Cisco learns to play by school rules

Cisco Systems Inc. has unveiled a bevy of network gear optimized for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and organizations in the education sector.

The San Jose-based switch maker in June took the wraps off two fixed-configuration switches and new modules for the Catalyst 4500 mid-range chassis. The products speak to cost-concious SMBs and schools, which want some Layer 3 functionality, but not full routing features, said Steven Shalita, senior manager, product marketing for Cisco’s Catalyst switches.

“They don’t really need Layer 3 routing. The requirements of a smaller network are much simpler. But they still want intelligence. They still want resilience.”

Bryan DeGidio, network administrator at St. Paul Public School District in St. Paul, Minn., is deploying one of Cisco’s new products, the Catalyst 2940 eight-port fixed configuration switch, across 100 sites. He said the device should make network management less arduous.

“In the past we’d have people hook up two Ethernet leads into the wall, creating a huge loop in the network. It actually tears the whole building down. If you have smart gear behind it…that would help solve the problem. This new Cisco switch will shut down loops.”

Designed for classrooms and conference rooms, the 2940 comes in two flavours: the 8TT-S offers a 10/100/1000Base-T uplink port for copper connectivity to the backbone, while the 8TF-S has a 100Base-FX/SFP slot for networks that employ fibre uplinks. The 2940 weighs less than 1.5 kilograms and it’s no larger than a vertically challenged shoebox. It comes with a locking tab and a wall-mounting kit that help deter thieves from stealing the easily concealable switch.

The 2940 is convection-cooled, rather than fan-cooled, making for quiet running, Shalita said. He added, it uses Cisco’s familiar IOS operating system, as opposed to the CatOS platform, which means networkers in IOS-heavy shops need not master another program to manage the device.

Cisco also offered up the 2970, another fixed configuration switch designed for workgroups and branch offices. Like the 2940, this 24-port device uses IOS and includes Layer 3 intelligence, such as enhanced security, quality of service and network availability features, the company said.

The fixed switches come with Cisco’s “Express Setup” tool, which affords configuration in a matter of minutes, Shalita said.

For the 4500 chassis, Cisco introduced Supervisor Engine II-Plus, a new IOS-based switching and management module that supports basic Layer 3 routing (RIP and Static Routing) and wire-speed security via access control lists and 802.1x services. Shalita said this module builds upon functions found in the CatOS-based Supervisor II, which offers Layer 2 switching.

Cisco also unveiled the 4500 Access Gateway Module (AGM), which acts as a WAN router and a resilient IP telephony platform, relying on built-in redundancies to protect network availability in distributed deployments.

“We have a feature called ‘remote site survivability,’ which means in the event that (the) CallManager connection is lost, this allows you to keep functioning,” Shalita said. He added, the AGM also has an optional 16-port sub-module for analogue devices.

Cisco’s latest Gigabit card for the 4500 employs less silicon than previous models did, Shalita said, explaining that this engineering feat means the 48-port 10/100/1000 module requires less power to operate, and less money to purchase; Cisco pegs the cost at US$114 per port.

Dan McLean, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said it should come as no surprise that Cisco, an enterprise-minded company, is targeting the SMB and education spaces, suggesting that the firm’s purchase of wireless gear maker Linksys Group Inc. earlier this year hinted that the firm would move in this direction. He added, SMBs are keen on low cost devices, although Cisco, not known for discount prices, might be able to leverage its familiar brand and convince customers to pay the premium.

Cisco’s 2940 8TT-S is priced at US$795, while the fibre-minded 8TF-S is US$995. The 2970 is US$4,995. The Supervisor Engine II-Plus is US$8,495. The AGM is US$10,995. The 16-port analogue sub-module for the AGM is US$3,995, and the new Gigabit module is US$5,495. Cisco is online at