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Cisco eyes smaller nets

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SAN JOSE - Cisco this week will announce three LAN switches designed to bring enterprise-class features and function - at a low cost - to smaller business networks.

Cisco's Catalyst Mid-Market LAN Switching Solution is a family of stackable and stand-alone Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches with pricing and simplicity that Cisco hopes will appeal to companies with 250 to 1,000 employees.

While Cisco declined to comment on the announcements, sources say the firm will offer the new switches at about $100 per Layer 2 10/100/1000M bit/sec port. In doing so, Cisco is looking to remain competitive with 3Com, which offers 24-port stackable 10/100/1000M bit/ sec Layer 2 switches for about $80 per port.

"These Cisco products hit the right price points, and they have just enough features to satisfy these types of customers," says Esmeralda Silva, research analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. "Everyone has been talking about how Cisco has taken on 3Com in the SME [small and midsize enterprise] market and is surprised at the amount of revenue that is generated from the SME group within Cisco.

"One thing to keep in mind is that Cisco is really targeting the 250-to-1,000 midrange customer base and not the 250 and below," Silva says. "Below 250, I don't think Cisco has hit 3Com significantly, but the 250-to-1,000 base is where Cisco has hit hardest."

The new Mid-Market products are the Catalyst 3548 XL, the 2948G L3 and the 4908G L3. The 3548 XL is a stackable 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet wiring closet switch, and the other two boxes are Layer 3 network core switches.

The 3548 XL is the new high end of Cisco's 3500 XL line of stackable switches. These switches use a two-port Gigabit Interface Converter (GBIC) for daisy chaining and point-to-point connectivity.

GBICs allow users to swap physical Gigabit Ethernet interfaces.

The 3548 XL also supports Cisco Switch Clustering technology for grouping distributed switches into a single cluster or IP domain. Cisco Switch Clustering allows users to group and manage up to 16 switches with a single IP address.

The 3548 XL features 48 10/100 ports and two GigaStack GBICs. Up to now, the 3500 XL line topped out with the 24-port 3524 XL.

Business Resource Group (BRG), an office products chain on the West Coast, is testing the 3548 XL.

"Forty-eight ports makes good sense for us," says Walter Miller, manager of technology and infrastructure at BRG's San Jose facility. "We have a couple of suites connected over fiber with 30 to 50 users in each. We can buy a single switch for each suite instead of stacking multiples."

The 3548 XLs are part of a six-switch 3500 XL cluster that BRG can manage through a single IP address, Miller says. With the new 3548 XL, more than 750 ports can be managed through a single IP address, he says.

The previous limit was 384 ports with the 3524 XL. Before Cisco Switch Clustering, each switch had to be individually managed.

The 2948G L3 is a Layer 3 version of Cisco's 2948G, a 48-port 10/100 switch with two Gigabit Ethernet uplinks. While the 2948G is a Layer 2 device designed for desktop and workgroup wiring closets, the 2948G L3 is a routing switch targeted at midmarket Fast Ethernet backbones.

Indeed, the 2948G L3 is intended for aggregating multiprotocol traffic from multiple wiring closets or desktop switches such as the Layer 2 2900 XLs.

For Layer 3 gigabit backbones, the 4908G L3 is positioned as an aggregator of Catalyst 3500 XLs and 2900 XLs in wiring closets. The device features eight GBIC Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Cisco also offers the 12-port Catalyst 4912G for users who need to aggregate gigabit wiring closet and server farm links. But this switch is a Layer 2 device, while the 4908G L3 is a Layer 3 switch, meaning users can further segment networks into subnets or domains and gain more control over where traffic flows.

The switches are expected to ship this quarter.

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