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Good routers usually have a price higher than a price of a low-budget PC ($200) which I can make a router by installing Zentyal, pfSense, ClearOS or something like this.

For example, my friend uses Dlink DFL-860E in the office. This thing prices like $550. I can buy a descent PC for this money and make it fulful more job, than this Dlink can.

What is the advantage of using such devices instead of PCs? Is this really only electricity cost considerations?

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that is a very expensive router. Most routers are waaay cheaper than that. –  Bogdacutu May 21 '12 at 14:00
    
forgot to say, you also need enough network cards on that PC, and that is sure gonna cost you. –  Bogdacutu May 21 '12 at 14:01
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@Bogdacutu Not really - that's about right for what it is. I wouldn't want a budget router in all but the smallest of offices with the simplest networks. –  Dan May 21 '12 at 14:07
    
@Bogdacutu, This is a very cheap router on the commercial end. Some routers can cost $50,000. (Edge router for a university, for instance) –  user606723 May 21 '12 at 17:46
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5 Answers

For small offices, a full PC may be overkill if they don't have an administrator or dedicated company with short response time to administer it.

Dedicated units, once configured, are lower power, no moving parts, are reset by power cycling and generally "just work" at that point.

PC's are more flexible, but have moving parts (and more points of failure) and have lots of features that either aren't fully used or needed or are confusing for them to use (without an administrator in-house). It uses more power. It can be noisier. It may get re-appropriated by staff thinking it's just a computer that's unused, or powered off, unless someone is there to slap hands away or make sure a big note is taped to the front. It takes more space.

In the long run unless there's staff for maintaining it the added cost of a dedicated unit is generally a peace of mind tax. You pay extra to keep from having the small office calling and yelling about unknown failures or difficulties in using it.

Also the dedicated units usually have warranties and service support. Do it yourself routers, not so much.

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In other words, you have to consider the full cost. How much will it cost you to maintain this router? What's the cost of the risk involved with using a DIY solution. etc etc. Are you going to end up with one sys admin you can't live without because he is the only one who knows how it's configured? –  user606723 May 21 '12 at 17:48
    
It's not just full cost, although that's a big factor. There's a "cost" in the client/end user. Will they want a noisy power supply humming away, or a case taking up more shelf space? Will they think (if you're a consultant) less of your work because you're using what could be perceived as a cheap thrown-together solution? Is it easier to fix something in troubleshooting by powering it down and back up, or needing to log in and use different commands to access it? –  Bart Silverstrim May 21 '12 at 18:29
    
There's a professionalism that comes from having a "neat" solution that works best with non-technical offices if they don't have full-time staff in charge of the IT end of things. That extra cost for the "proper" solution could mean they'll be more willing to work with your company later. –  Bart Silverstrim May 21 '12 at 18:30
    
thats all part of the full cost >_> –  user606723 May 21 '12 at 20:55
    
Then I should have clarified that there's a monetary and non-monetary cost to add up :-) –  Bart Silverstrim May 21 '12 at 20:56
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Reliability. Your PC with spinning hard disk and fan won't be as reliable as a good router. Also, the ease of mgmt will easily be saved in your labor.

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Those two points can be mitigated with pfSense or some other routing distribution running on embedded hardware like the ALIX or Soekris boards. –  EEAA May 21 '12 at 14:02
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They can also be mitigated by buying a dedicated router. That's my point. How is your time better spent - managing an OS and router or managing a router? –  uSlackr May 21 '12 at 14:59
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Because your router is pretty much the definition of core infrastructure. Sure, you could build one but you'll lose out on:

  • Warranty
  • Support
  • Ease of replacement
  • Expertise (Call up any decent Network Engineer and they'll be able to help you out with a HP, Juniper, Cisco switch etc)
  • Reliability (Routers are, physically speaking, simple devices. No hard drives to fail, fewer moving parts etc)
  • Having a well tested platform

In fact, I can almost guarantee that any mid -> high range off the shelf router will have higher uptime/availability than any roll it your own system.

Also, you'd never want to multi-role your router, even if it was a PC with a conventional operating system. So, that point is fairly moot anyway.

Finally, the Dlink DFL-860E is far more than a router. I think you'd struggle to build a reliable PC that really does have all its features for the same cost. You'd struggle even more if you factor your time as a cost.

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Regarding your last point, that may be true in your experience, but it can't be applied universally. I've had very good luck with pfSense on embedded hardware, with uptimes measured in years. –  EEAA May 21 '12 at 14:06
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If you have a) the time/knowledge to build the PC with quality parts (passive cooled atom probably a reasonable choice + SSD or other non-spinning drive) and b) the time/knowledge to install/configure the software to perform the routing functions that you need, then you'll probably be much happier with building as opposed to buying off-the-shelf. Really comes down to "how complex of a solution do you need" and "how do you prefer to solve this?"

The time and knowledge necessary to do this are probably the main requirements for the build-it approach. You would not want to do this as a professional (see other answers) because it doesn't make sense to spend time on this. But if you do it yourself, you'll learn a ton.

I can buy a descent PC for this money and make it fulful more
job, than this Dlink can.
What is the advantage of using such devices instead of PCs?
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Software quality and completeness. The open source routing software offerings (Vyatta, Quagga, etc) are really impressive in terms of how far they have come, but the basic fact is that their utility is judged in some significant part by how they compare in terms of features and stability to the commercial offerings. It's no accident that the configuration methodologies and compatibility tests for many of these tools tend to reference Cisco gear.

In the case of open source operating systems and mainline apps (databases, web servers, dev tools, etc) there is a community of many hundreds of thousands of developers contributing - many with the backing of commercial organizations with substantial resources. In contrast, open source networking has an equally devoted - but much smaller - community. It is -much- harder to build a truly solid L2/L3 implementation than a lot of folks give credit for. The speed of the hardware (to a point) is the easy part.

All of the above tends to translate into implementations that are simpler and operations that are more repeatable. I have run some very large networks over the years and have worked with most of the open source tools (dating back to the days of freely available gated) and have generally found that over the lifespan of network gear (3x that of most servers) the up-front cost of gear was actually one of the cheapest parts of the equation.

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