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Greg Ferro
Greg Ferro
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Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want

Cisco announced a new Catalyst switch line and several product upgrades at Cisco Live, including expanded support for its ONE SDN initiative, but the company is sticking with familiar territory.

Just a few years ago, it was widely agreed that the Nexus 7000 would replace the Catalyst 6500 with its superior hardware architecture, modern NX-OS software (which addressed all the limitations of the Catalyst 6500 IOS-SX software), and offer multiples better performance and throughput.

However, it seems customers are voting with their wallets and continuing to buy the Catalyst 6500 platform--and asking for upgrades. After moving $46 billion dollars of Cat6500 hardware in the past decade, Cisco is giving customers exactly what they're asking for.

It's not clear whether customers are actively rejecting Cisco NX-OS software, but the supposed golden boys of Nuova Systems may not be nearly as golden as some people made out if the Cat6500 continues on for another decade while duplicating the same features as the Nexus product line.

The Catalyst 6807-XL is a hardware refresh of the venerable Catalyst 6500E. The backplane now handles up to 880GB per slot. However, with only seven payload slots in total and five effective payload slots usable, it is smaller and less useful than it might have been. Cisco says the Cat6800 is targeted at the campus core, and the lower density meets the requirements for a LAN environment outside of the data center.

The Cat6807-XL is backwards-compatible with some line cards so customers can retain their investment. Given that 60% of the cost price of a Catalyst 6800 is the supervisor modules, this isn't really "investment protection" so much as not wanting to throw old stuff away. It may also be a reflection of funding problems inside your organization--but that's hardly Cisco's problem.

Cisco also announced two other form factors in the 6800 line. The Catalyst 6880-X is a half-size unit using a new half-width module format and fixed supervisor engines. Although it runs the same software, it's not backward compatible. And then there is a Cat6800ia, a 1RU switch. Both of these look more like a custom product build for a large customer than a serious product announcement. It's much more practical to use Catalyst 3850 or 3750-X series switches in the campus LAN.

The IOS-SX code train continues to power the Catalyst 6800. This version/strain of Cisco IOS has a monolithic kernel architecture that dates back to late 1990's and has been consistently derided by engineers as buggy, leaky and inconsistent. That said, it's familiar to legions of Catalyst 6500 customers, which is why Cisco kept the IOS-SX in the 6800 platform.

But this also puts Cisco in an odd position regarding its Open Network Environment (ONE) initiative, which aims to provide a consistent API across all its software platforms. IOS-SX was never scheduled to get ONE support because the software architecture is incompatible, so don't expect SDN to work on Cat6800 anytime soon.

By contrast, the Catalyst 4500-R platform was recently upgraded to IOS-XR to take advantage of multiple CPU cores, modular operations and modern development toolchains. The ISR–4451-AX and ASR1000-AX, which are getting significant hardware refreshes, will get ONE support through the newer IOS-XR firmware.

Cisco is big enough to act like a merchant silicon manufacturer. The UADP silicon that drives the Catalyst 3850 wireless/wired convergence strategy has found another home on the Supervisor 8E module for the Catalyst 4500 for those who prefer chassis-based approaches. The wireless/wired convergence in the enterprise is major theme, and Cisco is covering a gap in the market with this product.

The Catalyst 6800 platform upgrades would have been exciting three years ago, when the extra performance was sorely needed. Cisco emphasized the backward compatibility with existing line cards and modules as a key buying trigger, but you'll have to wait until 2014 before they ship in volume.

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Etherealmind
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Etherealmind,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 1:46:19 PM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
Responses below

1. Those details were not presented in the briefing or made clear to me. I'm sure you are correct and I'll update as needed.

2. The IOS-SY version is a fork of the IOS-SX code ( which is itself a fork of IOS 12.0.5T in early 2000's, the S stands for Switch, I believe ). Although Cisco has attempted to improve the code base with some modern developer practices, it is still a monolithic kernel with the same memory manager that has been used for the last 20 years that has consistently proven itself to be buggy and flawed. For example, the static compiler from fixed libraries led to old bugs being re-introduced on a regular basis.

So I disagree on this one. Lipstick on a pig.

3. Module cost should include software since you will need to purchase that to make the module useful. Have you factored that in ?

4. The concept of virtual stacking has been around for a while. The fabric extender idea isn't new either but then, the price of the Cat6500 1RU units has been impractical for every use case that I've seen.

In my opinion, reducing management points isn't solved through reducing the number of CLI's in your network. (insert gratuitous reference to buggy whips. What we are need better management tools that allow for automated configuration, centralised management and better graphical interfaces. Nasty hacks like the 6800ia tend to cause a lot of software complexity and concomitant operational problems like software compatibility.

5. You are correct. The Catalyst 4500 runs IOS-XE, not IOS-XR.
Etherealmind
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Etherealmind,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 1:10:57 PM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
Bundle pricing can take several months to appear. I'm not sure why.

And I suspect that the pricing Andrew show is the hardware cost only and doesn't include the software licensing.
Etherealmind
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Etherealmind,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 1:08:05 PM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
Apologies, you are correct. I often get the Xe/XR designators mixed. I'll get the article updated.

Thanks
Franklin86
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Franklin86,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/29/2013 | 3:10:50 PM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
Thank you.
MJ93
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MJ93,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/29/2013 | 4:42:14 AM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
A few corrections / comments to the story:

1. The 6800ia is not a switch as it performs no local switching function. It is a client that relies on the parent for all switching operations. A packet arriving on port 1 of the client must still go to the parent if it is destined for port 2 of the client.

2. The 6800 series will not run IOS-SX code. It will run IOS-SY code, which has a major architectural change that Cisco calls componentization. The last IOS-SX release will be the SXJ release according to Cisco.

3. 60% of the cost is NOT supervisor modules unless you are buying all access layer modules (6100 series). The Sup2T with IP Services is $38000 list, while the 6900 series modules are $40000 list fully populated. Usually there are more interface modules than supervisors in a chassis. The ability to move these modules to the 6807-XL is huge for organizations that do not have the budget to buy all new modules but want to position for higher performance in the future.

4. As a partner engineer, I have been privy to these products for about 6 months as we are under NDA. In conjunction with Cisco, we have have had many discussions with customers about deploying the Instant Access solution, and while not all have a fit in their environment there are many that want the reduced management points to simplify their environments. Having worked with Cisco for the last 10+ years, I can tell you that the Instant Access concept has existed for a long time (with different names) and is not just a solution built for one customer.

5. The Catalyst 4500 runs IOS-XE, not IOS-XR.
MJ93
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MJ93,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/29/2013 | 4:28:50 AM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
You should check this as I have seen different numbers. Also, the 6880 will have two versions of the chassis and module. We can also probably expect bundles for both 6807-XL and 6880.
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/28/2013 | 6:41:54 PM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
Pricing is as follows from Cisco:

6880 $40K, LC $22K
6807-X Chassis $15K
6848ai $11K
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/28/2013 | 3:08:32 AM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
Hi Franklin, I'll reach out to Cisco and get an answer and post it here.

Drew Conry-Murray
Editor, Network Computing
Franklin86
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Franklin86,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/28/2013 | 1:26:30 AM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
Any information on the price?
rjurado915
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rjurado915,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2013 | 11:49:43 PM
re: Cisco Catalyst Refresh Gives Customers Just What They Want
Correction: I believe the 4500 Series was recently upgraded to IOS XE, not XR. XE has the exact CLI as IOS but with modern internals. XR is mostly used on service provider routers and has a completely new CLI that looks a little like JUNOS.
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