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Venerable Cisco Catalyst 6000 switches ousted by new Catalyst 9600

News Analysis
Apr 29, 20194 mins

Cisco introduced Catalyst 9600 switches, that let customers automate, set policy, provide security and gain assurance across wired and wireless networks.

Credit: Martyn Williams

Few events in the tech industry are truly transformative, but Cisco’s replacement of its core Catalyst 6000 family could be one of those actions for customers and the company.

Introduced in 1999, have nestled into the core of scores of enterprise networks, with the model 6500 becoming the company’s largest selling box ever.

It goes without question that migrating these customers alone to the new switch – the Catalyst 9600  which the company introduced today – will be of monumental importance to Cisco as it looks to revamp and continue to dominate large campus-core deployments. The first Catalyst 9000, introduced in June 2017, is already the fastest ramping product line in Cisco’s history.

“There are at least tens of thousands of Cat 6000s running in campus cores all over the world,” said Sachin Gupta, senior vice president for product management at Cisco.  ”It is the Swiss Army knife of switches in term of features, and we have taken great care and over two years developing feature parity and an easy migration path for those users to the Cat 9000.”

Indeed the 9600 brings with it for Cat 6000 features such as support for MPLS, virtual switching and IPv6, while adding or bolstering support for newer items such as Intent-based networking (IBN), wireless networks and security segmentation. Strategically the 9600 helps fill out the company’s revamped lineup which includes the 9200 family of access switches, the 9500 aggregation switch and 9800 wireless controller.

Some of the  nitty-gritty details about the 9600:

  • It is a purpose-built 40 Gigabit and 100 Gigabit Ethernet line of modular switches targeted for the enterprise campus with a wired switching capacity of up to 25.6 Tbps, with up to 6.4 Tbps of bandwidth per slot.
  • The switch supports granular port densities that fit diverse campus needs, including nonblocking 40 Gigabit and 100 Gigabit Ethernet Quad Small Form-Factor Pluggable (QSFP+, QSFP28) and 1, 10, and 25 GE Small Form-Factor Pluggable Plus (SFP, SFP+, SFP28).
  • It  can be configured to support up to 48 nonblocking 100 Gigabit Ethernet QSPF28 ports with the Cisco Catalyst 9600 Series Supervisor Engine 1; Up to 96 nonblocking 40 Gigabit Ethernet QSFP+ ports with the Cisco Catalyst 9600 Series Supervisor Engine 1 and Up to 192 nonblocking 25 Gigabit/10 Gigabit Ethernet SFP28/SFP+ ports with the Cisco Catalyst 9600 Series Supervisor Engine 1.
  • It supports advanced routing and infrastructure services (MPLS, Layer 2 and Layer 3 VPNs, Multicast VPN, and Network Address Translation.
  • Cisco Software-Defined Access capabilities (such as a host-tracking database, cross-domain connectivity, and VPN Routing and Forwarding [VRF]-aware Locator/ID Separation Protocol; and network system virtualization with Cisco StackWise virtual technology.

The 9600 series runs Cisco’s IOS XE software which now runs across all Catalyst 9000 family members. The software brings with it support for other key products such as Cisco’s DNA Center which controls automation capabilities, assurance setting, fabric provisioning and policy-based segmentation for enterprise networks. What that means is that with one user interface, DNA Center, customers can automate, set policy, provide security and gain assurance across the entire wired and wireless network fabric, Gupta said.   

“The 9600 is a big deal for Cisco and customers as it brings together the campus core and lets users establish standards access and usage policies across their wired and wireless environments,” said Brandon Butler, a senior research analyst with IDC. “It was important that Cisco add a powerful switch to handle the increasing amounts of traffic wireless and cloud applications are bringing to the network.”

IOS XE brings with it automated device provisioning and a wide variety of automation features including support for the network configuration protocol NETCONF and RESTCONF using YANG data models.  The software offers near-real-time monitoring of the network, leading to quick detection and rectification of failures, Cisco says.

The software also supports hot patching which provides fixes for critical bugs and security vulnerabilities between regular maintenance releases. This support lets customers add patches without having to wait for the next maintenance release, Cisco says.

As with the rest of the Catalyst family, the 9600 is available via subscription-based licensing. Cisco says the base licensing package includes Network Advantage licensing options that are tied to the hardware. The base licensing packages cover switching fundamentals, management automation, troubleshooting, and advanced switching features. These base licenses are perpetual.

An add-on licensing package includes the Cisco DNA Premier and Cisco DNA Advantage options. The Cisco DNA add-on licenses are available as a subscription.

IDC’S Butler noted that there are competitors such as Ruckus, Aruba and Extreme that offer switches capable of melding wired and wireless environments.

The new switch is built for the next two decades of networking, Gupta said.  “If any of our competitors though they could just go in and replace the Cat 6k they were misguided.”