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Catalyst 6500 Supervisor 2T may not be your upgrade answer

When Cisco realized customers might not be ready for the Nexus line, it launched the Catalyst 6500 Supervisor 2T upgrade. But why not go with the Nexus 7009?

So, the venerable Catalyst 6500 staved off execution and received another 10 years of life with the recent announcement of the Catalyst 6500 Supervisor 2T. Should we celebrate the extension of life in old assets, or look for a different answer to a Cisco switch upgrade?

Let's consider the back story here. The Catalyst 6500 Supervisor 2T was first touted to resellers and customers in 2009 under NDA. Then suddenly in 2010 the chatter went quiet, and the Nexus 5000 arrived, soon followed by the Nexus 7000. Throughout the first part of 2011 there continued to be no word on the Supervisor 2T. No whispers, no rumors. And then the announcement came at Cisco Live in Las Vegas, 2011

Looking back, it seemed Cisco purposefully halted development of all Catalyst 6500 modules in order to make way for the Nexus 7000. I believe Cisco's thinking was: “Make the 6500s obsolete, and customers will have to move to 7K.”

Except, customers didn’t. 

Why? Because they were considering alternate vendors. You see, once your chassis needs to be removed from the rack, you can consider other technology providers. Once you take a switch out of the rack, it’s not an upgrade, it’s a replacement, and that means the need for market testing. That was a scary prospect for Cisco. Chassis-based switches are so important to vendors because they lock customers into the company's strategy for a decade, or in Cisco’s case on the Catalyst 6500, two decades.

Is Catalyst 6500 Supervisor 2T really an upgrade answer?

How good is the Catalyst 6500 Supervisor 2T?

The Supervisor 2T is fine piece of kit. It upgrades the backplane of your trusty 6500 from 40 Gbps to 80 Gbps and allows the use of a few 10 Gbps interfaces. A new generation of PFC4 and MSFC5 cards squeeze more performance out of the old silicon. And finally there is support for some of the newerMPLS features such as VPLS and L2 over GRE. 

Catalyst 6500 Supervisor 2T challenges

But these improvements don't come without design challenges. The Supervisor 2T can work with some existing C6700 line cards but will need DFC4 upgrades to the existing daughter boards—not simple. Otherwise users will have to purchase the new C6800 line cards instead. What's more, older chassis will need replacing since “non-E” chassis aren’t compatible.

Oh, and the IOS SX firmware? It’s really time for it to be stable and reliable. Let’s face it, IOS SX isn’t a brilliant piece of work.

Nexus 7009 the better answer to a Cisco switch upgrade?

This month, Cisco announced that the Cisco Nexus 7009 is shipping. Cisco Nexus 7009 has an amazing feature—it’s the same size as the C6500, with the bar about two inches in depth. This seems like a great answer for C6500 customers who have been complaining that the 7010 required a complete overhaul of racks and cabling because of the physical dimension differences and vertical card alignment. That would be a time consuming, expensive and risky process.

Now we're talking.  If you don’t have to move the cabling around, the Nexus 7009 really could be considered an upgrade, not a replacement. In that case, is it worth going for a Catalyst 6500 upgrade?

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