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Cisco upgrades Catalyst 4500 and 6500 switches

Cisco today released updates to its modular Catalyst 4500 and 6500 switch series to add more capacity, scalability and redundancy.

Cisco this week rolled out two new modular Catalyst switch offerings that the networking giant claimed will help...

companies boost productivity and deliver support as rich interactive and collaborative applications are being layered on top of the network.

The upgrades to the Catalyst 4500 and 6500 come at a time when Cisco is taking a lot of flack for the age of both switches, which were released around 1999.

"Cisco gets criticized a lot for the age of these switches, because the 6500 and 4500 are kind of old," said Yankee Group senior vice president Zeus Kerravala. "Yeah, they're old, but they've had a lot of new supervisor modules that let them still run as state-of-the-art switches."

The switch updates, part of Cisco's Campus Communications Fabric, include:

  • The Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series Virtual Switch System (VSS) 1440, which is enabled by the Virtual Switching Supervisor Engine 720 with 10 Gig E. Essentially, the system combines several Catalyst 6500 switches into one. The VSS 1440 scales system bandwidth capacity to as much as 1.44 terabits per second (Tbps). According to Cisco, it also simplifies operation management by allowing multiple Catalyst 6500 Series switches to share a single point of management, single routing instance and single IP address, while also eliminating the need for Spanning Tree and first-hop redundancy protocols like Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP).
  • The Cisco Catalyst 4500 E-Series with CenterFlex technology offers better configuration flexibility and high performance so users can optimize their unified networks for rich applications, while also offering forward and backward compatibility.

According to Cisco senior marketing director Walt Blomquist, the VSS 1440 raises the bar for the 6500. Users who upgrade to the new Catalyst 6500 Series Virtual Supervisor Engine 720 with integrated 10 Gig E uplinks enhance existing Catalyst 6500 investments. The VSS capabilities can boost system bandwidth capacity and allow the 6500 Series switches to look and act as a single virtual switch and scale system bandwidth capacity to 1.44 Tbps by activating all available bandwidth across the two Catalyst 6500 switches.

Kerravala summed up the VSS 1440 like this: "It cascades two switches together and makes them look like one big switch. It creates the capacity of one larger switch, but it's distributed."

In addition, Kerravala said, making two switches look like one makes the switch easier to manage, since it makes the two switches one virtual device. The single point of configuration and management of the VSS increases operational efficiency and simplifies network management.

"It's easier to manage it as one switch," he said, adding that features can run cross switch and it creates double the capacity. Binding two switches together also increases performance because it improves the utilization of each individual switch, similar to pooling storage resources.

Cisco gets criticized a lot for the age of these switches ... but they've had a lot of new supervisor modules that let them still run as state-of-the-art switches.
Zeus Kerravala
Senior Vice PresidentYankee Group

Jake Seitz, enterprise architect at The First American Corporation, a business information provider in Santa Ana, Calif., said the company is evaluating the Catalyst 6500 Series VSS 1440 for a campus-wide deployment. First American already has a 6500 infrastructure in place and is looking to reach higher internal service levels with its existing equipment while planning to upgrade the network with the VSS 1440 to simplify and increase operational efficiency.

In a statement, Seitz said: "The VSS 1440 changes the way we build and maintain networks by providing a level of flexibility and scalability that we have not seen. As we already have a Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series infrastructure, our upgrade path is relatively minimal, since all we have to do is swap out the supervisor engines."

Jim Messer, director of network services for the CME Group, a large financial exchange, is testing the VSS 1440 and the Virtual Supervisor Engine 720 with integrated 10 Gig E in the lab in hopes of enhancing reliability. Currently, failover from the primary route to the secondary route in CME Group's network runs to about 50 seconds. In the lab, Messer said, he was able to chop that down to two or three seconds. And while advanced applications like IP video and VoIP require that level of reliability, he said, 80% of CME Group's business is online electronic trading, an environment where time really is money.

"Latency tolerance is less than voice and video [with electronic trading]," he said, adding that outages and latency hit customers directly in their wallets. "Performance of the network is critical to our business."

Also, Messer said, the Virtual Supervisor Engine 720 with integrated 10 Gig E allows him to free up a number of slots in the switch and increase the number of devices he can hook up to it.

Blomquist said the VSS 1440 and the Virtual Supervisor Engine 720 with integrated 10 Gig E come at a time when user bandwidth is scaling by two orders of magnitude, driven mostly by video. In response, users need high performance to leverage their capacity and bandwidth, and they need the ability to support non-stop communications. They also need to balance the complexity and management of their switching infrastructure.

Along with the Catalyst 6500 updates, Cisco this week released the Catalyst 4500 E-Series with CenterFlex technology as an extension to the Catalyst 4500 Series. The update, Cisco said, can deliver non-stop communications with four-times bandwidth per slot improvements and operational control.

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The E-Series is forward and backward compatible between Catalyst 4500 generations and lets customers mix and match existing E-Series line cards without performance degradation. Joe Ammirato, Cisco's senior marketing director, said the new supervisor engine offers IPv6 and IPv4 support and a centralized 320 Gbps switching fabric with 250 million packets per second.

Kerravala said that, with the update, Cisco has dramatically increased the 4500's capacity and will let 4500 switches run in tandem for better uptime.

Gary Landau, director of infrastructure technology at Loyola Marymount University, said he has Catalyst 4500s deployed in his distribution and access layers. The university has increased its focus on research, and with that, Landau said, more services like IPTV, surveillance video and other advanced applications will be rolled in. The university already does VoIP and some video. Recently, the university updated its Internet connection to a Gig to support services, and in its distribution layer it will be using Cisco's new 10 gig line card to aggregate the services in the access layer.

"We need that bandwidth for all of these services," Landau said, adding that the 4500's new dynamic QoS features and boosted security will also ease the transition to new services.

Being able to update the switch with new line cards, he said, protects the initial investment of the switch.

"It does save us money to aggregate these services onto our IP backbone," he said.

Tere Bracco, senior manager of cross portfolio switching at Cisco, said the ultimate goal is to extend modular switching to support the increased use of new technologies like real-time collaboration tools and video and to bring new capabilities to the existing catalyst switch ports that are already deployed, allowing users to protect their previous investments.

When dealing with bandwidth-sensitive communications applications, the VSS 1440 delivers deterministic, sub-second layer 2 link recovery through interchassis stateful failover and predictable resilience of multi-chassis Etherchannel technology. The release includes the Supervisor 6-E with CenterFlex technology, three new E-Series 10 Gig E and 10/100/1000 PoE line cards with quadruple bandwidth per slot, and four new E-Series chassis.

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