Nortel, Cisco bolster remote-access offerings

Nortel Networks this week introduced its latest offering in a fiercely competitive market for branch office and telecommuter access devices.

The rollout of the Bay Networks Nautica 250 ISDN router follows announcements this week of firewall software for Bay's Contivity VPN device, as well as of an ISDN router from Cisco Systems.

The devices are designed to help branch offices and telecommuters link up more easily and safely with enterprise headquarters and the Internet.

As big vendors line up behind IP-based solutions for hooking up smaller sites, observers say, the uncertainties of replacing traditional leased lines are reduced. And the benefits in cost and simplicity can be huge.

The Nautica 250 lets remote users connect to a central office via IP or IPX. Workers on small workgroup LANs can share a single ISDN connection.

Software included with the Nautica 250 presents reports on ISDN calls, allowing administrators to keep track of what events on the network created dial demands. The router also offers Network Address Translation, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, IP Security, and other capabilities. Software wizards are included for easy setup and configuration.

Cisco will ship this month a series of ISDN routers for small and home offices that will include key elements of the company's Internetwork Operating System (IOS) software. The Cisco 800 series routers will allow several users in a small facility to share one or two ISDN connections for linking to a central office and the Internet.

Officials said the greatest immediate benefit of the IOS routers will be that experienced administrators can manage them remotely using familiar IOS commands. But in the first quarter of next year, they added, Cisco will add its IOS Firewall and support for the IP Security protocol for virtual private networks (VPNs). This would provide a set of functions that until recently were found only in specialised devices or higher-end routers.

The routers may also be upgraded later to support broadband technologies such as Digital Subscriber Line and cable, officials said.

"This is a new-generation platform for us, and over time we expect to deliver other technologies based on this platform," said Troy Trenchard, director of marketing for Cisco access routers.

Nortel Networks announced it will add Check Point's FireWall-1 software to its Contivity line of VPN devices. The firewall capability will allow enterprises to secure nontunnelled traffic, such as e-mail or customer Web site visits, as well as the tunnelled communications for which the Contivity products were designed.

With the software, which will be standard on some configurations and optional on others, a single Contivity box will be able to do jobs that in the past required both a firewall and a VPN device, with unified management through Check Point's policy-based interface. Officials said future enhancements could include integration of Check Point's FloodGate-1 bandwidth control software.

Analysts said the integration of FireWall-1 with the Contivity line could offer significant benefits to enterprises.

Access to third-party applications from Check Point's Open Platform for Secure Enterprise Connectivity Alliance, such as virus checking and intrusion detection, can provide a broad range of new functionality to the Contivity, said Craig Driscoll, an analyst at Yankee Group, in Boston.

Observers expressed some concern about Cisco introducing the complexity of IOS into a remote-site device but said putting more intelligence in the router could help telecommuters.

"That frees up your home machine from doing the encryption and security functions, which is important if you're trying to use processor-intensive applications such as videoconferencing," said Eric Zines, an analyst at TeleChoice, in Dallas.

Zines said that both announcements show how the new generation of remote-access devices is transforming users' ability to work from different locations.

"It really simplifies and reduces the cost of connecting remote offices, branch offices, and home offices," Zines said.

The Bay Networks Nautica 250 is shipping now for $750. The Cisco 800 routers will ship in late November, priced starting at $799.

Nortel will provide Check Point capabilities in the Contivity platform in the first quarter of 1999. Pricing was not available.

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