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Cisco Flips Switch on Campus Communications Fabric

At the heart of Cisco's dominance of the enterprise networking landscape is the Cisco Catalyst switch. As the name implies, Catalyst switches enable traffic to flow across an enterprise as part of the Cisco Campus Communications Fabric.

Now the Campus Communications Fabric is about to get faster, thanks to a set of new features that enterprises can upgrade piece by piece without sacrificing their infrastructures.

The new Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series Virtual Switching System (VSS) 1440 will enable Cisco users to combine multiple Catalyst 6500 switches to provide as much as 1.44 terabits per second.

"What VSS delivers is network system ability to pool multiple switches together within one virtualized system," Kumar Srikantan, senior director of the Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series System, told InternetNews.com. "It reduces the management overhead in situations where customers have dual chassis deployments which are typical in the core and data center networks."

Srikantan explained that by virtualizing the Catalyst, Cisco has reduced the number of routing instances, which makes the network easier to manage. Fewer routing instances means more efficient routing due to the fact that traffic can bypass a network hop that does not virtually exist. And with fewer hops, network latency also improves, leading to a better performing enterprise network overall.

By improving network performance with VSS, Srikantan said Cisco is "opening up the pipes" and letting enterprises take advantage of bandwidth that was already in the network. To do this, Cisco needed to beef up its own hardware and routing software to fully recognize the benefits of virtualization and to provide the additional processing capability to deal with the increased bandwidth potential.

Srikantan said Cisco first had to make changes on the port ASICs , as well as the CPU on the VSS itself. Additionally Cisco had to make improvements to its IOS (internetwork operating system), which powers its networking gear in order to take full advantage of the new network-routing capabilities that VSS provides.

Cisco is also updating the Catalyst 4500 E-Series mid-range switching platform with increased bandwidth per slot in each chassis from 6Gbps to 24Gbps. New line cards are also available, including one that will provide up to 30 watts for Power over Ethernet applications.

Beyond just expanding bandwidth with its new releases, Cisco is trying to reassure its customers that existing investments in Cisco hardware won't be lost.

While Cisco has a trade-in program for legacy hardware, many of the deployed Catalyst switch chassis in the marketplace are modular and can be upgraded with a line card or new module to take advantage of the improvements that Cisco is rolling out now.

"These innovations require nothing from customers in terms of redoing their networking layout," Srikantan said. "It maps to how their networks are organized now."