Cisco brings Compact line out of the closet

As the biggest networking equipment maker on the planet, Cisco System Inc.’s Catalyst switches are often thought of as big devices filling wiring closets.

But it also has a little-known line of switches for remote locations half the size of a consumer gaming console. Even company official admits the two-model C-line is virtually a secret without a Web page of its own.

However on Monday the company officially dubbed it the Compact Series and promised to add five more models by March, including one with a unique pass-though Power over Ethernet capability, which is powered from an upstream switch or router and passes power to other attached devices.

“This is not about faster switches and more ports,” said Laura Finkelstein, senior director of marketing for Cisco’s Borderless Networks products. “It’s about reducing complexity and costs of networking at the LAN edge.”

The new 3560- and 2960-C switches are aimed at retail stores, schools, doctor’s offices and offices where there are a number of network connected devices – printers, Wi-Fi access points, point of sale devices, kiosks, digital displays, IP video cameras and the like.

Usually each has to be cabled back to a wiring cabinet. Instead, Cisco says, plug them into a Compact series switch, which then connects though one line to the cabinet.

The earlier 3560-C and 2960-C models have 12 ports. The five that will be added each have eight ports.

All run Cisco’s IOS operating system and the company’s TrustSec security protocols and EnergyWise technology. In addition, they have MACsec, which encrypts data on the up and downlink. They are also said to be plug and play into Cisco’s larger S- and X-series Catalyst switches.

“It fills a hold in Cisco’s product line where large enterprises were forced to buy consumer-grade products do meet the demands of a low-cost switch, that, in essence extended the network,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of research at the Yankee Group.

However, choosing another company’s switch means losing many of the Cisco features on the rest of the network, he said. The C-series solves that.
Forrester Research analyst Andre Kindness notes that the retail and education markets have always had a need for small, fanless switches, a need usually fulfilled by products from Hewlett-Packard’s ProCurve line (and from 3Com before it was bought by HP) and D-link. However, he added, without knowing the final price of C-series switches it is assumed they will be higher than competitors’. Cisco hasn’t explained the difference between the Compact line, its Linksys switches and its 500-series switches, he added. 
Finkelstein admitted the new models are partly a response to competition.

The five new Compact models are:

–The 2960-C PD/PSE, which has pass-through Power over Ethernet. It comes with eight 10/100 ports, two PoE ports and two Gigabit Ethernet input ports. The other models all need their own power;

–the 2960-C PD, with the same ports;

–the 2960-C GE, with eight Gigabit Ethernet ports and two GbE input ports;

–the 3560-C GE PoE, with eight 10/100 ports, four PoE ports and two GbE uplink ports;

–the 3560-C GE with eight Gigabit Ethernet ports and two GbE uplink ports.

Pricing hasn’t been firmed up yet, but Cisco says the five new models will range from US$745 to US$1,995.