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New Catalyst Switch Innovations Extend Unprecedented Dependability and Performance Throughout Corporate Networks

High-availability, 10 GigE speed, Power-over-Ethernet and other advances boost networking communications productivity

November 30, 2004

Network switches certainly do more than they used to. And after Cisco System's recent enhancements to its Catalyst family of switches, they can do a lot more. The original job of the network switch was to manage the flow of data within the local area networks (LANs) of corporate and other private networks. These days, however, they can run all forms of corporate communications, from IP telephony to video conferencing and everything in between.

News@Cisco spoke with John McCool, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Gigabit Switching business unit, about the new products and enhancements for the Catalyst switching family and how they will help corporations increase productivity and reduce costs.

What is the significance of these recent announcements?

John McCool: The new products and enhancements to our Catalyst line of switches expands the benefits of 10 gigabit per second Ethernet (10 GigE) and 10/100/1000 megabit per second (Mbps) Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) technology across our LAN switching portfolio. We've even created a GigE IP phone, which delivers unconstrained bandwidth as traffic flows through the phones to desktop computers and other devices. In fact, these innovations eliminate previous bottlenecks, increasing performance throughout the LAN by a factor of 10. At the same time, we've boosted the "intelligence" of the switches, so they can do more throughout the network. We've made improvements to bring network-wide high-availability enhancements for fault prevention, transparent recovery, and fault isolation to our Catalyst 6500 and 4500 switches, making the network more resilient.

What are some of the key products enhancement that Cisco is announcing?

John McCool: This announcement covers equipment and enhancements throughout our portfolio of Cisco Catalyst switches, including the high-end Catalyst 6500 switch, the mid-tier Catalyst 4500 switch, the stackable Catalyst 3750 switch, and the fixed-configuration 3560 switch. A key enhancement included in this announcement is extending what we call the "converged port" across the switching portfolio. This is a port that provides both GigE speed and Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) capabilities. Power-over-Ethernet makes it possible for Ethernet cables to deliver electrical power to network devices, such as IP phones or wireless access points. With these enhancements, customers don't have to pick one capability over the other. Concurrent GigE and PoE capabilities have been available on the Catalyst 6500 and 4500, and now these combined capabilities are available on the Catalyst 3750 and 3560 switches. We are also offering new capability to aggregate these high-speed access ports with new supervisor engines for our Catalyst 6500 and 4500 that will provide 10GigE ports to connect to the core network. We are extending intelligence and an integrated systems approach to our entire Cisco Catalyst LAN switch family. Intelligence means doing more than just transporting data packets from computer to computer. Intelligence is enabling a switch to support IP telephone communications, IP videoconferencing, wireless networks, and security, all the while providing even higher levels of performance and reliability.

Why should organizations consider Gigabit bandwidth capacity? Isn't that overkill, given today's bandwidth standards?

John McCool: I think people ask that every time when Moore's Law drives another jump in bandwidth or computing power. But so far we've found plenty of applications and uses for greater capacity. And, certainly, our GigE support across our Catalyst switching portfolio is driven by new applications and uses. New audio and video services need such bandwidth for ensuring even better quality. That increased quality makes applications such as e-learning, video conferencing and multimedia collaboration much more effective.

Even rudimentary tasks can benefit from such speeds. These days, corporations and other organizations recognize the need for regular desktop backups. But, of course, computer files are increasing in size. If backups take too long, companies are finding that their employees won't do them. So in this way, GigE LANs can help boost a company's ability to recover from desktop failures. And on a corporate scale, database backup and disaster recovery practices usually require all the bandwidth you can muster. Also, greater bandwidth connections let servers work much more efficiently. We are also seeing the need for higher bandwidth in particular industries. Healthcare, for example, is now quickly adopting digital image archiving and transport applications for X-rays, MRIs and other diagnostic information. As more and more of these high-resolution, large image files travel on healthcare networks, GigE will be a necessity.

Cisco has been the pacesetter in LAN technology for the past 20 years. How do you see LAN switches evolving over the next five years?

John McCool: Well, if the trend holds true, LAN switches will need to get even smarter. To me, that looks like a move towards adaptable networks, which are not only intelligent but can adjust their resource allocations and management policies based on the type of traffic, users, devices, and applications on the network. Our goal with innovation is always to improve the network's intelligence while making it transparent to its users. So at least for Cisco, this is where we will focus our evolution of LAN technologies.

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