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Time to Upgrade Cisco Catalyst 6500 Non-E-Series Chassis

Dec 01, 20124 mins
Cisco SystemsNetwork Switches

Support for older 6500 chassis ended yesterday

The Cisco 6500 Ethernet switches were introduced in 1999 and have been deployed by more than 45,000 organizations. Cisco has continued to come out with additional supervisor modules and interface modules and larger power supplies to keep the switches current. However, now the original chassis are outdated and not supported by Cisco anymore. Cisco wants their customers to upgrade their 6500 chassis or consider upgrading to Nexus switches.

The original 6500 switch chassis were limited to 40Gbps per line card and they were limited in the cooling and the amount of power available for PoE interfaces. Cisco later came out with the Supervisor Engine 720 which required organizations, at a minimum, to upgrade their fan trays. Cisco then introduced the Enhanced series (E-Series) chassis which allows for 80Gbps per line card, more robust power supplies and a better fan tray. Now Cisco offers Virtual Switching System (VSS), the Supervisor 2T and higher-density 10GE line cards. Cisco is also working on new features to continue evolving the 6500 series.

The 6500 switches have been quite popular with Cisco’s customers. However, back on November 1, 2005, Cisco announced their End-of-Life (EOL) plan for the 6500-series switch chassis. Yesterday, November 30th, 2012, was the last day of support for the Cisco Catalyst 6500 (non-E-Series) chassis. Of the approximately 800,000 6500s in the field only about 15% are the original (non-E-Series) chassis.

Cisco wants to reassure everyone that the Catalyst 6500 has a long and vibrant roadmap ahead of it, as Cisco continues to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into R&D to make sure the Catalyst platform remains strong for the next decade and continues to be a leader in switching innovation without compromising investment protection. The Supervisor Engine 720s and the 6700-series line cards are still for sale and Cisco has not issued any EOS/EOL dates for those items. The current generation of Sup-2T, the 6800 and 6900-series line cards will be for sale for many years to come.

Everyone recognizes that the cost of the chassis of any network device pales in comparison to the management blade and the cost of the interface modules. The generic cost of a typical Ethernet switch chassis could be around $5k (list price) but the cost of a management blade could be $20k to $30k and a 48-port GE line card could be $8k or a 16-port 10GE line card could be $30K to $40k. Therefore, the price to upgrade the chassis and fan tray and maybe power supplies is minimal compared to the cost of entire switch with all of its contents.

For organizations that still have Cisco 6500 (Non-E-Series) chassis, they have three options.

1) Stay with what you have and hope the chassis does not experience a hardware failure. If you are concerned, you could maybe buy a backup chassis and store it in the basement. However, this is not a solid strategy and you will still want to upgrade at some point.

2) Migrate to E-Series 6500 chassis just plan a simple low-risk change window to upgrade the chassis. This would preserved your configuration the your investment in supervisor module, power supplies and line cards. Upgrading the chassis will ensure that you will benefit from all the future enhancements Cisco is planning for the 6500-series.

3) Depending on your data center architecture you might want to migrate to Cisco Nexus 7k/5k/2k switches. These switches provide new data center switching technology and functionality. Joab Jackson wrote an article “Cisco Catalyst 6500 vs. Cisco Nexus 7000” that clears up misconceptions many may have about choosing 6500s or Nexus switches.

If you choose option 2 or 3 then your preferred Cisco partner may have incentives for you to upgrade to a 6500-E chassis or upgrade to Nexus switches.

Many network engineers have enjoyed working with the 6500 switches over the past decade and Cisco knows how much of a loyal customer base they have who still rely on their 6500s. Thankfully, the Catalyst 6500s will continue to evolve and gain new features and be sold at a cost-effective price point. The Cisco Nexus switches provide excellent performance and modern data center features that are attractive for many organizations. However, many organizations may decide to stay with their investment in 6500s. However, If your organization is using old non-E-series 6500 chassis, now may be the time to make that critical decision to upgrade.