Cisco Pumps Up Catalyst Switches with Virtualization, Better Performance

Cisco Systems Tuesday unveiled new technology that will add virtualization, increased capacity and improved performance to its mainstay modular switch platforms.

The San Jose, Calif.-based vendor is bringing virtualization to enterprise networks with a new module for its flagship Catalyst 6500 switch line. It is also rolling out a series extension that represents the next generation of its Catalyst 4500 platform.

Together, the product rollouts mark the next phase of Cisco's Campus Communications Fabric framework for enterprise networks and are driven by customers' use of new technologies such as collaboration and Web 2.0, said Tere Bracco, senior manager of Cisco's switch portfolio.

The product line enhancements were designed to enable customers to build on their existing Cisco investments, she said, noting that the vendor has sold over one million chassis between the Catalyst 6500 and 4500 switch families.

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"Rip and replace is not an option when you have an installed base of one million switches," Bracco said.

The new Catalyst 6500 Series Virtual Switching System (VSS) 1440 adds virtualization to the portfolio that enables solution providers to combine multiple physical switches to act as one virtual switch, providing increased capacity and redundancy.

The functionality is enabled by the new Catalyst 6500 Series Virtual Switching Supervisor Engine 720 with 10-Gigabit Ethernet, which enables VSS 1440 to scale to support bandwidth capacity of up to 1.44 Tbits per second.

The virtualization capability means that solution providers no longer have to rely on link management technology such as Spanning Tree Protocol, which requires some switch capacity to be set aside to pair passive links with active links for redundancy, said Walt Blomquist, senior director of marketing for the Catalyst 6500 line.

"Customers can take advantage of active/active links and have the flexibility to double the performance of those links," Blomquist said.

It also means partners and customers will be able to simplify the operation of their Cisco networks as multiple switches share a single point of management, a single routing instance and a single IP address, he said

NEXT: Catalyst 4500 gets a makeover

The technology will help solution providers capitalize on the virtualization trend, bringing high-end redundancy features previously reserved for service providers down to the enterprise, said Mike Chase, director of advanced technology solutions at SIGMAnet, a Cisco Gold partner in Ontario, Calif.

"Virtualization is extremely popular. We're seeing virtualization of storage, servers, pretty much every resource in the data center, so the fact that Cisco is driving it into switches makes them a pioneer," Chase said. Virtualization of switches will help support virtualization of all of the other data center resources that connect to the network, he said.

Pricing for the new supervisor engine, available now, starts at $31,500 with a base software image and $38,000 with an IP services software image.

In addition to the upgrade to the Catalyst 6500 line, Cisco is also launching enhancements to its Catalyst 4500.

The new Catalyst 4500 E-Series with CenterFlex delivers capacity of 320 Gbps, representing over two-and-a-half times the performance and a four-fold increase in per-slot bandwidth over previous versions. CenterFlex is the name Cisco has given to technology improvements powered by its new Supervisor 6-E custom ASICs.

The new platform includes the new Supervisor 6-E with CenterFlex Technology, three new E-series 10-Gigabit and Gigabit with Power over Ethernet line cards and four new E-series chassis.

Cisco provides forward and backward compatibility between its Catalyst 4500 gear, meaning that upgrading to the new Supervisor 6-E adds CenterFlex features, such as in-hardware IPv6 support, to previously deployed line-card ports.

Scheduled for availability later this month, the new Supervisor 6-E is priced at $19,995. The new line cards range from $9,495 to $24,995. The new chassis are available in 3-, 6-, 7- and 10-slot versions ranging from $995 to $12,495.