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8 Tips For Choosing The Best Router For Your Corporate Needs
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It's a pretty broad question when you ask something like this, since "best" is an elusive quality and "your corporate needs" could refer to networking four workstations in a small storefront or connecting 18 different company locations. Be that as it may, we can still offer you some great basic information to help you understand the options, as well as tips for making a decision. You will need to consider different brands, new vs. used and other things before coming to that final decision, of course.
The first thing to realize is that, although the market for "business-grade" routers is dominated by a few big firms like Cisco, HP and Juniper, there are any number of other firms out there, from Tasman Networks and Unisphere to the Chinese generics and the French Alcatel-Lucent. The fact is that Cisco is the 800-lb. gorilla, and even if you choose another brand, you will likely learn about routers in terms of how they compare to certain Cisco products. That being the "lingua franca" of the IT world, that is how we will approach it here, too.
Always go with what you know
Ask ten IT pros about Cisco routers and at least six or seven of them will mention the Cisco 2600 and 3600 series. These are the routers that have been at the heart of mid-size business networks for many years now. In fact, many firms still use these models, and a thriving business is done in parts and used units, despite the fact that Cisco discontinued these lines several years ago. Even at the beginning of 2009, a popular tech blogger stated his belief that someone needing to add a site to a "70-location WAN" should either go for the "Cisco 3640 router" or its equivalent.
The bottom line for this tech writer was a price "less than $2,000," but the ultimate selling point for him, personally, was that he had installed the same model at every one of his firm's locations. Now, this is instructive, not so much for the name brand he chose, but for his following the old saying, "Go with what you know." Had this fellow installed a Juniper or HP model, and not had any life- or career-threatening problems with them, he probably would have shown brand loyalty in another direction. If you get familiar with one system setup and one router model, and it works for you, why switch?
Homework, due diligence-and eight tips
The "go with what you know" approach can have drawbacks, of course. For one thing, buying discontinued products means you don't get the benefit of the accelerating improvements in new features, whether it's a Cisco unit or some other. Also, there are times when you will be setting up a new network, and if you are an IT consultant rather than employee, you just can't do everything in a "one size fits all" manner. So how do you know what router to choose in different circumstances? Try the following eight tips for choosing the best router for your corporate needs.
1. Performance: Cisco, as well as other manufacturers, used to rate routers by the number of packets per second that the router was able to forward. For instance, a Cisco 2610 or 2612 series router is able to forward approximately 15,000 packets per second, while the Cisco 7500 series router was rated at some 2 million packets per second. For a variety of reasons, this kind of information is not as easily obtained or as freely available as it once was, possibly because these metrics are simply estimates under ideal (read, "not real life") conditions. As you start to add in such features as firewalls, QoS and VoIP, all these numbers change, anyway. Today, remember to compare apples with apples, etc.
2. Expandability: This simply means the number of WAN and LAN interfaces that are supported by the unit. Modern, up to date routers usually have a default number of such interfaces, but some older units like the Cisco 3600 series have zero. Always find out how many interfaces can be added to the default.
3. Software Features: If you need a router to support a particular kind of interface or a certain VoIP feature, never assume it can do so without checking.
4. Management: Is it easy or difficult to manage the kind of router you are considering? Is there a graphical user interface (GUI), or command-line interface (CLI) only? Are there ways for you to manage multiple routers? What will the nature of the management burden be if or when your company grows?
5. Upgrades: Since router processors are not commonly upgradeable, this question refers primarily to RAM and Flash memory-but don't forget to check!
6. Redundancy: Do the routers under consideration offer sufficient redundancy for operating at critical points in your network? You need to find out if there are hot-swappable power supply modules and such high-availability routing options as HSRP and VRRP.
7. Support/Reliability: Routers from most of the leading manufacturers are typically quite reliable, and Cisco itself, of course, is well known for its excellent level of support. Purchasing a new router, as opposed to a used one, normally allows you to choose from various levels of support. Select the best support package for your particular situation.
8. Integrated Services: Many routers now support functionality that once required additional, separate boxes. Today's 16- or 32-port switching modules obviate the need for Ethernet switches, while integrated firewalls, IDS/IPS sensors and VPN servers eliminate the need for separate firewalls, IDS/IPS appliances or VPN concentrators.
How you put your decision-making process to work will require some research on your part, certainly. Consider using the question above as you work with resellers, consultants or router manufacturers to determine the features your firm needs. There are numerous website and product guides that compare a wide assortment of different makes and models of current and discontinued routers. Whatever you do, you need to ask a lot of questions, do even more research and be prepared to support a recommended buying decision with facts and figures.
Cisco Kits is a leading provider of ccna and ccnp cisco training courses and equipment. Visit today at http://www.ciscokits.com/ for more information on certification or just furthering education.
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