Armed with two new processing chips, the Catalyst 3850 can handle wired and wireless networks. Its sister unit, the 5760 is a wireless LAN controller

Cisco offers new unified access switch

The days of buying separate wired and wireless switches may be coming to an end.

At least two networking equipment make stackable combined switches, which let one device control traffic over both networks.

Now Cisco Systems Inc. has entered the market with a device that one industry analyst says is tops in performance.

The company said its new Catalyst 3850 Access Switch offers 24 Gpbs wired capacity and 20 Gbps wireless capacity in a single unit. Four can be stacked together in the initial version (giving a combined 480 Gbps capability), with the ability to stack nine coming later in the year.

This switch, which comes in 24 and 48 port versions, is aimed more at new network installations. For organizations that already have wired networks, the new Catalyst 5760 Wireless LAN Controller offers almost the same performance.

“From an IT administrators point of view, instead of having the wireless traffic route off to a wireless controller somewhere in the sky and the wired traffic coming through its network, all that traffic hits the same point,” Robert Soderbery, senior vice president and genenal manager of Cisco’s enterprise networking group (pictured).

“I can apply consistent policies, access, quality of service – I can mange all that traffic simply and easily from one place.”
(Four Catalyst 3850s can be stacked)
 
Zeus Kerravala, principal of ZK Research, said in an interview that Cisco has talked about what it calls unified access for some time and had one switch – the 3750-x – with an optional wireless module that did the same thing.

However, he said, the 3850 puts everything in one box.

Competitors Enterasys Networks and Aruba Networks have similar all-in-one switches, he said, but not the performance of the new Cisco switches.

A Hewlett-Packard spokesman said the company has a chassis-based unified access switch for data centres, but not a stackable unit for campus and branch deployments.

Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] says the 3850 comes with wired switch features including Trustsec, Smart Operations and EnergyWise, as well as wired features such as CleanAir, ClientLink and VideoStream. It handles 802.11n devices and is 802.ac-ready.

It support 50 access points and 2,000 wireless clients per switch.

The new switches are able to handle both wired and wireless traffic thanks to a newly-developed programmable unified access data plane ASIC chip, Soderbery said. The 3850 has two of these chips, while the 5760 has three of them.

The chip also supports Cisco’s onePK platform for software defined networking.

Both new switches run the new IOS-XE operating system.

Soderbery said new Catalyst switches from this point will have both the new ASICs and use IOS-XE.

Kerravala said network administrators will likely increasingly turn to unified access switches like this instead of buying separate wired and wireless devices.

“We believe the adoption of the 3850 is going to be very rapid in Canada because customers can’t keep up with the way they design existing networks any more,” said Ahmed Etman, vice-president of borderless networks for Cisco Canada.

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