Cisco Systems has announced a swathe of enhancements to its high-end and midrange enterprise switches to accommodate the demands it expects Web 2.0 apps like video and real-time collaboration to put on corporate networks.
The announcements involve the Catalyst 6500, the San Jose, California-based company’s flagship for the enterprise core, and the 4500, its main offering for the access layer.
Virtual Switching on the 6500
Cisco traditionally delivers new capabilities for both these platforms via the Supervisor module, with the latest for the 6500 being the Supervisor is called the Virtual Switching Supervisor 720-10G. The suffix refers to the fact that the module comes with two 10Gb uplinks, which Kumar Srikantan, Cisco’s senior director for 6500 Series Systems, said completes the 10Gb offering on its enterprise switches.
We already offer 10Gb uplinks on the 3000 and the 4500 and we launched a baby Supervisor for the 6500 about six months ago with 10Gb, said the exec. We now offer it all the way from core to access.
Unlike the baby Supe, however, the new module is a more ambitious offering, in that it now only offers the faster protocol but also enables the implementation of what Cisco calls the Virtual Switching System 1440. This is the bonding together of two physical 6500 chasses into a single 1.44Tbps switch with, as Srikantan put it, means you get a dual data plane with a single, Layer-3 control plane.
He added that this capability overcomes the limitation, inherent in standard Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), which uses redundant links to ensure a loop-free topology on a bridged LAN. With VSS, all the links have access to the virtual switching domain, said the exec. It routes in the [enterprise] cloud, which brings greater efficiency. And with one logical instead of two physical devices, management can be done with single config files.
On the utilization side, Srikantan said VSS enables a doubling of the bandwidth between a switch and a server by obviating the need for spare links. Equally, he claimed an availability gain due to the fact that if one of the two switches in a VSS fails, all the active/active traffic can switch across. Whereas Spanning Tree normally has a switchover times of sub-one to three seconds, he went on, with VSS we are getting sub-200 milliseconds.
He argued that the VSS architecture removes the need for the Cisco-specific HSRP or standards-based VRRP routing protocols customers usually implement in order to eliminate single points of failure in static default routed environments.
This lower latency is of particular importance in data center scenarios, argued Srikantan. Because the distribution layer looks like one logical switch now, we can jump between switches without the need for routing across VLANs, which means one less hop in the data center, he commented. That can cut latency by as much as 50%.
A further benefit for data center customers from VSS, he added, is the fact that whereas two switches deployed in typical L2/L3 implementations require three IP addresses, one for each switch plus one for the HSRP or VRRP protocol, with VSS we have a single IP address, saving two for re-use elsewhere for more servers or other switches.
The new Supervisor has a US list price starting at $38,000 with a full IP services software image or $31,500 for what Cisco calls an IP BASE image.
To accompany the new 6500 Supe hardware, Cisco has also announced a new release of its CiscoWorks LAN Management software (v3.0). We’ve now integrated virtual switch management into the product, so we’re delivering both the technical capability and the management capability at the same time, said the exec.
Also on the management side, Cisco unveiled what is calls the Smart Call Home capability, whereby the switch can now consolidate all relevant diagnostics and alerts information within the system and transmit it, either to a customer NOC or, if so set up, to Cisco itself for monitoring, troubleshooting and capacity planning. EMC does this kind of thing on its storage infrastructure, but this is a first in the switching industry, said Srikantan.
Bandwidth and service improvements on the 4500
On the 4500 Series, there are a number of announcements. Firstly, there is a new Supervisor, the 6-E, with Cisco’s CenterFlex technology to increase the bandwidth per slot fourfold. We’ve also doubled the QoS and security service capability in the box with dedicated memory for forwarding, said Mark Foss, director of the 4500 Series Systems at Cisco.
In the case of both the CenterFlex technology and the extra service capacity, in fact, the enhancement is the result of new silicon, with CenterFlex being delivered on Cisco’s own custom ASICs. They each have their own memory and we doubled both capacities, said Foss, adding that there are 19 patents pending on the technology in the new release.
The Supervisor 6-E has a list price starting at $19,995.
Preaching investment protection, Cisco is also launching an adapter for the 4500 called Twin Gig, which as its name suggests can be plugged into a 10Gb slot to give two 1Gb ones. The idea here is that customers can continue to use 1Gb on parts of their network, then gradually upgrade by removing the adapter when required.
The second announcement for the 4500 is of three new line cards called the E-Series, all of them delivering 24Gbps per slot, i.e. a fourfold increase on existing cards. One is a 48-port, 10/100/1000 premium PoE card delivering up to 30W of power per port, as against the 15.4W defined by the 802.3af standard. Another is a regular 48-port 10/100/1000 PoE card, while the third is a six-port 10GbE card with support for the Twin Gig adapter.
These cards list at $9,495 for the regular 48-port PoE, $11,995 for the premium PoE version and $24,995 for the 10Gb device.
Finally, there is the new E-Series chassis range for the 4500, available in three-, six-, seven and ten-slot versions with the last two of these offering redundancy and, consequently, support for in-service software upgrades, which avoid the need for taking a box down to change software versions.
The new E-Series chasses start at $995 for the three-slot version and go up to $12,495 for the ten-slot one.
These moves are classic Cisco, in that it delivers new functionality in both these product lines via new Supervisors, enabling it to preach investment protection and enhance their stickiness in the account.
In general, it can be said that while Cisco isn’t the cheapest option available, it becomes the logical option once it is already in the account. The company makes much of the fact that it has around 500,000 ports deployed in the field on each family, i.e. a total of a million ports of 6500 and 4500 in operation around the world.