Cisco Systems last week lobbed a volley at its rivals in the desktop switching arena with a slew of stackable boxes.
The new products are aimed at helping customers enforce network access and allocate bandwidth at the port level, making networks more secure and manageable while offering options to use Gigabit Ethernet where needed.
The company says the six new stackable switches offer more Gigabit Ethernet port options than previous Catalyst 3550 and 2950 products, and include improved security and management features.
New modules for the Catalyst 4000 modular switch and the Cisco 2600 and 3600 routers were also introduced. The blades could help customers deploy Gigabit to the desktop, or combine switching and routing into a single box in remote offices.
The new stackable Catalysts include the Catalyst 3550-48 and the 3550-24, which offer 48 and 24 ports of 10/100Mbps Ethernet, respectively, with two Gigabit Interface Converter (GBIC) slots for adding 1000Mbps uplinks. The Catalyst 3550-12G is a 12-GBIC port switch, which can be outfitted with a variety of fibre-optic or copper Gigabit Ethernet GBIC modules.
The 24 and 48-port models are for use in wiring closets where end-user security and finely tuned bandwidth management are needed, while the 12-port GBIC switch is targeted as a backbone switch for a small network, or as a data centre switch for connecting enterprise servers or Web servers.
The 3500 switches support full Layer 3 and 4 IP routing, but a software add-on is required to activate it. The products support features such as IP-based access control lists (ACL), which can limit the type of traffic that can pass through a port. A rate limiting feature controls how much bandwidth end users can receive.
The three new Catalyst 2950G models -- also in 12, 24 and 48-port versions -- are aimed at wiring closets in which full Layer 3 routing is not needed. Software can be added to the switches for supporting Layer 3 and Layer 4 "services", such as the ability to inspect packets at Layers 3 and 4 for scaled-down ACL security (meaning fewer ACL-based rules can be applied).
The Catalyst 2950G-48 is being tested at Webster University in St. Louis, where it will be used as a wiring closet switch in computer labs and administrative offices.
The ability for a Layer 2 switch to support IP-based Layer 3 ACL rules at the port level could help the IT department at the 18,000-student university better manage how the network is accessed, said Ben Hockenhull, a network coordinator at the school.
"With this, we can limit some machines, such as Web kiosks, to Web access only," based on the port they're plugged into, Hockenhull said. "If someone tries to plug something else into one of those ports, like a laptop, they'd still only get Web access."
Hockenhull also said he was able to use Layer 3 ACLs on the box without any speed degradation during some informal testing.
Cisco's Cluster Manager software for administering stackable and modular switches has also been upgraded with new "wizard" configuration tools, which can help ease the setup of LAN and WAN parameters, such as security and quality-of-service policies, Cisco said.
The new stackable switches will compete closely with recently released products such as 3Com's SuperStack III Switch 4400 series and Foundry Networks' FastIron II -- which also offer wizard-driven configuration, rate limiting and port-level security. Cisco's stackable Catalysts are priced between products from Foundry and 3Com -- around $US1500 less than the former, and more than the latter.
Cisco's new 48-port 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet module for the Catalyst 4000 is aimed at large enterprise wiring closets that are looking to migrate some desktops to Gigabit Ethernet, while keeping other users plugged into the same switch at 10/100.
For branch offices, Cisco released the 16-port 10/100 EtherSwitch Network Module for its 2600 and 3600 routers. The module, which fits in one network module slot of a 2600/3600 router, can be used to combine switching and routing into a single box for a small office or enterprise branch office. The module also supports Cisco's in-line power over Ethernet technology, letting a Cisco router power devices such as Cisco IP phones or wireless LAN network access points (Cisco's in-line power technology is only certified to work with Cisco phones and access points).