New Catalyst switch on the way from Cisco

Cisco Systems is expected to soon roll out a Gigabit Ethernet switch for wiring closets, small backbones and server farms.

The Catalyst 4000 is a Layer 2 device that supports Layer 3 services such as Cisco Group Multicast Protocol snooping. The new three-slot switch can house up to 36 Gigabit Ethernet and 96 10/100Mbps autosensing Ethernet ports, sources say.

Cisco declined to comment on the announcement.

The Catalyst 4000 line is based on Application Specific Integrated Circuit technology from Granite Systems, a Gigabit Ethernet startup that Cisco acquired more than two years ago. Indeed, sources say Cisco will use the Catalyst 4000 as further proof that the Granite acquisition was not the bust the industry believes it to be.

The Catalyst 4000 line cards will not be backward compatible with the Catalyst 5000 switches, sources say. This marks a departure for Cisco in terms of investment protection for the Catalyst 5000 installed base.

Pick and mix

Up to now, Cisco has rolled out Gigabit Ethernet, 10/100 and ATM products that could be mixed and matched between the Catalyst 5000, 5500 and 8500 and LightStream 1010 ATM switches. However, the Catalyst 4000 is software compatible with the Catalyst 5000 line.

Like the Catalyst 5000, the Catalyst 4000 will support Cisco's Fast EtherChannel and Gigabit EtherChannel technologies for aggregating multiple links into a high-speed virtual trunk. For instance, Fast EtherChannel allows users to lump four 10/100 ports together into a 400Mbps full-duplex pipe.

Beta testers are generally positive about the Catalyst 4000.

Also next week, Cisco is expected to unveil a higher density addition to its Catalyst 2900 line of 10/100 switches. Currently, the 2900 line tops out at 26 10/100 ports.

The new Catalyst 2948 sports 48 10/100 ports and two Gigabit Ethernet uplinks. It will cost about $200 per port, sources say.