New WAN module boosts Cisco switch line

New WAN module boosts Cisco switch line

A new WAN module from Cisco could significantly boost the capabilities of one of its Catalyst LAN switching lines, but the package also clouds the future of some older products.

At the recent Cisco Partner Summit, Cisco rolled out the FlexWAN module for the Catalyst 6500 LAN switch, announced one year ago. The FlexWAN module sports two slots for WAN port adapters, which can be T-1/E-1, T-3/E-3, ATM or Packet over SONET interfaces.

FlexWAN lets users deploy the Catalyst 6500 as a routing switch - it supports standard routing protocols, such as Border Gateway Protocol 4, Open Shortest Path First and IS-IS - for metropolitan area networks (MAN) and WANs, as well as LANs. So users need not employ a slower, costlier router, such as a Cisco 7500, for MAN/WAN routing. Generally, routing switches are 10 times faster than traditional routers at one-tenth the cost.

Indeed, sources say Cisco is positioning the Catalyst 6500 with FlexWAN as a single platform for consolidating LAN, MAN and WAN services to lower cost of ownership, simplify network design, ease network management, and migrate existing MAN and WAN networks, such as those based on routers. To foster the migration, FlexWAN even uses the same WAN port adapters as the 7500 and 7200 routers.

Cisco officials would not comment on FlexWAN specifically, but say that adding WAN capabilities to its routing switches does not make the router obsolete, and the 7500 router is not slotted for retirement.

In addition to the installed base of 7500 users that need to be supported, the 7500 can still be used as a high-density enterprise WAN edge device with a "sweet spot" in T-1/T-3 aggregation, says a Cisco official. The box can also function as a virtual private network gateway, and supports IBM SNA connectivity through a channel interface processor module.

Voice enhancements are on the way as well, according to the company.

Sources say the Catalyst 6500 is optimised for T-3 and above. It's designed for users consolidating their LAN and WAN backbones with Gigabit Ethernet switches, and who need to extend Layer 4-7 switching, server load balancing and application hosting capabilities across MANs and WANs.

This presents another overlap scenario: Cisco already has a GB core routing switch with WAN capabilities - the Catalyst 8500, which began shipping less than two years ago. Cisco rolled out two flavours - the Campus Switch Router (CSR) for Ethernet networks, and the Multiservice Switch Router for ATM backbones.

Cisco now says the Catalyst 6500 is its strategic GB Ethernet core routing switch, and the 8500 is targeted solely at core ATM networks. This positioning effectively eliminates 50 per cent of the market for the 8500. Given that campus ATM is a declining market, the 8500 - less than two years after its debut - is already a legacy product.

"Whether it's Lucent coming out with a new Cajun product, or Foundry entering the terabit router market, or Extreme coming out with higher-capacity, lower-priced switches, the 8500, by these standards, is pretty much antiquated," says Ron Westfall, an analyst at US-based Current Analysis.

Cisco says there's still plenty of demand for the 8500. "There are campuses that still require ATM," says Carl Engineer, a Cisco marketing director.

"ATM LAN Emulation is still a big plus, especially in Europe and some of the Far East countries. A large part of the revenue will also come from the WAN."

Targeting the 8500 at ATM also contradicts Cisco's insistence that the 8500 CSR will serve as a GB Ethernet core switch for Catalyst 6000s and 6500s deployed as high-density aggregation switches of large Ethernet backbones.

Cisco disclosed this positioning when it announced the Catalyst 6000/6500 devices, which are higher-performance, higher-density and lower-cost switches than the 8500s.

Cisco's Engineer says because the 8500 is a pure ATM switch - Ethernet frames are segmented into ATM cells for transport across the switch backplane - it only makes sense to market it as such.

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