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What's the difference between a small business router and an enterprise router?

Let's take an expensive Cisco router vs one of their 'small business' routers, say the ISR 4321

What actual differences are there other than the price? I would assume you'd pay for more with one of their more top end ones because it has more features. But what's actually different?

Does IOS have more features?

I understand this sounds like a dumb question to some, but I've been doing some research and I can't seem to find anything!

7 comments
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CCNA R&S
4 points · 3 months ago

This is a good question! The answer, as always, is "it depends." Typically, you narrow down what kind of router you need to purchase based upon its role in the network, and then filter down based upon other requirements. For example, you would typically pick an ISR 1900 series router for a very small branch office, an ISR 2900/3900/4000 series router for a medium or large branch office, or an ASR 1000 series router for a larger site or datacenter WAN router. If you're a service provider, there are options tailored specifically for a service provider environment. The ASR 900 series routers are designed to be smaller aggregation routers, while the ASR 9000 series routers are for larger aggregation. Then, there are routers designed for the core, such as the NCS 6000 series or even the CRS routers (fun fact, they're literally the size of a rack!)

Once you have the role nailed down, you'll compare models within a specific series to match the exact location that the router will be installed. Let's compare models between the ISR 4000 series routers, which are high-end branch routers. If we look at the "Specifications of Cisco 4000 Series Integrated Services Routers" table in the ISR4K datasheet, we can see some major differences between the lower-end 4221 and the higher-end 4451. Chiefly, we see big differences in onboard memory, aggregate throughput capabilities, onboard interfaces, and service-module/NIM slots. This particular datasheet isn't the greatest example, but other datasheets also enumerate differences in the maximum number of routing table entries each model can hold, performance with cryptographic functions enabled, and so on. The size of the branch (and, therefore, the amount of traffic flowing through the router) and the features required to fit this role will determine which specific model a business chooses. A branch with only a few hundred hosts could use a 4221 or 4321, while a 4431 or 4451 will work better if there are thousands of active hosts on a network.

Some series of routers overlap in roles, but not in features. For example, let's say you're picking out an edge router for a branch with 200 hosts. A 2900 or 3900 will probably forward traffic without a problem, but what if the rest of your enterprise utilizes SD-WAN or IWAN technologies? The 2900 and 3900 platforms don't support either of those technologies, so a 2900 or 3900 might be a poor fit for a branch router. What if your business is interested in deploying a "branch-in-a-box", where a server blade fits into the router and hosts services locally? If you have a UCS E-series M1 or M2, a 2900 or 3900 might work, but if you need a beefier M3 blade server, only the ISR 4000 series is supported.

This probably brings up more questions than it answers - let me know if you want to know more!

Original Poster1 point · 3 months ago

This is very helpful!

I'm doing my CCNA alongside my degree at university, which is in networking. Part of one of my larger projects is to decide what a client needs and implement the network.

I came to the conclusion with some help from Cisco's website that an ISR 4321 would be good for the network. It will have 12 devices including the server, but also guest wifi access

I'm fine with the whole project, but it was more for curiosity of how/what would happen if it were a real life situation. Obviously that's the one thing Cisco can't really teach you.. and that's why it's been a learning curve doing this in classes

CCNA R&S / Sec - Cyber in progress
3 points · 3 months ago

features and horsepower

Define small business router. Are we talking free-from-the-isp ap/modem/switch, or sonicwall-ish higher end small business router?

CCENT | CCNA
2 points · 3 months ago

Way to many...

A small business router can handle your public IP and a few NAT/PAT translations happening at the same time, an Enterprise router can hold half a million routes easily and process all that traffic between your eye blinks.

CCNA RS/W, BCNP, BCvRE
1 point · 3 months ago

Features, supported protocols, amount of memory, overall throughput, etc, are all very variable between the small routers and the big ones. You can't run several BGP processes with full tables on a 4321, but an ASR9922 would have no issues with several million routes. You probably don't have all the MPLS features on a "small business router", nor do you get things like IS-IS or REP.

Meow 🐈🐈Meow 🐱🐱 Meow Meow🍺🐈🐱Meow A+!
1 point · 3 months ago

It boils down to features, cost, performance, management, and support.

The small business router might be able to say static routes but isn’t likely to support OSPF and your support would be closer to talking to geek squad instead of a ccna or tac

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