Cisco takes gigabit closer to the edge

The latest generation of Cisco’s LAN switch, the Catalyst 3750, is designed to support gigabit Ethernet connections to the desktop and simplify network administration.

There likely aren’t many outfits planning on pushing gigabit Ethernet to the desktop in the near future, noted Dan McLean, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. But, he added, a switch with big bandwidth capability like the 3750 guarantees users will be prepared if bandwidth demands increase.

“I think when people are buying equipment now it’s important to them that it have a longer lifespan than what they may have been accustomed to purchasing,” he said.

The successor to the Catalyst 3550, the 3750 was introduced in April and is slated to begin shipping in June.

Cisco designed the new box with converged voice, video and data networks in mind. While the 3550 offered users only a 1Gbps connection between units, the 3750 uses a new technology, dubbed StackWise, to connect up to nine switches over a 32Gbps link.

The 32Gbps link is actually two counter-rotating 16Gbps rings, so if one ring goes down, the other ring can take over.

Air Products and Chemicals, an Allentown, Pa.-based maker of gases, chemicals and electronics, recently tested several 3750 switches in its labs. Virgil Palmer, the firm’s director of global telecom and network services, said Air Products will deploy the 3750s in campus wiring closets to connect server farms as part of a high-availability SAP infrastructure the company is currently implementing.

The support for gigabit Ethernet is what attracted Air Products to the 3750.

“We have huge demands that continue to grow,” Palmer said.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with consultancy The Yankee Group in Boston, said the 3750 will compete with top-of-the-line stackable switches from a number of companies including Extreme and 3Com. None of the switches should have a huge technological edge over the others, he noted.

“Feature for feature, all these companies will stay in lockstep within a six-month window,” he said. “With edge services there are really only so many features you can build in.”

Cisco believes several new administrative features on the 3750 should appeal to prospective customers.

For example, the 3750 allows users to insert and remove new switches and have the 3750 stack perform automatic IOS version checks. The stack can see if the new switch has the proper version of IOS and upgrade or downgrade the version if necessary.

The stack can also automatically push down the configuration settings of the old switch to the replacement switch.

“If someone needs to replace a switch they can go out to the closet, physically replace it in the rack, cable it up and the stack does everything else,” said Ishmael Limkakeng, Cisco’s product line manager for desktop switching.

The 3750 is designed as a high-availability switch with no single point of failure, including the Application-specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), Limkakeng said.

If any one of the switches in a stack fail, the other switches can take over for it. If the master switch, which holds the route calculations and cached information for the replacement switches, goes down, another switch in the stack can take over master duties with no configuration required.

The 3750 also has hardware-based support for IPv6, the next-generation Internet addressing scheme. Cisco will release a software upgrade in the future that will allow 3750 users to make the switch to IPv6 from IPv4.

IPv6 won’t be a big selling point in North America, which has a disproportionately high number of the available IP addresses available in the IPv4 scheme. But it could appeal to Asian and European users who don’t have as many IPv4 addresses, Limkakeng said.

The 3750 will be available in eight configurations, ranging in price from US$4,995 to US$11,995. Port options available include a switch with 24 10/100Mbps ports and two gigabit Ethernet uplinks, a switch with 24 10/100/1,000Mbps ports and four gigabit Ethernet uplinks and a switch with 48 10/100Mbps ports and four gigabit Ethernet uplinks.

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