Cisco ups its game in top-shelf enterprise switching, Wi-Fi, 5G

Cisco adds high-end wired and wireless Catalyst gear and announces private 5G-as-a-service with partners.

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Cisco has rolled out new wired and wireless gear aimed at amping up core campus wired and wireless networks to better support surging demand for remote connectivity.

The company has added more powerful switches to the high end of its core enterprise Catalyst family—the biggest powered by Cisco’s high-performance Silicon One processors—as well as its Catalyst and Meraki wireless boxes to add Wi-Fi 6E support. It also announced private 5G as a service.

The driving idea behind the upgrades is to increase network performance, capacity, and reliability as applications are distributed across data enters and clouds, according to Todd Nightingale, Cisco’s Enterprise Networking & Cloud business chief.

“No longer can we pretend that a fast agile network is a nice-to-have. It is essential to achieve a strategic and competitive advantage,” Nightingale said. “Since March of 2020, we’ve seen traffic on the rise across all sites. But video adoption is leading the way especially in small sites like offices and retail locations that are now generating 30% more traffic than the before the start of the pandemic."

High-end enterprise Catalyst switches

With that in mind, Cisco has introduced Catalyst 9500 and 9600X switches, which are powered by the Cisco 12.8Tbps Silicon One Q200 chip. Aimed at enterprise networks that need greater speed, bandwidth, and throughput to support modern application workloads. the new Catalyst boxes feature 100Gbps access/400Gbps core switching. 

“These switches bring the advantages of routing and switching together in one unified architecture driving unprecedented enterprise performance,” said Chris Stori, senior vice president & general manager of Cisco Networking Experiences in a presentation announcing the new gear. 

 “With four times lower power consumption, and future proofed programmability each 400-Gig port provides enough bandwidth to run 80,000 simultaneous high-definition video streams—incredibly impressive, considering that’s five times the number of titles you can find in the entire Netflix library.”

Until now Cisco’s Silicon One chip technology was reserved for the company’s 8000 Series hyperscaler, carrier-class routers. Silicon One optical-routing silicon includes support for large non-blocking distributed routers, deep buffering with rich QoS, and programmable forwarding.

All Silicon One boxes are programmable, as they can be customized for a range of applications from a single chipset, eliminating the need to deploy multiple, specific silicon for standalone processors, line-card processors, and fabric elements. This is accomplished with a common and unified P4 programmable-forwarding code and SDK, according to Cisco.

Wi-Fi 6E gear

The Catalyst wired line wasn’t the only Cisco family that got refreshed. Cisco added two high-end wireless access points – the Catalyst 9136 and Meraki MR57 – that feature support for Wi-Fi 6/6E networks.

Wi-Fi 6E, which is still in its nascent stage, promises to further take advantage of the newly available unlicensed 6GHz wireless spectrum, and products supporting it will support tons of bandwidth and higher data rates.

Both new devices use a flexible tri-band radio that can operate in a 2.4GHz and dual 5GHz or a 2.45GHz and 6GHz mode, giving users the control to adapt and optimize their wireless network as Wi-Fi 6E clients become more prevalent, according to Greg Dorai, vice president of product management, in Cisco’s Secure Access Group.

Both devices feature a dramatic expansion of capacity and can tie in IoT devices via USB, Thread, and BLE. Dorai said they are well suited to support bandwidth-hungry, low-latency applications such as AR, VR, streaming video, and holographic WebEx. 

The Catalyst 9136 has built in intelligence that can optimize spectrum use by automatically routing Wi-Fi 6E devices to the 6GHz band to avoid congestion or interference, Dorai said. 

Cisco bolstering mobile network components was good news for Banita Hyman, director enterprise services, Information Technology with the Norfolk Southern Railway who spoke at the Cisco announcement. Norfolk Southern has been building a digital railroad with a mobile-first strategy, Hyman said. “Safety is a key aspect of our return-to-work model, and the mobile app we have built has allowed us to eliminate a lot of touch points in the building.”

Private 5G service

In addition to the new hardware, Cisco also announced a private, managed 5G service the vendor will be offering that will include integration with third-party service providers and partners.

“With Cisco Private 5g delivered as a service, partners can white label a powerful 5Gand IoT offering while avoiding the expensive and time-consuming startup costs of solution development," Stori said. 

The cloud-based service will include features such as secure IoT-device on-boarding, 5G- and industrial-IoT network management, and integration with Cisco’s identity and policy system.

Cisco envisions the service as a complimentary offering to Wi-Fi.   

“There’s enough use cases, enough need for spectrum, for both of these to coexist. For a lot of indoor carpeted use cases, typically Wi-Fi is fine. For cases when you need those 9999999 reliability, a dedicated spectrum with private 5G is better and outdoor with big coverage like in a warehouse private 5Gis better,” Nightingale said. 

Further details of the service will be revealed at Mobile World Congress at the end of the month, Stori said.

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