer the top of the food chain. The MSR 900W is part of the MSR 900 series and has a list price of $500 to $800. The solution is targeted toward small branch offices or telecommuters. It has two Ethernet based WAN ports, LAN ports and 3G support.
The MSR 50-40 (MPU G2), part of the MSR 50 series, has a list price of $6,000 to $16,000. The solution, he said, represents the top-end of the branch router market and is designed for larger operations. It provides standards-based routing technology and is flexible due to its modular design.
HP advises users to consider several factors when selecting routers for branch offices. First up, Bhat said to think in futures. Not only do businesses need to consider their current bandwidth needs and packet processing capacity, they also must take into account future growth of the branch. In addition, branches have to consider whether or not they manage their bandwidth themselves or if they are managed by the service provider.
“Today, IT organizations are viewed more and more as a service brokers as opposed to the previous view of service providers,” said Bhat. “The move to virtualization technology and cloud services has compelled this transformation within the networking arena.”
Architectural considerations must also play a part in any buying decision. Network managers have to pay attention to the kind of services they currently deploy while taking the time to understand the kind of services they plan to deploy in the future. Enterprise connectivity, too, is important in this regard. For example, there may be a strict hierarchy of traffic flow that should be taken into account when designing a branch solution. This is typically solved via two common options: branch to regional HQ to corporate HQ or direct branch to branch communication.
How about security? These days, it is no longer sufficient to rely on perimeter security. Businesses have to incorporate access control, threat management, wired and wireless, intrusion prevention systems (IPS) and more.
“The need for multi-tiered security is even more important when the branch office buildings and data closets are shared with other tenants,” said Bhat.
When it comes to counting the pennies, he pointed out that operational costs of networking equipment are generally far greater than acquisition costs. One way to minimize operational expenditures is to utilize unified management to across the entire infrastructure, wired or wireless, WAN or LAN.
“Selecting a number of management solutions prevents the delivery of consistent user experience, inhibits business agility and introduces inefficiencies which pose operational challenges,” said Bhat.
As today’s branch offices are far more sophisticated than the traditional routing platforms of yesteryear which made use of frame relay and point-to-point links, buyers have to take a long hard look at whether they want to bring additional network complexity to the branch level. That complexity has increased considerably and proprietary networking hardware and software products make it even more involved, especially when deploying new services.
Bhat, in summary, has several buying recommendations:
1. Adopt standards-based technologies versus proprietary solutions that might inhibit agility; This decision, he said, will also provide the ability to maximize existing investment as opposed to the rip and replace strategy common with vendor lock in.
2. Modernize infrastructure:
“IT organizers must shift their focus toward innovating and modernizing their current infrastructure,” said Bhat. “Today’s routers are far more sophisticated and far less expensive when you consider the life cycle cost compared to maintaining legacy infrastructure.”
3. Integrate service: VoIP and video deployments, for instance, may be triggers that warrant a refresh of existing routers. They also pose the opportunity for taking advantage of new WAN technologies like WAN optimization and Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) to reduce the cost of connectivity.