Cisco debuts stackable workgroup switches

Cisco Systems Inc. late last month unveiled its first family of stackable 10/100 Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet switches, which are designed to ease the management of complex workgroup networks.

The new Catalyst 3500 Series XL switches support new Cisco software that allows network managers to manage physically dispersed switches through a single Internet Protocol address.

"The technology that will perk up the ears of federal customers is switch clustering," said Mike Williams, strategic account manager for distribution sales at Cisco Federal.

"It's a very cost-effective solution that allows users to add switches regardless of where [the switches] are located and manage them from a single IP network address. Clustering technology can be used with the existing Cisco 2900 and 1900 Catalyst switches," Williams said.

The clustering software enables up to 16 interconnected Catalyst 3500 XL, 2900 XL and 1900 switches to form a managed single IP address network. The switches can be clustered using various technologies, including Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet and a Cisco GigaStack Gigabit Interface Connector (GBIC), which is a stacking transceiver. Up to nine switches can be daisy-chained with GigaStack to form a stack.

In a Cisco switch cluster, one Catalyst 3500 XL or 2900 XL acts as the command switch, and all other switches in the cluster are designated as member switches. The command switch serves as the single IP management point and disburses all management action dictated by the network manager. The clusters can be managed via a command-line interface as well as the World Wide Web-based Cisco Visual Switch Manager software, which has been upgraded.

Cisco also has released Version 2.0 of Visual Switch Manager software, which enables managers to view and manage a switch cluster from anywhere on the network through a standard Web browser. The software is launched from the switch itself and supports port configuration and port monitoring. The software administers software upgrades across multiple switches. It is now stored in flash memory and is based on Java technology.

The Catalyst 3500 Series comes in three models: the 3512 XL with 12 10/100 ports and two GBIC-based Gigabit Ethernet ports; the 3524 XL with 24 10/100 ports and two GBIC-based Gigabit Ethernet ports; and the 3508G XL with eight GBIC-based Gigabit Ethernet ports. The family supports a 10 gigabits/sec switching fabric and forwards packets at 7.44 million packets per second. NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field is using four of the new 3500 switches, which the agency plans to use to grow and upgrade the network, said Dave Kunath, network engineer at the Center.

"In our particular environment, stackability was a main concern," he said. "Affordability was next, and integration into the existing infrastructure is also important." Specifically, Kunath said he likes the clustering capability, the low profile of the switch and the fact that the GigaStack module is hot-swappable.

Cisco's lack of a 10/100 stackable switch until now has not had an impact on the company's market share, said Esmeralda Silva, research manager at International Data Corp.

"What it came down to was Cisco would try to sell as many chassis-based systems as possible, but increasingly it was going into accounts that prefer the stackable form factor," Silva said. "Cisco, despite not having a stackable product, has still been the market leader when it came to selling against vendors like 3Com and Nortel."

The new 3500 line fits between the 4000 chassis-based switch and the 2900 switch. The 3500 "rounds out a family of products for workgroup-level solutions," according to Silva.

The switches are available on the General Services Administration schedule through Cisco channel partners.

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