We’ve all spent an afternoon at the electronics store mulling over the right home router — or sat clicking on Amazon for a few hours doing the same — but buying a business router is an entirely different animal.
You can’t just pick up what’s on the shelf — you’ve got to do some research. Use this comprehensive overview to help get you started. We’ll go over some of the distinct types of routers and provide you with examples, so you’ll end up being armed with everything you need for choosing the right WAN router. We want to help you decide what router is right for you based on your needs and the network you’re managing or growing.
Remember, routers are essential to running a secure, sophisticated system. That means you should always plan for a little more capacity than you need today, so you don’t end up needing to repeat this process later.
Let’s start with the two chief router options: network edge routers and branch routers.
Network Edge Routers
Edge routers are designed to ensure that your network’s edge can deliver quality services while also generating high-level security for your network. They’re a smart deployment option for campuses, data centers and branch networks. Video, data and mobile needs often turn to network edge routers.
Choosing the right WAN router may involve an edge option if you need to improve the strength at which you deliver services to customers close to their locations. Edge routers are the powerhouse for transporting IP traffic in either static or dynamic options.
Edge routers sit at the point where a LAN or WAN connects to external networks. Look for options that are multi-layer so that they can support a greater number of connections and duties. Layer 3 and 4 routing are a must-have, but if you can secure the switching architecture of a Layer 2 router, then you’ll be in better shape with your investment.
When choosing the right WAN technology, always remember to focus on security. Edge routers are the interaction point between your own, trusted enterprise network and outside networks or the Internet at large, so you must make sure their security protocols are reliable.
You’ll have multiple security options, but today you can just purchase an edge router that has a built-in firewall option. So, you can securely facilitate VPN tunnels, provide state-based inspections and use intrusion detection signature matching protocols.
Branch routers are designed to optimize the branch services you offer on a single platform, enhancing overall availability. These are the tools most commonly used when running services and applications at a high level continuously. They’re your bread-and-butter at remote locations.
Branch routers typically don’t worry about edge requirements and instead deliver functionality that you need in the core network, rather than at the edge. Branch routers will sit on the far end of your WAN and serve as a connection point for your WAN edge routers and the remote locations, delivering a greater number of connection options.
Common branch router functions that differ from edge routers include:
- 3G and 4G connection support
- Integrated wireless LAN management
- Time-division multiplexing (TDM)
- WAN application acceleration services
- Other tools designed to improve connections between core locations and local resources
Today’s branch routers are not only growing significantly in throughput, but OEMs are empowering them with spam filters, smart encryption, traffic shaping, content-dependent controls and more.
For deploying a service itself, the branch router is a prominent player. Consider the full range of media services engines and service-ready engines that allow you to run applications from the OEMs themselves — like a voice on a Cisco unified communications technology platform — as well as some units that are specifically designed for industrial networks where there is a greater level of ambient radio frequency interference.
Service Provider Router Versions
Service provider routers are a stronger breed designed specifically to support portfolio differentiation. These routers tend to offer more robust scalability and can facilitate a considerable number more of connections, services and other deliverables.
Early on, many routers tried to differentiate themselves with this kind of branding. It’s mostly faded, but you may see some references because it helps people choose a carrier-grade router. All the routers carried by Worldwide Supply are “service provider routers,” and the examples provided at the end of this list meet that description as well.
This is something to look for in documentation just in case but isn’t a requirement. If you’re reading about a router that discusses your business in the right terms, you’re looking in the right place.
Eight Questions to Ask for Choosing the Right WAN Router
Each deployment and network need is unique, but there are some larger themes we can address. Here are eight questions to get you thinking about the big picture, and even dig into some options and offerings that will help determine what is the right router for you:
1. What Is Your Throughput Requirement?
Routers are a long-term investment, so yours will need to last at a baseline usage that remains consistent or will steadily grow over time. Guarantee that the models you’re considering are designed to withstand the traffic you have currently and what you plan to reach in the coming years.
Throughput likely won’t go down, so don’t settle for something that’s too small. It’s the perfect way to ruin your budget.
One note on the question of, “What’s the right router for me?” is that many routers can be upgraded to increase their throughput support. That’s a worthwhile consideration if this is a network that you want to be flexible in case of growth.
2. Will This Router Need to Scale?
While our throughput question dealt with traffic scaling, this one deals with the hardware and infrastructure that you plan on running.
Routers come in two chassis flavors: a modular (customizable) chassis and a fixed form-factor chassis. You’ll initially save on a fixed form-factor unit, and it may be a smart choice if its throughput can handle what your five-year projections predict.
Modular chassis routers allow you to change different elements of the router, making upgrades easier and scaling the edge of your network especially well when needed. Modular designs can support swapping of CPUs, ports, memory and more, so you can be a little more responsive to changes in network requirements.
Look at costs and see if you need to be flexible, or if it would be more affordable to purchase another router a little sooner. Refurbished routers can make that decision much more attractive.
3. Are You Supporting Physical or Virtual Deployments?
Traditional routers have controls and limited hardware versatility, so they’re customized for one task and optimized to keep running it for years. The other option is a router that relies on virtualization technologies.
