Cisco adds integrated Layer 3 functionality to its mid-range Ethernet switch and ups the ante on the competition

January 29, 2002

2 Min Read
Cisco Beefs Up Ethernet Switching

WASHINGTON, D.C -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has given its Layer 3 switch/router a sorely needed upgrade by integrating the switching and routing features.

Today, here at the Comnet Show, the company announced the new Supervisor Engine III for the Catalyst 4000 series of switches, which will provide a software upgrade to give the switch Layer 3 routing features at wire speeds (see Cisco Gooses Catalyst).

“When the Catalyst 4000 series first came out it handled Layer 2 forwarding only,” says David Passmore, research director at the Burton Group. “Then they added the routing blade, but it didn’t go to wire speed.”

Cisco competitors, including, Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), and Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), have had integrated Layer 2 switching and Layer 3 routing in their Ethernet switches for years. Cisco has the same features in certain products, like its Catalyst 6500 family of switches. But the company lacked a viable solution in its mid-range switching products like the chassis-based Catalyst 4000.

In initial efforts to meet customer demand, the company cobbled together a solution. Customers could order a separate routing blade that plugged into a line card slot in the Catalyst 4000. But this solution was not ideal. Not only did it take up too much room, it didn’t allow for full wire-rate forwarding, especially when services like quality of service (QOS) or multicast were turned on, says Passmore.

But now Cisco has added Layer 3 routing functionality to the supervisor engine. This means that customers can upgrade their existing Catalyst 4000 boxes simply by adding a new supervisor engine. The upgrade will deliver better performance, according to Brad Danitz, product manager for the Catalyst 4000 switches (the old supervisor engine only processed 6 million packets per second, while the new engine processes 48 million pps), as well as additional feautures such as QOS and hardware-based multicast.

Danitz says the new supervisor engine will help make the Catalyst 4000 attractive to service providers, too, especially those offering metro Ethernet services. While this may be true, the bulk of sales are expected in the enterprise, Cisco’s strongest business sector, where the company has recently been winning back market share (see Cisco's See-Saw Day). The solution is ideal for the large installed base of customers looking to upgrade their networks.

“This is definitely an announcement for the enterprise,” says Passmore. “It will especially help with customers who have already invested in the Catalyst 4000, who may want to turn on new QOS features or migrate to voice-over-IP services.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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