Cisco Pushes Back on Switching
The key element is the new Supervisor Engine 2T module, which Cisco says triples the performance of the chassis. Other new modules add 40Gbit/s Ethernet capability and more dense 10Gbit/s Ethernet, up to eight ports of the latter per slot, without oversubscription.
Cisco is also adding a fleet of new cards for various services. Some that got highlighted briefly during a Tuesday-morning press conference included a firewall (now running at 24 Gbit/s) and wireless LAN management (now able to control 500 access points and 10,000 client devices.)
The hardware is the easiest part to talk about, but Cisco updated a lot of software as well -- more than 200 features, Cisco officials said. In video, for instance, Cisco says the 6500 can now handle 256,000 multicast routes, compared with 15,000 for the nearest competitor.
Cisco has been put on the defensive as competitors have capitalized on the transition to the cloud, and the 6500 is its only switching platform to not get a major upgrade in the last 24 months. Other companies have access to cutting-edge Ethernet switching chips, dulling any edge Cisco has had. And some, HP in particular, have aggressively dragged down prices.
Cisco Senior VP John McCool said the company's market share in switching has been steady at about 70 percent for years, and its market share in modular switching (the Catalyst 6500's area) was 77 percent at the end of the first quarter of 2011, the same as it was two years earlier.
Moreover, the 6500 generally carries better margins than the newer Nexus line, and shrinking margins have been a big concern of investors. Even though the platform is aging, it's important for Cisco to keep it humming.
That's part of the typical big-company challenge: the need to feed the installed base. In announcing the 6500 refresh, Cisco emphasized that all the new boards will work with the 700,000 Catalyst 6500s that have been installed.
Even within Cisco, people keep asking when the Nexus will displace the Catalyst 6500, said McCool. His answer to that is that the Catalyst and Nexus are headed in different directions.
"We see the market bifurcating into a campus-based market that needs rich services and deep services, and a high-connectivity data center market," he said. The Catalyst line would apparently target the former, with Nexus targeting the latter.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading