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Lonely week for the Cisco Catalyst 6500

Insieme and Arista announcements target its replacement, and its caretaker leaves

Perhaps overlooked in all of the Insieme/Arista news this week are references to Cisco's venerable Catalyst 6500 switch. The 14-year-old workhorse has been THE data center network for that length of time, and for the past five years was gradually being supplanted by the Nexus 7000 - or merchant silicon-based non-Cisco platforms.

Now that Cisco's acquired Insieme and rolled out the Nexus 9000, Insieme's Soni Jiandani specifically mentioned an aggressive technology migration program aimed at the Cat 6k in end-of-row data center deployments. She promised details on that program but we're still waiting for those (we also expect a similar program for the Nexus 7000 as it assumes a more specific role of data center interconnect in the Insieme/Nexus 9000 world of Application Centric Infrastructure).

[STICKS AND STONES: Cisco competitors say Nexus 9000 brings closed hardware to an open software game]

Arista also said it has a Catalyst 6500 trade-in program underway for data centers looking to refresh their end-of-row/middle-of-row deployments with Arista's new 7300X and 7250X platforms. Details of that program were not made available to us this week either.

It should come as no surprise that the Cat 6k is targeted for data center upgrade programs. These have been underway for years. And in the enterprise campus, it will soon be supplanted by the new Catalyst 6800.

But another event that occurred this week piqued more speculation that the old workhorse's days may be coming to a rapid end: Kumar Srikantan, vice president and general manager of hardware engineering in Cisco's Enterprise Networking Group, and who worked on the Cat 6k for most of its life, left the company to become CEO of start-up Pluribus Networks. Pluribus is developing products designed to deliver a software-defined data center fabric.

Srikantan said he was recruited by venture capitalists and then was impressed by the Pluribus approach to software-defined fabrics. The company offers a top-of-rack server/switch combination and bare metal network hypervisor operating system that can run applications, provide storage and provision services like DNS, DHCP, load balancing, firewalls, analytics and packet capture.

Two or more of these server/switch combinations can create a large, virtual data center fabric with network virtualization and software-based control with a variety of proprietary and standard APIs.

Srikantan says this approach - a "fabric-scale" OS, as he called it -- is fundamentally different from the endpoint/overlay technique proposed by VMware and its NSX platform, and the physical/virtual integration offered by Cisco/Insieme. He says he's excited by Pluribus' customer traction in 16 countries, "strong" funding, investors, and the pedigree of its founders and personnel.

Srikantan says the timing of his move to Pluribus with the aggressive Cat 6k trade-in programs offered by his former employer and its young rival is coincidental. Naturally, he wouldn't discuss the status of the Cat 6k at the time he left Cisco.

"A lot of traditional data centers have a lot of that gear installed over the last 15 years," he said. "It's only natural to figure out how to upgrade, replace that infrastructure. It's an opportunity to move to new technology. It should come as no surprise."

It doesn't. We've been expecting it and attempting to chart it for at least five years now. It's just interesting to note that three news events this week - one of which was the most anticipated announcement since SDNs became vogue -- were directly or indirectly tied back to the Catalyst 6500. 

Rough week for the old girl.

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