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Cisco Catalyst switch evolves, aims at real-time services

Cisco Systems this week rolled out two new series of Catalyst switches designed to help users boost performance of real-time services and applications.

Cisco Systems this week announced two new Catalyst switch series, adding in functionality that the networking giant said will ensure that new, real-time services achieve high performance, security, availability and quality of service.

Much like the networking visions 3Com and HP ProCurve Networking announced earlier this week, Cisco's switch upgrades are angled toward integrating services into the network. The latest releases play off Cisco's Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA).

According to Fred Weiller, Cisco's director of switching product marketing, companies face the challenge of using the existing network to integrate real-time applications and services. Networking pros are now charged with deploying user-centric applications by distributing intelligent network services into the network fabric.

Weiller said the overall goal is for users to "see the application and experience the network."

As that infrastructure becomes more sensitive to users, "the network has to work the way people work," according to Ish Limkakeng, director of marketing for the desktop switching unit at Cisco.

With that in mind, Cisco announced the Catalyst 3750-E and 3560-E Series switches, enterprise-class lines of 10/100/1000 wiring closet switches with 10 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks and full Power over Ethernet (PoE) configurations. The switches are part of Cisco StackWise Plus and are backward compatible, meaning users can stack and integrate them with the existing 3750 Series switches, 3750G with integrated Wireless LAN Controller and Cisco Integrated Services Routers (ISRs). Other features include a Cisco TwinGig Converter Module, which lets users change GigE uplinks to a 10 GigE uplink for future proofing, and full PoE, providing 802.3af Class 3 power on every port in a single rack unit form factor.

"It puts more strength on the network," Weiller said, adding that 10 GigE and PoE help network pros spread services throughout the network, allowing enterprises to prepare for the unpredictable nature of future traffic.

Zeus Kerravala, Yankee Group vice president, said the two new switches lay the groundwork for advance services deployment for voice and video and ease the migration to 10 GigE. The announcements "will extend highly secure wired and wireless user access, while easing network and operations management for stretched administrators," he said.

Kerravala added that the 10 GigE converter gives network admins the ability to future-proof and better plan for a 10 GigE deployment. Yankee Group expects 2008 to see the next big wave for 10 GigE deployments.

"The 10 GigE converter creates a lot of flexibility," he said. "Run Gig now and 10 GigE when you're ready."

At Duke University, which has a 27,000 node network for students, faculty and administrators, 10 GigE has been on the radar screen for telecommunications deployments and the anticipation of more video applications to be used throughout the campus. The university has tested the Catalyst 3750-E and is using it to gradually upgrade to 10 GigE. According to Kevin Miller, Duke's senior manager of network services, the backward compatibility will allow the university to roll out the 3750-E to upgrade existing stacks of 1,000 Catalyst 3750s that are already deployed.

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In a statement, Miller said the university needs "10 GigE for select telecommunications and data center deployments, and we expect to need even more as we deploy video applications throughout the campus. The Cisco Catalyst 3750-E allows us to deploy with 1 Gigabit uplinks now, with the ability to easily upgrade to 10 GigE uplinks as needed in the future."

Limkakeng said the new Catalyst switch series plays on the changing role of network pros, who are now focused not only on how the network performs but how the services and applications running on it fare.

"The emphasis on what people do has changed," he said. "It's not going to be just one thing anymore. It won't be just one application or one service."

Cisco also released full-image In-Service Software Upgrade (ISSU) capabilities on the Cisco Catalyst 4507R and 4510R switches with redundant supervisor engines. Full-image ISSU lets customers upgrade the complete Cisco IOS Software image without taking the switch or network out of service, which Limkakeng said can virtually eliminate planned network outages.

And, beginning with the new Catalyst 3750-E and 3560-E, a Cisco IOS Software image containing all feature sets will be installed at manufacturing, allowing customers to activate features on the go without having to load a new IOS Software image.

Kerravala said that activating IOS Software features on the fly will be a huge relief for already overburdened IT staffs. He said Cisco neglected to add that in for far too long.

"Upgrading can be a very long, tedious process," he said. "It's possible you might have to replace the memory, open the box. I think the upgrade time will be an order of magnitude faster. Can you imagine having to reload the whole OS onto a PC every time you wanted to add a feature?"

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