The illustrious history of Cisco’s Catalyst LAN switches

Cisco's LAN switches have come a long way since it entered the market in 1993


In The Beginning…

Cisco’s entry into LAN switching resulted from the 1993 acquisition of Crescendo Communications. With it, Cisco inherited three key officials: Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain and Jayshree Ullal.

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Catalyst 1200

First Born

 Cisco’s first Catalyst switch from the Crescendo acquisition was the Catalyst 1200, an Ethernet/FDDI workgroup switch for connecting dedicated Ethernet segments to a 100Mbps FDDI backbone ring.


The Kalpana Angle

In 1994, Cisco buys Ethernet switch vendor Kalpana for $207 million. Kalpana’s modular and stackable switches will form the foundation of Cisco Catalyst 3000 series.


Lighting the way

Later in 1994, Cisco acquires ATM switch maker LightStream for $120 million. Though not a Catalyst-branded product, LightStream enterprise ATM switches will complement the Catalyst product line by connecting Ethernet to ATM backbones and workgroups, which were all the rage at the time.

RingSwitch token-ring switch

Token gesture

In 1995, Cisco enters into an exclusive OEM deal with token-ring LAN vendor Madge Networks to resell Madge’s RingSwitch token-ring switch as the Catalyst 1600.

Catalyst 5000

Reaching the crescendo?

At the same time as the Madge deal, Cisco unveils the Catalyst 5000, a modular backbone switch based on technology from 1993’s Crescendo acquisition.

Grand Junction Networks

Reaching the Junction

Later in 1995, Cisco acquires Fast Ethernet start-up Grand Junction Networks for 100Base-T and desktop Ethernet switches. Grand Junction’s products will become Cisco’s Catalyst 1700, 1900 and 2800 series switches.

Nashoba Networks

Acquiring minds want to know

In 1996, Cisco acquired two companies to add significant technology to its Catalyst series switches: Nashoba Networks for token-ring, and Gigabit Ethernet start-up Granite Systems. Nashoba Networks gives Cisco a range of token-ring LAN switching products for workgroups and backbones; Granite, led at the time by Sun co-founder and Arista Networks founder Andy Bechtolsheim (pictured), provides multilayer Gigabit Ethernet for backbones.

Catalyst 5500

Catalyst 5000 gains a big brother

In the spring of 1997, Cisco unveils the Catalyst 5500, a 13-slot LAN/ATM switch to beef up the 5000 series. It triples the backplane capacity of the Catalyst 5000.

Catalyst 8500 Campus Switch Router

Cisco addresses Layer 3 switching

In April 1998, Cisco announces the Catalyst 8500 Campus Switch Router, a core gigabit Layer 3 switch that serves as the company’s response to routing switches that threaten its router profitability.

Catalyst 4000 arrives

Catalyst 4000 arrives

Later in the 1990s, Cisco unveils the Catalyst 4000 modular Fast Ethernet/Gigabit Ethernet switches, which feature QoS capabilities for integrated voice, video and data, among other functions. The line debuts with the 4003 and 4006 chassis.

Catalyst 6000 and 6500 multigigabit switches

The Game Changer emerges

In early 1999, Cisco announces the Catalyst 6000 and 6500 multigigabit switches, which feature integrated support for voice. The Catalyst 6000 can serve as the core backbone switch for Catalyst 5000 workgroups or it can provide very high-density front-end aggregation for a Catalyst 8500 Campus Switch Router in the network core. They will include six- and nine-slot chassis configurations called the 6006 and 6009, and 6506 and 6509, respectively. The 6500 series goes on to be the most successful switch in Cisco’s history, accounting for billions in revenue.

Catalyst 4500

An upgrade for the 4000

Cisco upgrades the Catalyst 4000 series with the Catalyst 4500, which improves redundancy over its predecessor. Three chassis are part of the Catalyst 4500 series: the seven-slot 4507R with integrated, redundant supervisory engines; the 4506, a six-slot version; and the 4503, with three slots.

Catalyst 6500

E-Series Anyone?

Cisco upgrades the Catalyst 6500 in 2004 with six E-Series chassis. The new E-Series chassis are designed to boost power above and beyond the 4000W of the previous generation chassis and support multiterabit switching capacities, including bandwidths of up to 180G per slot.

catalyst 4500

E-Series, Part Deux

In 2007, Cisco unveils four new E-Series chassis for the Catalyst 4500. The 4500 E features 320Gbps of switching capacity and a fourfold increase in per slot bandwidth. It also delivers 250Mbps of centralized forwarding performance for services that enable unified communications. Pictured is the Supervisor 7E for the 4500 E-Series.

Catalyst 3850


More recent Catalyst extensions include the Catalyst 3850, which debuted early in 2013. The 3850 is based on a new Cisco programmable ASIC called the Unified Access Data Plane (UADP) that is designed to converge processing and termination of wired and wireless traffic into a single data plane, enable consistent services to be applied to both, and allow for deployment of software-defined networking services. The 3850 represents the next generation of Cisco's Catalyst 3000 series switches.

Catalyst 2960-X

Bettering a Best Seller

The Catalyst 2960-X was introduced in June 2013. It is an upgrade of the 2000 series, Cisco’s best-selling Catalyst switch. The 2960-X is a stackable Gigabit Ethernet switch available in 24- or 48-port configurations, with 10G uplinks and a stacking capacity of 40G to 80G.

Catalyst 6800

The Next Campus Workhouse

Cisco in 2013 also unveiled the future for the campus core, an eventual successor to the successful but 15-year-old Catalyst 6500. The Catalyst 6800 is targeted at campus backbone 10/40/100Gbps services. The 6800 is programmable, and supervisor- and line card-compatible with the 6500.

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