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Cisco delivers 'monster' Catalyst switch in major product refresh

Jim Duffy | June 25, 2013
Programmable and optimized for 10/40/100G, Cisco Catalyst 6800 line still does not yet retire the decade-old Cat 6500.

Cisco this week will significantly update its enterprise network line-up with programmable campus and branch switches and routers designed to tightly bind applications to network hardware and services.

Cisco 6800
Cisco 6800

The new products include the Catalyst 6800 backbone switching line, a new supervisor engine for Cisco's 4500-E chassis-based access switch, a new high-end ISR branch router and application performance extensions to the ASR 1000 edge router.

"Cisco has...delivered a monster Catalyst," says Bill Carter, senior business communications analyst at value-added reseller Sentinel Technologies in Springfield, Ill. "This gives customers a core switch with 10G/40G/100G with the feature set required in the campus."

The company, which this week hosts its Cisco Live event in Orlando, says its new products fit within an Enterprise Network Architecture under which applications, network services software and hardware networking functions all work together.

Much of this synergy is facilitated by Cisco's ONE API framework for programmable networking and associated ASICs optimized for Cisco ONE programmability. Cisco ONE and its onePK API set is Cisco's response to software-defined networking (SDN), in which many of the functions of network behavior are divorced from hardware and centrally administered by software controllers.

SDN makes network functions less reliant on specific hardware and operating systems, and more accommodating to commodity switching and open source software. It threatens Cisco's dominance and fat profits in routers and switches.Cisco is combatting the SDN trend by attempting to tightly link software programmability of network infrastructure to custom-developed ASIC hardware and hardware-specific operating systems, and defending its incumbency and massive installed base. These new products are instantiations of that strategy.

Cisco says it will support onePK across its entire enterprise routing and switching portfolio within the next 12 months, beginning with the ISR 4451-AX and ASR 1000-AX routers announced this week, which will support onePK in late summer/early fall.

The Catalyst 6800 is an outgrowth of the ubiquitous -- and 10+ year old -- Catalyst 6500. The 6800 is targeted at campus backbone 10/40/100Gbps services. In addition to network programmability, the 6800 is supervisor- and line card-compatible with the 6500, Cisco says, adding that there is still no date set for retiring the 6500.

"I see the Cat 6800 as a natural evolution of the 6500 platform," says IDC analyst Rohit Mehra. "While scale and performance are going to be important, so will the need for providing agility and deploying programmable platforms. That's what the 6800 brings to the table with added simplicity, while maintaining operational consistency and continuity with the 6500 product suite."

Sources say Cisco still has a vibrant roadmap for the Catalyst 6500, including a 10Tbps supervisor engine in the works. Cisco confirmed that a 10T supervisor engine is planned for both the 6500 and 6800 switches. The company would not say when it's coming.


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