Cisco expands availability of MPLS alternative

Cisco Systems Inc. believes there’s a better way of virtualizing a campus network than using multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). So much so, the company is expanding the availability of a similar solution into two more of its products.

The network equipment maker said Wednesday it will make its Easy Virtual Network (EVN) technology available on its Catalyst 6500 and 4500 switches in April, in addition to the ASR 1000 router, through Cisco’s IOS software.

At the same time Cisco also said it will beef up its Catalyst and Nexus switching lines by adding 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet capabilities to some models.

A data-carrying mechanism which assigns labels to packets, MPLS needs some expertise to configure. MPLS and its derivatives — including VRF-Lite – “are not the easiest thing in the world to operate,” says Craig Huitema, Cisco’s director of marketing for data centre and campus switching.
Yet some organizations have a need to have several logical networks running on a single physical infrastructure, he said – for example, an airport that needs separate networks for each airline, the control tower and for emergency services. Or a municipality that wants separate networks for certain departments.

Easy Virtual Networks, as its name implies, makes it easy do to it. For example, Huitema said, to create 30 virtual networks under VRF-Lite, 120 configuration clusters would have to be created. “When you have configuration files that are that long, in terms of setting up things you raise the probability of making an error because there are so many lines. The other thing is when things go wrong and you’re having to trouble-shoot, having to sift through those lines becomes tedious – and increases the time to find the problem.”

By comparison, a similar deployment under EVN needs only about six lines.

An industry analyst says it’s an interesting approach, but one only available to customers using Cisco equipment.

“When I first saw it, I thought ‘Do we need a replacement for MPLS? We have MPLS,’” said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. But, he acknowledged that EVN is a simplified way of getting MPLS-like performance.

“And when you look at the amount of video being pushed across the network, there’s definitely a need for network engineering. So the customer’s choice is learn MPLS or turn this on.”

Also on Wednesday, Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] said that it will add 40- and 100-GbE capacity for several of its switches because network loads are increasing thanks in part to video.

In April it will release the 6904 line card for the Catalyst 6500 series campus switch, which offers 44 ports of 40 GbE, or 176 ports of 10 GbE. Later this year the switch will also support certain features found on the bigger Nexus switches, such as Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV).

And, Huitema said, Cisco has been testing 100 GbE modules for the Catalyst 6500, to help protect customers’ investments. “We continue to test on the 6500, we continue to innovate on the 6500,” he said.

Added to the campus switch lineup is the Catalyst 4500-X, a 1U-device that has 40 ports of 10 GbE.

In the data centre, the Nexus 7000 series will gain the ability to offer 40- and 100-GbE through the M2 two and six-port modules. A fully-loaded Nexus 7818 can have 96 ports of 40 GbE or 32 ports of 100 GbE, Huiteme said. The M2 module will be available by the summer.

Finally, there is the new 1U-sized Nexus 3064-X switch, aimed at industries with low-latency needs such as financial services. To be released next month, it will be faster than the 3064 and offer 1, 10 and 40-GbE connectivity options.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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