WAN into LAN will go

While every enterprise branch office requires LAN and WAN features, an inspection of the communications closet almost always reveals that separate boxes are implemented for each. Adtran Inc is trying to change that.

In a flurry of branch-office productivity by the vendors, Adtran joined the ranks of those that have had us validate their branch-office offering head-to-head against Cisco Systems. The company's NetVanta 1224R offers a full-fledged router and LAN switch in a 1U box. It's unique, but will it fly?

Because these devices "talk" using Ethernet, there is no reason that they have to be boxed together or tightly coupled in any way. On the other hand, there is nothing that stands in the way of them being integrated, either. There are the obvious advantages of reduced footprint, integrated management but, if it is such a great idea, one might ask, why is Adtran, an admitted "follower", one of the first to do it for the enterprise?

Well, historically, there's been a conscious choice by many vendors to "stop at the edge" and leave the WAN to others.

A combination of aggressive goals -- in features to implement and units sold -- caused many vendors, especially startups, to decide that the WAN wasn't worth the trouble. After all, a branch office might need dozens of LAN ports but usually could get by with just one WAN port. And, unless you could be sure of providing the headquarters side of the WAN connection, you could find yourself embroiled in finger-pointing with the likes of Cisco or Nortel Networks whenever a WAN glitch occurred.

So if you look at companies such as Foundry Networks and Extreme Networks, and, earlier companies like Madge Networks, they simply chose not to play in the WAN arena. So given that different companies typically provided the LAN and the WAN gear -- or different divisions of major players -- the "separate box" syndrome became the "standard".

Ironically, integrated LAN/WAN boxes are nothing new -- and actually thrive -- but in a different arena. Virtually all of the small office/home office gear you encounter today and a lot of low-end business "routers" provide LAN switch ports. It just hasn't become de rigueur in the enterprise.

If Adtran is successful in gaining not only market share against Cisco but acceptance of the integrated switch/router, others surely will follow.

Tolly is president of strategic consulting and independent testing company The Tolly Group

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