Cisco upgrades Catalyst switches for multimedia

Catalyst 6500, 4500 brought up to speed for new applications

Cisco is stepping up its enterprise switch game to support the collaboration and multimedia it's been pushing as the next generation of work.

Cisco this week is unveiling enhancements to two of its higher-end Catalyst switching lines designed to improve the products’ ability to support real-time enterprise communication and collaboration.

The enhancements include virtual switching for the Cisco Catalyst 6500 and essentially a refresh of the Catalyst 4500 line. The upgrades are intended to usher those two lines, which are long-in-the-tooth yet highly profitable for Cisco, into the world of collaboration and unified communications, applications that require higher network performance and limited downtime.

“Both of these products were developed pre-Y2K,” says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at the Yankee Group. “Foundry’s probably had four or five product releases in that time. So you could argue that the products’ are not nearly as state-of-the-art as some of the other ones.”

Refreshing the Catalyst 6500

The Catayst 6500 Virtual Switching System (VSS) 1440 is enabled by the new Virtual Switching Supervisor Engine 720 with integrated 10Gbps Ethernet uplinks. This capability effectively allows users to combine multiple Catalyst 6500 switches into one, thereby pooling switch bandwidth to increase performance.

“They are abstracting the physical number of devices from the logical management of those devices, which allows an enterprise to operationally streamline the management of Catalyst devices,” says Rob Whiteley, senior analyst of enterprise networking at Forrester Research. “This is critical in the data center, where switch proliferation is very difficult to manage.”

The VSS 1440, which had been expected for two years, scales system bandwidth capacity to as much as 1.44Tbps, Cisco says. It is also designed to simplify operational management by enabling multiple Catalyst 6500 switches to share a single-point of management, single routing instance and single IP address, while eliminating the dependence on Spanning Tree and “first-hop” redundancy protocols, such as Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol.

The integrated 10Gbps uplinks and higher performance hit home with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), which has a purchase order out for 30 of the enhanced switches.

“As our business grows, we demand more performance from our network,” says Jim Messer, director of network services for CME Group. “Eighty percent of our business is done electronically, which is growing 20% to 30% per quarter. To keep with that demand, we need improved performance.

“On the 10G uplinks, today we have to have two slots of the 6500 dedicated for uplink capability,” Messer says. “Moving the 10G to the supervisors allows us to now use those ports to hook up other devices.”

VSS 1440 also extends the life of the Catalyst 6500 line by increasing scalability by a factor of 2 or 4, and offering higher availability, Cisco says. Cisco VSS 1440 delivers subsecond Layer 2 link recovery through interchassis stateful failovers and multichassis Etherchannel technology, the company says.

VSS 1440 is based on 11 new patented hardware and software concepts, according to Cisco.

Cisco has also integrated automatic service monitoring and alert capabilities into the Catalyst 6500 switch. Called SMART Call Home Services, the switches perform monitoring and troubleshooting, issue alerts and automatically generate a service request that includes associated diagnostics.

New look Catalyst 4500

The Catalyst 4500 enhancements include a next-generation architecture embodied in four new chassis. The upgraded line, called the 4500 E-Series, features 320Gbps of switching capacity and a fourfold increase in per slot bandwidth through a centralized switching architecture Cisco calls CenterFlex.

In addition to 320Gbps, CenterFlex technology delivers 250Mpps of centralized forwarding performance for services that enable unified communications. CenterFlex resulted in the filing of 19 new technology patents enhancing security, QoS and performance, Cisco says.

CenterFlex is embodied in the Catalyst 4500 E-Series’ Supervisor6-E switching module. The E-series includes three 10G Ethernet and 10/100/1000Mbps Power over Ethernet (PoE) line cards which quadruple bandwidth per slot, Cisco says.

Customers can use existing Catalyst 4500 line cards with the new Supervisor 6-E switchiong module and new E-Series line cards with existing Catalyst 4500 supervisor modules, Cisco says.

The Catalyst 6500 VSS engines are priced from $31,500 to $38,000 and are available. The Catalyst 4500 E-Series Supervisor 6-E with CenterFlex costs $19,995 and will be available later this month.

The 48-port 10/100/1000 PoE line card for the 4500 E-Series costs $9,495. A 48-port 10/100/1000 “premium” PoE line card costs $11,995. A six-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet line card for the 4500 E-Series costs $24,995.

A three-slot 4500 E-Series chassis costs $995, while a six-slot chassis costs $4,995. A seven-slot chassis costs $9,995 and a 10-slot configuration costs $12,495.

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