Cisco delivers "monster" Catalyst switch in major product refresh

Programmable and optimized for 10/40/100G, Cisco Catalyst 6800 line still does not yet retire the decade-old Cat 6500

Cisco this week will significantly update its enterprise network line-up with programmable campus and branch switches and routers designed to tightly bind applications to network hardware and services.

The new products include the Catalyst 6800 backbone switching line, a new supervisor engine for Cisco’s 4500-E chassis-based access switch, a new high-end ISR branch router and application performance extensions to the ASR 1000 edge router.

Cisco 6800

Cisco 6800

[ FIRST LOOK: Cisco Catalyst 6800 switch and friends ]

“Cisco has…delivered a monster Catalyst,” says Bill Carter, senior business communications analyst at value-added reseller Sentinel Technologies in Springfield, Ill. “This gives customers a core switch with 10G/40G/100G with the feature set required in the campus.”

The company, which this week hosts its Cisco Live event in Orlando, says its new products fit within an Enterprise Network Architecture under which applications, network services software and hardware networking functions all work together.

Much of this synergy is facilitated by Cisco’s ONE API framework for programmable networking and associated ASICs optimized for Cisco ONE programmability. Cisco ONE and its onePK API set is Cisco’s response to software-defined networking (SDN), in which many of the functions of network behavior are divorced from hardware and centrally administered by software controllers.

[UPDATE: Cisco enterprise boss reports on programmability]

SDN makes network functions less reliant on specific hardware and operating systems, and more accommodating to commodity switching and open source software. It threatens Cisco’s dominance and fat profits in routers and switches.

Cisco is combatting the SDN trend by attempting to tightly link software programmability of network infrastructure to custom-developed ASIC hardware and hardware-specific operating systems, and defending its incumbency and massive installed base. These new products are instantiations of that strategy.

Cisco says it will support onePK across its entire enterprise routing and switching portfolio within the next 12 months, beginning with the ISR 4451-AX and ASR 1000-AX routers announced this week, which will support onePK in late summer/early fall.

The Catalyst 6800 is an outgrowth of the ubiquitous – and 10+ year old – Catalyst 6500. The 6800 is targeted at campus backbone 10/40/100Gbps services. In addition to network programmability, the 6800 is supervisor- and line card-compatible with the 6500, Cisco says, adding that there is still no date set for retiring the 6500.

“I see the Cat 6800 as a natural evolution of the 6500 platform,” says IDC analyst Rohit Mehra. “While scale and performance are going to be important, so will the need for providing agility and deploying programmable platforms. That's what the 6800 brings to the table with added simplicity, while maintaining operational consistency and continuity with the 6500 product suite.”

Sources say Cisco still has a vibrant roadmap for the Catalyst 6500, including a 10Tbps supervisor engine in the works. Cisco confirmed that a 10T supervisor engine is planned for both the 6500 and 6800 switches. The company would not say when it's coming.

The 6800 lines include the 6807-XL, the 6880-X and the 6800ia. The 6807-XL is a modular campus backbone switch with a seven-slot, 10RU chassis. It supports up to 880Gbps per slot and 11.4Tbps of switch capacity. It will go head-to-head against HP’s 11Tbps 10500 switch, and Juniper’s EX8200 and EX9200 switches in Virtual Chassis configurations.

By contrast, the Catalyst 6513-E with the Supervisor 2T supports 80Gbps per slot but that bandwidth can be doubled in a Virtual Switching System configuration. The Sup 2T can work in the new 6807-XL chassis, as can 6700, 6800 and 6900 series line cards for the Catalyst 6500-E, Cisco says.  

The 6807-XL is optimized for 10/40/100G Ethernet switching, while the 6500-E is optimized for 10G.

The 6880-X is a 3-slot, 4.5RU switching with a fixed supervisor engine – it cannot be changed. It supports up to 80 10G ports or 20 40G ports, and is targeted at mid-market/mid-sized campus deployments. The supervisor sports 16 10G ports, and the switch’s four half slots house optional 10G and 40G line cards.

The Catalyst 6800ia “Instant Access” switch is designed to support automated deployment and provisioning through “one touch” programming, Cisco says. It allows IT departments to virtually consolidate access switches across the campus into one extended switch.

The 6800ia sports 48 Gigabit Ethernet ports and two 10G uplinks. The switch is analogous to Cisco’s FEX fabric extension architecture with the Nexus 7000 data center switching systems, analysts say.

“It does fill out the Cisco 6800 family for enterprise campuses that may require a fixed form factor, adjunct to a broader 6800 deployment, with a common operational and management model,” says IDC’s Mehra. “What Cisco will need to do though, will be to carefully position and differentiate from its (Catalyst 2000 and 3000) platforms to ensure its channels and partners are clear where to deploy each.”

The new Supervisor Engine 8E for the Catalyst 4500-E modular access switch includes Cisco’s new programmable UADP ASIC for wired and wireless convergence, which was unveiled early this year. It is designed to unify wired and wireless policies and management. The 8E works with existing Catalyst 4500-E chassis and line cards, Cisco says.

For large branch deployments, Cisco’s new ISR 4451-AX router features up to 2Gbps forward performance with native Cisco WAAS-based WAN optimization, and “LAN-like experience” at the branch, Cisco says.

Complementing that is the ASR 1000-AX WAN edge router, which integrates Cisco’s Application Visibility and Control and AppNav capabilities with virtual WAAS WAN optimization for providing application control and services on WAN links aggregated from branch sites.

The Cisco ISR 4451-AX is available now with prices starting at $18,000. The ASR 1000-AX and 4500-E Supervisor Engine 8E are scheduled to be available in July, at starting prices of $45,000 and $28,000, respectively.

The Catalyst 6800 switch series is scheduled to be available in November, at a starting price of $40,000.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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