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    Review of the Cisco 827 DSL Router

    Picture of Cisco 827 This month we put Cisco's 827 DSL Router through our tests to see if Cisco's DSL offering lives up to what we expect from Cisco Systems.

    At first glance the Cisco 827 looks just like any other member of the >Cisco 800 Series but this router is a lot more then a Cisco 802 with DSL ports... The heart of the 827 is a MPC 855T RISC processor which alone sets it far and above Netopia R9100 and its Motorola M68030 based heart (essentially a 486). Combine that with a built in Alcatel DynaMiTe Chipset makes this an all in one unit as opposed to other manufacturers Ethernet to Ethernet routers which require an external Alcatel DSL Modem. Adding to this is the ability (in the Cisco 827-4V) to do Voice over IP as well as the option for the Cisco Firewall Feature set (extra memory required). Eight Meg of Flash and 16 Meg of Ram come standard on the 827 while the 827-4V comes with 24 Meg of RAM. In comparison the Netopia R9100 comes with 4 Meg of RAM... In terms of hardware, this router has more then enough horsepower and technical goodies to bury the field in the Small Business/Medium Business DSL Router market. But like a 60's muscle car is it refined enough to make it a class leader?

    Unlike other DSL Routers in this class, Netopia's R9100, Linksys's BEFRSR41, Webramp's 600i this Cisco 827 is a router first and foremost. Forget all the built in hubs, voiceports, fancy web interfaces to configure the router and other gimmicks other manufactures add to their products as selling features. This Cisco 827 is a down and dirty router, its main job is to route, period. Forget the built in hubs, if you're a business buying an 827 chances are you are going to buy a hub or switch to go behind the router, few if any small to medium sized businesses don't already have a network setup and the router plugs right into the network.. The built in hub to most businesses is a useless feature anyway. The one flaw and I can find with this router, although it's only a minor flaw at that is that it only comes with a 10 Base-T Ethernet connection.. Granted the bottleneck won't be on the Ethernet portion of this router, if anything the 1.5 Mbps or 3Mpbs DSL connection is what will be the bottleneck if you have an office of MP3 downloading employees.. It would be nice to see a 10/100 Ethernet port on this router, but if I was an IT manager I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.. All in all if that's the only flaw, wanting an upgraded Ethernet port on the router I'd say that Cisco's Engineers have done their homework in designing this router.

    Configuring this router can be a daunting task if you've never played with a Cisco before. The Netopia R9100, Linksys BEFRSR41 and Webramp 600i all have an advantage here in being extremely easy to configure for rookie/novice computers users with their very easy to follow instructions and well laid out web interfaces. The Cisco 827 is command line... and if you don't know the commands configuring a Cisco for a novice computer user is an extremely difficult task. The Cisco 800 series does come with a fast step CD-ROM which included a graphical interface supposedly designed to help you configure your router but I was not impressed with. In most cases even with this CD I find it hard for novice users to configure this DSL router and make it connect to your ISP.. Needless to say, the CD-ROM is a nice stab at making configuring Cisco Routers easier for novice computer users but every Cisco router that passes my desk has the Fast Step CD removed prior to installation at customers prem.

    If you're an ISP, you already know the easiest way to configure a Cisco router is to create a simple 40 (or so) line wordpad text template with your basic DSL config. Then for every customer you need to configure a router for, you open the template, fill in the blanks (hostname, enable password, telnet password, Router IP, ISP DSL Username and password) copy the config, open a HyperTerminal window (connecting the provided Cisco console cable to the router and the serial port of your computer and paste the copied config into your router and presto... one fully configured Cisco 827 in ohhhh about 6 minutes.

    In terms of performance you can throw everything you have at the 827 including the proverbial kitchen sink yet it just purrs along taking as much traffic as you can send its way, no reboots, no hung sessions. If you are familiar with Cisco products, since this its standard a standard IOS, all the pages and pages of extremely useful and familiar debugging commands are available to you. In terms of support and debugging problems, this router is far and away the best and easiest DSL router to support both from a tech support/NOC and customer perspective. Cisco's TAC (Technical Assistance Center) is also a phone call away and whenever I've called with an unusual Cisco IOS Bug (and yes I think Cisco is the only manufacturer that I know of that will admit that the problem I'm seeing is a "bug" as opposed to the dead air I hear when I talk to other manufacturers about odd problems with their router (that or others says its a "feature", but I'm sorry, when my router reboots in the middle of the day because its handling to much traffic, I don't consider that a feature). When talking to Cisco's TAC, usually I get a call/email from a Cisco Engineer within a few hours (even when they are busy) and in many cases the Engineer has a fix ready by the time I'm done talking to them. I've heard that some refer to Cisco TAC as the best tech support in the world... Without a doubt I consider Cisco TAC the pinnacle of Technical Support Departments.

