Cisco unveils switches, software for SMBs

Cisco Systems Inc. on Monday is set to take aim at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that have growing needs and sparse technical expertise, introducing a pair of LAN switches and a graphical management application.

The Catalyst 4503 modular switch and the Catalyst 4948 rack-mounted server switch are designed to meet SMBs’ growing need for network resiliency and to support technologies such as wireless LANs and IP telephony as customers embrace them, said John McCool, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Gigabit Systems Business Unit.

The Cisco Network Assistant (CNA) software introduced along with the switches is intended to open up management of Cisco switches, routers and wireless LAN access points in SMBs to employees who lack the training to use Cisco’s CLI (command-line interface.) CNA provides a graphical user interface for tasks such as designating switch ports for IP telephony and dividing up a physical LAN into separate virtual LANs for different groups.

CNA should be a boon to Watt Commercial Properties, in Santa Monica, Calif., according to Dan Campbell, chief information officer at the real estate company. The information systems staff at Watt aren’t able to use the CLI, so the company has had to bring in outside engineers for some network management tasks. Now, that work can be shifted to in-house employees, who can gain experience with the Cisco gear without having to go through training or pore over a manual, he said.

The new software also provides an easy method for “cloning” one facility’s network setup at another site, he said. This is important at Watt because the company frequently opens up new remote offices, according to Campbell. Watt is also using the Catalyst 4503, currently for server connectivity. CNA doesn’t yet support the Cisco Series 831 routers that Watt uses in many remote sites, but Cisco is working on adding that support, Campbell said.

The Catalyst 4503 is based on the existing 4500 switch line and brings over security characteristics from that line as well as accommodating dual power supplies for high availability. Whereas existing 4500 switches have been designed to sit at the edge of a larger enterprise network, the 4503 is intended as the core of a smaller network. It is designed to support high-speed connectivity even with advanced functions such as user authentication and prioritization for voice and video traffic turned on, according to Cisco. The rollout follows Cisco’s introduction earlier this month of WAN (wide-area network) routers with integrated IP telephony and security features for branch offices and small businesses.

Multimedia support is critical to Mike Walton, director of information technology at the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, California. Walton has been testing 4503 switches on his network. He sees a growing need for gigabit-speed performance to deal with the museum’s terabytes of video and still images from the history of computing, and he likes the ability to easily segment his network ports among public access, a DMZ (demilitarized zone) for hosting a Web site, and a secured LAN.

The heart of the 4503 switch is the Supervisor II-Plus-TS, which provides the platform’s 64G bps (bits per second) of switching capacity as well as 12 integrated 10/100/1000M bps ports with POE (power over Ethernet) capability, and eight integrated SFP (small form factor pluggable) interfaces that can accommodate Gigabit Ethernet fiber or copper ports. The Supervisor II-Plus-TS costs US$5,995 (all figures U.S.). Power over Ethernet can be used to power IP phones or wireless access points, removing the need to run a power cord to each of those devices.

Interface modules for the 4503 include a 24-port 10/100M bps blade for $2,495, a 24-port 10/100M bps blade with POE for $3,495, a 24-port 10/100/1000M bps blade with POE for $4,495 and a 6-port 10/100/1000M bps module that can support either POE copper ports or fiber interfaces, priced at $3,495.

The Catalyst 4948 Series switch, also based on the 4500 architecture, is designed for server switching and server aggregation. It offers Layer 2/3/4 switching at full wire speed on 48 10/100/1000M bps ports and also has 4 shared SFP interfaces. The 4948 also has dual hot-swappable power supplies. It is priced at $13,495.

The 4503 chassis costs $995, power supplies cost $995 each, McCool said. Cisco Network Assistant is provided at no additional cost. The switches can also be managed via the traditional CLI or CiscoWorks software. All the products are available now except for the Supervisor II-Plus-TS and the 6-port 10/100/1000M bps module, which will ship next month.

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