Cisco Makes IOS More Modular for Cat 6500

Internetwork Operating System for the Catalyst 6500 now allows IOS subsystems to run independently as self-healing processes for their own memory space.

Cisco Systems is bringing the benefits of its new IOS XR software for service providers routers down to the enterprise and its wiring closets with the introduction of more modular software for the Catalyst 6500 switch.

The new, more modular version of Cisco System Inc.s Internetwork Operating System for the Catalyst 6500, launched on Monday, now allows IOS subsystems to run independently as self-healing processes for their own memory space.

That capability prohibits problems in one process from affecting any other process so that traffic continues to flow through the switch. At the same time, it also allows individual processes to be restarted without having to reboot the entire switch.

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"This is the most significant event to happen to IOS, ever," said Jared Mauch, IP engineering manager at NTT/VERIO in Ann Arbor, MI. "Individual modules will be able to fail without taking down the entire system. This helps significantly with uptime as some can fail and be restarted before there is a network outage. When a process fails, it can leave diagnostic information for us and Cisco to solve the problem," he added.

Along with containing process faults, it also helps to "dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to certify and deploy software updates," said John Yen, senior manager for the switching product marketing group in San Jose, Calif. By allowing users to perform subsystem in-service software upgrades, it can reduce "the amount of time it takes to do software maintenance pack upgrades from six weeks down to six hours," he added.

That can help enterprises respond faster when new security vulnerabilities and threats arise.

"Our qualification process takes about two weeks. If Cisco provides patches for security issues (what they call PSIRT issues), it would allow us to deploy fixes after simple qualification tests and protect our network infrastructure immediately instead of a longer test process," said Mauch.

As a part of the new software modularity, Cisco also added a new Embedded Event Manager that can detect anomalies at the process level.

"We get deep insight into whats going on inside the switch and users can create process-level policies," said Yen. "If a process is faulty—say its taking too much CPU or its hung, a policy script could be configured by an administrator so that the switch automatically restarts that process, take a snapshot of whats going on, generate the right diagnostics and send it in an email to the administrator," he described.

This is the first time Cisco has allowed users to have programmatic control over the Catalyst 6500, although it requires familiarity with writing TCL scripts. Cisco will provide sample scripts and provide "cookbooks" on how to write scripts, according to a Cisco official.

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"Its not a simple capability. Some of the most sophisticated customers might get their minds around how to deal wit that. I would like to see Cisco make that available in templates," reacted Mark Fabbi, industry analyst at Gartner Inc. in Toronto. "Understanding the correlation of events to understand what action might be taken is not easy. I dont think most enterprises will know how to take advantage of that," he added.

The new modular IOS for the Catalyst 6500 is due in November on the Supervisor Engine 720. A version that works with the Supervisor Engine 32—designed for the wiring closet, is due in January. It is a free upgrade for customers with maintenance contracts.

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