Cisco: Catalyst 6500 Upgrade Lets VARs Sell Investment Protection


Cisco's long-awaited upgrade of its popular Catalyst 6500 switching line is a way for partners to sell investment protection -- a switching architecture that not only requires minimal upgrades to the existing Catalyst installed base but preserves customers' investments for 10 years.

"There's a lot of play partners can do with the existing installed base," said Scott Gainey, Cisco's director of switching solutions, in an interview with CRN. "This is a pretty seamless upgrade process."

Cisco announced the Catalyst 6500 refresh Tuesday at Cisco Live in Las Vegas. Among the notable upgrades is Cisco's release of the Supervisor Engine 2T, a 2-terabit card that offers 80 Gbps, per-slot and triples the 6500's throughput from 720 Gbps to 2Tbps and quadruples the number of devices that can connect to the network.

It's a key upgrade for Cisco, which completed a two-year refresh cycle for its Catalyst products. But also, with the 6500 refresh, Cisco upgraded the switching product responsible for more Cisco revenue than any other. It's a bread-and-butter networking sale in the majority of the Cisco channel. Wenceslao Lada, vice president of worldwide channels for Borderless Networks at Cisco, estimated the number of Cisco VARs who sell Catalyst 6500 as more than 70 percent.

"One thing is investment protection for the customer, who can upgrade the platform as they need it," Lada told CRN. "It's 'Now you will continue to do the same way you did with better performance. You're capitalizing on the investment you've made before.'"

It's a great story for partners to bring to Cisco partners that already use Catalyst switches, Gainey said. Whereas an upgrade to Sup 2T on existing Catalyst switches would run customers about $38,000, a forklift upgrade to a comparable HP switch architecture would likely cost that customer more than $100,000, he said, and gives the customer only 720 Gbps of throughput.

Cisco will continue to perform services module updates on not just the 6500 but its full range of Catalyst switch products, Gainey said. Some of the top features demanded by customers, he said, are access to NetFlow, Cisco's management and network troubleshooting tool, and TrustSec, the switching firewall that Cisco upgraded in line with the 6500 refresh.

"Customers are in their own refresh cycles and they're looking to invest not only for 7 years, but the stretch goal is now 10 years," he said. "The modularity of the 6500 is best-suited for that -- it can seamlessly just upgrade on the E-series chassis, which is the lion's share of what's [deployed] out there.

It'll be on Cisco solution providers, Gainey said, to illustrate that investment protection customers get by investing in Cisco.

"I don't think we're doing our customers justice by simply talking about port density and speed," Gainey said. "We want the partners to play more of an integral role in driving and integrating for these customers and helping them architect a solution."

Ashish Upadhyay, senior manager for advanced technologies at World Wide Technology, a top Cisco partner based in St. Louis, said the Catalyst 6500 upgrade was a big leap forward in terms of what VARs could offer customers for cloud- and mobility-ready architecture.

"Plus, you can keep the costs low from a TCO perspective," Upadhyay said. "Instead of doing a forklift upgrade there's a tremendous opportunity to get into the architectural questions they have. They are in some form evaluating VDI, looking at virtualization and looking at the challenges around mobility."

Upadhay said the Catalyst 6500 upgrade's most exciting features are its Virtual Switching System functionality, sizable port density, and various services modules, from security to wireless. WWT has begun doing proofs-of-concept with customers and does have the upgraded Catalyst 6500s available.

"It's not a whole lot of extra money, but a lot of benefits," he said.