    We did encounter one problem, and a fairly major problem at that. Some customers when using the Cisco 827 with 1 or 1.5 Mbps DSL service (using PPPoE) are not able to view some websites talk to some mailservers.. Unlike other Router Manufacturers who might not acknowledge the fact it is a bug, Cisco does. Essentially what this bug boils down to is that the offending websites have turned off ICMP packets and are not RFC compliant. Why is turning off ICMP packets bad? Well if your router wants an MTU of 1492 and the webserver you are trying to talk to wants to communicate with an MTU of say 1500... Well the router will send the http request to the webserver, webserver responds to the router but with an MTU of 1500. The router would send an ICMP packet back to the webserver asking it to reduce the MTU to 1492 but since the webserver isn't accepting ICMP packets it never gets packets requesting the lower MTU therefore the webserver doesn't know to reduce MTU and the router won't accept the packets with the higher MTU thus the website isn't visible to the end users. The Netopia's R9100 doesn't have a problem with the MTU issue and it appears that the Cisco 827 is one of a few routers that are affected by it. Cisco has come out with a new version of flash for the 827 but it only corrects the problem with 1 Meg DSL 827's running NAT. There is no current fix for 827's running with public IP blocks (other then doing NAT and translating the external public IP's into the same Internal Public IP's, but it is very messy).

    Other then this one problem, which Cisco has identified and is working on a fix for, this router, I feel is definitely at the top of its class in terms Quality, Performance, Supportability and Flexibility. The cost of this router isn't any more then it would cost for a Netopia's R9100 and the Alcatel DSL Modem which makes it a good deal because the Cisco 827 is an all in one unit, which along with the supportability, quality and ability to easily provision 827's make it a popular choice for major ISP's when deploying DSL to business clients.

    Mark Breakdown:

    Category: Comments:

    Performance: The Cisco 827 gives great DSL speeds and the router just purrs along despite how much traffic your throw at it. No reboots, no hung sessions, just great reliable performance. The only reason the 827 lost marks here is because of the MTU problem but Cisco's Engineers are looking for solutions for that.

    Supportability: Anyone familiar with Cisco IOS routers know that Cisco is by far the leader in ability to provide extremely detailed debugging information which makes supporting Cisco products much easier for your neighbourhood ISP's NOC. Cisco's TAC (Technical Assistance Center) is also far and away the best technical support department on the planet. ISP's and other router manufacturers should try to model their support departments after Cisco's TAC. 16/15
    Ease of Use/Configuration: For a newbie the 827 can be difficult to configure but if you are an experienced tech who has Cisco experience the 827 can be fairly easy to configure. A pretty GUI interface would be great for newbie users to help them configure these routers. Connecting the router to your network is pretty easy and the ports on the back of the router are well marked and laid out.

    Compatibility: Almost every ISP on the planet has Cisco Routers making up at least a portion if not most of their backbone so this router is compatible with most ISP's networks. The router lost a couple marks here again because of the MTU issue and there is the possibility that your ISP uses Nortel proprietary 1 Meg modems which the Cisco 827 isn't compatible with.

    Features: No built in hubs/switches, no great GUI interface, no death ray laser but this router comes standard with all the key Cisco features, debugging, supportability, and most of all rock solid quality.
    Quality versus other manufacturers gimmicks... give me Cisco quality anyday.

    Personal: This is a great router. If you are an ISP and looking at the cost of other routers in comparison to the Cisco 827, look at the costs of all those support calls as the customers Linksys freezes for no reason, routers stop routing for no reason. A happy customer is a paying customer. The more a customer calls in for stupid reasons like above to support the more unhappy the customer becomes and the less likely they will remain a customer. Also the Cisco 827 is a router with a built in DSL modem.. Many of the competitors routers are routers only and you have to buy the $300 to $400 modem to plug into the router as well....

    Overall: Quite Simply put, top of its class, has a few bugs, one (the MTU issue) that is pretty major, but this is a class leading DSL router. 88/100