Cisco Advances Switching Technology

New interface technology triples performance of Catalyst 6500 switches.

Cisco Systems Inc. in an uncharacteristic move Monday advanced ahead of competitors with new interface technology for its flagship Catalyst 6500 line of Layer Three switches.

Cisco introduced its third generation of interface modules for the Catalyst 6500 modular chassis, featuring the new Catalyst 6500 Supervisor Engine 720. The new supervisor module melds together previously separate supervisor modules and switching fabric modules into a single-slot offering that boasts an aggregate capacity of 720G-bps or 400-million-packets-per-second forwarding for IP Version 4 traffic.

It boosts the performance of the Catalyst 6500 by three times over the existing switching fabric, according to Doug Gourlay, senior manager of product marketing for the Catalyst 6500 in San Jose, Calif.

Cisco also added several new modules that can exploit the new Supervisor Engine 720. They include a two-port 10Gigabit Ethernet module designed for service providers, such as metropolitan area network providers; a four-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet module designed for data centers and network cores; a pair of new 48-port 10/100/1000 Ethernet modules with an inline power daughter card and integrated Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR); and a 16-port Gigabit Ethernet module that supports greater Gigabit Ethernet port densities.

"Cisco threw down the gauntlet with the supervisor module and the modules that can use it," said Joel Conover, principal analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va. "This is unusual for Cisco to be driving this close to the bleeding edge of technology. They typically wait for others to build the market and then move in with something thats solid. Power over Ethernet support for the 10/100/1000 card is unique in the market—literally an industry first for Cisco. Theyre taking an aggressive stance on this market and giving customers technologies that, while expensive, are targeted at the core to give another four- to six-year investment out of this technology. Not many others will be able to claim they can do that in their current architectures."

Among the new offerings are 50 patents, 11 new application-specific integrated circuits that provide hardware acceleration for new services such as IP Version 6, Multi-Protocol Label Switching, and Network Address Translation.

The new Catalyst 6500 48-port 10/100/1000 module, with its integrated TDR, can detect cable failures at up to 78 meters out and notify network operators to save them as much as 4 to 6 hours of troubleshooting, Gourlay said. And the field-upgradable inline power daughter card, intended for converged networks supporting voice applications, supports the emerging IEEE 802.3af standard.

The new two-port 10Gigabit Ethernet module is designed to replace SONET rings in a service provider WAN. It is designed to support delay-sensitive traffic such as voice. Combined with Cisco optical equipment, it can span distances of up to 1,200 miles, Gourlay said. The four-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet module allows the Catalyst 6500 to support up to 32 10 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, which Cisco claims is the highest port density for 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

Although Ciscos Gourlay stressed that the new offerings offer investment protection for existing Catalyst 6500 users because they work with existing modules, the upgrade required to take advantage of the new capacity is not cheap, pointed out Conover. "To get to this newer generation, you have to swap out the guts of the architecture—the supervisor module. That is at least a $25,000-per-module change-out. But then you also have to get new 720 series line cards, or if you have the old 256 Gigabit [switching] fabric, you have to get new daughter cards to work with the 720," he said.

The new Supervisor 720 module, line cards and inline power support are available between now and July and range in price from $1,500 to $28,000, not including optics.

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