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Campus core switch comparison: How Cisco, HP, Juniper differentiate their switches

How do three top campus core Ethernet switch vendors Cisco, HP and Juniper differentiate their offerings?

Growing traffic demands are putting more pressure on campus core Ethernet switches. In the first part of this series, we examined the steps needed to plan for a core switch upgrade. Here in the second part of the series, we look at how Juniper, Cisco and HP differentiate their switches.

Network engineers have a lot riding on the high-speed switching and routing capabilities of their campus core Ethernet switches. Enterprises refresh these campus core switches only a handful of times during a 25-year span, so as any network architect will tell you, it's critical to know what you're buying.

We asked the vendors of three leading core Ethernet switches -- Cisco's Catalyst 6500, HP's 10500 Series, and Juniper's EX8200 -- to explain how they're differentiating their products. The biggest differences come down to cost, longevity, scale, and operation.

Here's what they had to say.

How do you differentiate your campus core switch from your competitors' products?

Cisco: "Customers want platform longevity -- one they can use for the next 10 to 20 years," said Pankaj Gupta, director of campus switching and unified access marketing at Cisco. "Longevity and the maturity of our platform are two of our customers' key purchase considerations. If you install the Catalyst 6500 for the next 10 or 15 years and new technologies emerge, you have investment protection on this platform and will continue to upgrade to the latest technologies, new features and supervisor margins."

The Catalyst 6500 is the oldest campus core platform on the market, but Cisco continuously invests in it and last year tripled its performance by introducing a new supervisor module, the Supervisor 2T, with 500 new features.

"The Catalyst 6500 is for now and the next decade," Gupta said. "While our competitors introduce new platforms every two to three years, our platform is mature and proven in reliability, with deployments across the globe. Its richness of feature sets is a huge differentiation in the marketplace. It takes competitors many years to get to this level of feature richness. We're constantly learning from our customers and integrating their requirements into our platform."

HP: "HP's campus core switch provides a simplified network architecture designed for scalability and reliability," said Kash Shaikh, senior director of product marketing and technical marketing engineering for HP Networking.

"We've really simplified the management of the campus core switch for our customers," Shaikh said. "HP's 10500 gives you a consistent architecture across the data center, campus and branch -- through the Intelligent Management Center."

This is notably in contrast with Cisco, which has separate management systems for its Nexus and Catalyst switches.

"And HP's 10500 Series switches deliver 75% lower latency than its competitors," Shaikh said.

Juniper: The operational benefits of the Virtual Chassis technology on Juniper'sEX8200s has made the platform a popular campus core switch, according to Dhritiman Dasgupta, senior director of product marketing at Juniper.

"Customers see the value in the design flexibility enabled by our Virtual Chassis. Multiple switches can be managed and operated as a single switch," he said. "For example, four of these switches in buildings separated by 40 km look like a single switch to the network administrator."

How much will an enterprise have to pay for your core switch with the components to support 96 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) ports in a chassis?

Cisco: Approximately $240,000 U.S. list. This includes a 6509-E switch chassis, Sup2T 9 Slots Bundle ($38,000), Six 6816 Line Cards ($32,000) and dual power supplies ($5,000). [Editor's note: The expected lifespan of this product is 10 to 15 years.]

HP: Approximately $146,994 U.S. list. This includes an HP 10504 switch chassis ($6,000), four HP 10504 960 Gbps Type D Fabric Modules ($8,999), HP 100500 Main Processing Unit ($9,000), dual HP 10500 2500 AC power supplies ($2,000), two HP 10500 48-port 10 GbE SFP+ SF Modules ($45,999).

Juniper: Approximately $145,000 U.S. list. This includes the EX8216 redundant chassis with 96 line-rate 10 GbE ports. As a 5:1 oversubscribed 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch, the average selling price would be approximately $75,000.

How much total bandwidth can your supervisor module support?

Cisco: 2 Tbps.

HP: The 10500 uses a distributed Clos architecture. The 10512 can balance traffic across four resilient fabric modules, providing up to 13.32 Tbps in switching fabric capacity.

Juniper: 5.1 Tbps.

Which networking and routing protocols does your switch support?

Cisco: Most of the existing routing and switching protocols.

HP: The switch supports virtually all standardized protocols, including RIP, OSPF and BGP.

Juniper: Juniper supports all standard Layer 2 protocols, including spanning tree and its variants, such as RSTP, MSTP, VSTP; and Layer 3 protocols such as IPv4 and IPv6 for OSPF, IS-IS and BGP.

What's your switch's total maximum port density for a chassis? How many 10 GbE ports can it handle? How about 40 GbE and 100 GbE ports?

Cisco: The Catalyst 65130-E can support 18010 GbE ports and 44 40 GbE ports.

HP: The 10500 supports up to 576 10 GbE or 1 GbE ports at wire speed. It can support up to 96 40 GbE ports at wire speed. The 100 GbE modules aren't yet available, but each slot can support up to 1.1 Tbps throughput with today's fabric modules.

Juniper: The EX8200 offers 640 10 GbE ports at 5:1 oversubscription, in addition to 128 10 GbE line rate on the EX8200 platform. Juniper hasn't announced plans for supporting 40 GbE and 100 GbE on the platform yet.

Does your switch support OpenFlow for SDN?

Cisco: The Catalyst 6500 has an OpenFlow client implemented to do the protocol in hardware. Cisco is currently running a proof-of-concept with selected customers.

HP: The 10500 will support OpenFlow 1.3 this year, and HP supports OpenFlow on more than a dozen switch models. HP's Virtual Application Network framework for delivering SDN provides Intelligent Management Center as a single pane-of-glass solution for the entire network.

Juniper: Though OpenFlow isn't officially supported on the EX8200, demo versions are available with Junos-based switches such as the EX4200. Juniper's EX8200 is SDN-ready and has all the software needed to support SDN.

This was last published in March 2013

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What is the most important factor in choosing a campus core switch?
Look at and compare with Arista Networks offerings... Very innovative solutions..
We had evaluated the three vendors switches for our Data Center. I found HP to be a comprehensive switch and it has been a year since the installation and till date there been no outage in the system. Further am surprised why Brocade hasn't been considered as part of this comparison. After reviewing the same, i can certainly say that they are in the same league.