Virtualization allows you to change how networked resources operate and can making for stronger security and more dynamic IP routing as needed. Routers that support virtualization tend to be a little more expensive and have more technical requirements — such as all supporting the same command platform and structure — but they allow you to optimize investment and networked assets.
4. What Is Your Planned Routing Table Size?
Some say choosing the right WAN router starts with the routing table: a set of rules that’s used to determine how your IP traffic is directed. Tables cover final destinations, hops, interfaces and available route determinations.
WAN routers tend to need to support a smaller, more limited table though some edge routers will need a more sophisticated table support.
However, for carriers and networks like yours, it’s recommended to find a router than can support a large routing table. This allows you to optimize paths and have greater flexibility when needing to adjust traffic flow due to errors, breaches, failures and more.
5. What Connectivity Options Are You Going to Need?
Always look at your network when you want to decide which router is right for your business. Connectivity differs by router location, network strength, customer requirements and much more. Match the router’s capabilities with what you need right now. It also doesn’t hurt to aim a little larger if you think you’ll be building a stronger network or making a shift to technology like FTTH.
Connectivity methods you should consider include:
- Gigabit Ethernet copper
- Gigabit Ethernet over fiber – both single and multimode
- T2 and T3 connections
- Legacy TDM T1 connections
- 10 Gigabit Ethernet fiber handoffs
- Radio networks
- Mobile backend and overhaul connectivity
If your system is changing consistently or you predict a significant shift, look for a router that supports multiple connections types. This will give you an investment that can be used today and will likely be useable tomorrow as your new network takes shape.
6. Is This Going to Secure Internal Resources or Is It Largely for Outward Facing Uses?
For most carriers, your routers will do double-duty with security needs. Built-in firewalls and other security capabilities will allow you to protect networked resources while also delivering the routing and traffic management that your customers need.
Remember that routers that ensure the safety features and functionality tend to rely on more processing power and memory, except in some of the more sophisticated virtual networking environments.
One note here is to read up on router choices because some will only provide you with security features if you opt-in for a more expensive licensing protocol. This isn’t always the case if you’re working with a partner that can support multiple OEMs, but it might lead to cost increase.
7. What Fault Tolerance Can You Live With?
Choosing the right WAN router and other technology is a combination of meeting network needs and physical infrastructure requirements. Routers at the network edge as well as branch routers can fail, but there are methods to both prevent failures and limit their impacts.
Redundancies and other fault tolerances include both hardware and software considerations. The device would include additional route processing engines, dual power supplies and back-up energy sources.
Software redundancies are more akin to fault tolerance controls that run multiple instances of your routing table across many different devices in your network. You’ve then got control mechanisms scattered throughout — or centrally controlled with instruction points spread throughout — to keep traffic running smoothly.
For large networks, you may also want to consider clustering options to help keep your system up and provide consistent load balancing options, so no single router has too much control or is pushed too hard.
8. What Unique Capabilities Do You Require?
What makes your business itself unique? When you think, “What router is right for me?” what customer demand or existing problem are you trying to solve?
Thinking about how your network is used, where its faults could be and where it’s projected to grow in the next five years will get you started on the right path to ensuring you choose the right WAN technology.
Today, the big consideration is software-defined networking because SD-WAN architecture is becoming more available and is providing significant improvements in operational efficiency as well as network profitability.
In some instances, SD-WAN is delivering lower WAN costs by 40% to 80% depending on the system architecture, according to Gartner.
A Few Worldwide Supply Routers to Consider
Let’s provide you with some examples to get the process going and help you answer the question, “Which router is best for my business?”
Below we look at four carrier-grade routers that may help your network:
1. Cisco offers a broad range of Gigabit switch routers, including the GSR1200 series that we often recommend for developing and building out a new service while reducing overall capital requirements. It’s a useful tool for an intelligent, modular network. If you need scalability, look for options like the GSR1200, which can climb from 2.5-Gbps to n x 10-Gbps capacity per slot. Carrier IP and MPLS networks are easy to support with such a model.
2. Cisco’s 3800 series integrated service routers excel for small businesses and enterprise branch offices. Refurbished 3800 models can give you concurrent T3/E3 wire-speed for your wireless networks, data, security, video and voice. You also get a reduced cost and deployment, plus easier networked management. Units support up to 112 10/100 Mbps switch ports.
3. The MX series of routers from Juniper (MX240, MX480 and MX960) offer high-density, high-capacity platforms that can work across multiple edge and data center cores as well as on campuses. They excel in network availability and features a top-quality broadband network gateway with multi-layer switching and VPN support.
4. Juniper T320/T640 Series routers are an end-of-life series that provide Gigabit Ethernet, SONET/SDH and similar high-speed interfaces for large networks and their applications. It’s designed with an ISP in mind and provides up to 64 Gigabit ports. Maximum aggregate throughput starts at 160 Gbps in the full duplex and can be a smart choice for growing your network affordably and efficiently.
We hope this general guide made it easier to get on the right path to building your network through a smart router choice. We know it can be conclusive, so we have experts ready to help you solve your needs or direct you to specific models to consider.
We’ll walk you through the latest in network routers, when it’s safe to use refurbished models and how to plan for a network that will scale as you save.
To learn more about selecting the best router for your business please contact us online or reach out to our team directly at 888-328-2266.