Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 gets a refresh

Cisco Systems is giving a boost in performance and scalability to its Catalyst 6500 Series of switches with the release of new modules and linecards, as well as a new version of its Supervisor Engine.

According to Scott Gainey, director of switching solutions at Cisco, this is Cisco’s biggest networking platform refresh since it launched Sup1, Sup2 and Sup720. Now the company is bringing Supervisor Engine 2T (Sup2T) into the market, and it will provide a three times jump in system performance and a four times increase in data plane scalability.

“This platform is screaming fast,” Gainey said.

Naturally, Cisco’s competitors came up during its official launch of the 6500 refresh, and according to Gainey, the Sup2T offers three times the performance of HP’s closest competing switch at a third the cost — at least based on an upgrade cost ($38,000, in case you’re curious).

With more than 25,000 customers worldwide and 110 million ports shipped since the Catalyst 6500 was launched in 1999, one of the main goals of the platform refresh was ensuring customers’ investments were protected. This isn’t a rip-and-replace upgrade. Quite the opposite, in fact. To get the benefits of the improved performance and scalability, all a customer has to do is upgrade to Sup2T, said Kumar Srikantan, vice president of marketing for Cisco’s Scalable Networks Business Unit (SNBU).

“Now it’s never perfect, but you can make the new technology integrate and work with the old linecards, and you can basically preserve 65 to 70 per cent of the old investment,” Srikantan said.

The 6500 Series refresh includes several new (or enhanced) products, including:

  • 6900 Series 8-Port 10 Gigabit Ethernet Module, which provides 80Gbps of capacity and 256MB per port of packet buffering.
  • 6800 Series 10 Gigabit and Gigabit Ethernet Modules, with fiber and copper versions of the 16-Port 10G Module and the 48-Port GbE Module, as well as a 24-Port GbE Fiber Module. The new modules are outfitted with distribution forwarding capabilities.
  • Next-generation borderless services, including the Next-Generation Firewall (ASA-SM), Application Control Engine (ACE30), Network Analysis Module (NAM-3) and Wireless Services Module (WiSM2).

More than 200 new software features have been added to the 6500 Series of switches. The refresh is also meant to address four business challenges — the movement towards the Internet of Things (more devices on the Internet than people), rapidly increasing use of video, the progression towards the cloud, and more mobility.

The cost for all this fun? Only US$38,000. According to Gainey, upgrading an HP switch to the latest version requires a forklift upgrade and would cost $100,930 without getting the performance SupT2 provides. It looks like it’s another shot fired in the ongoing battle between two titans of the IT industry.

“We are literally squeezing the competition here. We’re beating them on price. We’re beating them on performance,” Gainey said.

It’s the improved performance and scalability that Cisco channel partners will be able to take to their customers as a way of differentiating from competing products, said Wenceslao Lada, vice president of borderless networks in the worldwide partner organization at Cisco Systems.

“With the new introduction of this platform, we have brought a very high level competitive platform into the marketplace,” Lada said.

Partners can find opportunities in both hardware and services sales. This also ties into Cisco’s lifecycle management message in which the company has been pushing channel partners to build lifecycle management practices within their networking practices. Network assessment and borderless networks services like TrustSec and MediaNet also play a strong role in this switch refresh.

“We have and always will be strategically invested in this platform,” Gainey said.