Advanced Routers in SOHO environment

This article will illustrate the rationale behind deploying a user selected (and specifically a Cisco) router, notwithstanding cost and complexity, in a home/small office environment. Many people will rely on the ISP provided router to connect to the Internet. This router is often included in the price of the connection, ISP maintained and often when/if it breaks is replaced for free by the ISP.
Given all the advantages, why would you be willing to spend a substantial amount of money to buy a router and why would you decide to buy a complex, expensive (compared to other “consumer grade”) routers?
Fact is if you are asking the question you probably are happy with the plain vanilla router your ISP has given you and you do not need more than the features such device can give you. But as soon as you need to:

  • implement a VPN solution (see Personal VPN setup);
  • connect to an IPv6 network (even if your provider is not providing you IPv6 connectivity)
  • route packets based on configurable parameters (source host, destination host, protocol, etc)
  • have a fully fledged firewall (stateful with complex signatures vs atomic and port based filters);
  • apply quality of service (router privileges configured traffic over the remainder)
  • extend your network to mobile devices (create you own VPN solution);
  • run scripts on the router (i.e. execute commands on condition like update tunnel end points when you ISP changes the assigned IP)

You will need to deploy something more than the plain vanilla router (I am saying plain vanilla but the ISP routers nowadays do a lot: port forwarding, Dynamic DNS, NAT, DHCP ….) you have received from the ISP.

Cisco vs other solutions

Why then a Cisco router rather than a Linksys (after all Linksys is owned by Cisco) or a Linux box configured as a router? I do not have a definite answer here and, if it is cheaper and does what you need by all means do use these solutions.
My personal preference for a Cisco solution is based on experience:

  • I started administering a small ISP network comprising 2 Cisco 2511
  • then I personally bought a Cisco 803 (ISDN/Ethernet)
  • I moved up to a Cisco 1751V (Fastethernet with modular interfaces – implemented ADSL and voice)
  • my current router is a 1921 (dual Gigabit Ethernet modular Integrated Services Router).

Router examples and prices

These are 17 yeas of experience in ISP and SOHO environment on Cisco. I also run Linux (I started on Slackware distro and now running Debian). The breadth of routing features, the number of possible interface cards, the capabilities of dedicated hardware (even at the low level 800 series and 1700 series are considered entry level). I feel that the best part of owning a Cisco is Cisco Connection Online (the Cisco technical website, providing technical documentation, white papers and a great support community) and Cisco Technical Assistance Center. The former is free (after registrations) the latter requires a support contract and allows you to receive technical support from specialized tech engineer and free software updates for your router.
Also the support received from Cisco TAC in deploying, and configuring new features in my networks made me feel that the money spent in the router and associated contract has been very well spent.
I therefore personally feel that Cisco’s routers technical characteristics and performance have no equal (this feeling is probably shared by many people out there since Cisco router by far are the most widely installed ones in the Core of the Internet and enterprise networks).

Financial aspects

What about costs? If you are running a small Home Network or a Small Business network your network might simply be a cost (i.e. the network does not produce revenue but it only costs to be ran). The financial analysis for a productive network (i.e. a network that generates revenues) is easily done: it should cost less than the money it generates.
For a “cost center” network the financial justification lies in 2 different areas:

  • how much you are willing to pay for features
  • cost avoided (i.e. how much the network is saving you: if the network features you deploy save you from identity theft, or network “staying up” allows you to save the money you would otherwise have spent if the network was unavailable).

These “avoided” cost are often difficult to quantify and appreciate, in fact you cannot state for sure that a different router would cause your identity to be stolen (especially if you do not access you files with plenty of personal information across the network) or cannot be sure that you would need the network when is down. On the other end the cost of buying equipment is in the bottom line of the invoice ……

I made my choice and this website is full of configuration scenarios and tips on how to implement features (security and otherwise) which might be helpful in making the best of your purchase, should you decide to follow my path.

About Fabio

Love of technology and flying have been the drivers of my life, more about me.
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