Lippis Report 211: Cisco’s Catalyst 6800 Adds another Ten Years to Catalyst 6500 Series

nicklippis.jpgBack in December of 2012, we published a research note titled “Why Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 Series Will Be Around in 2025.” While it was, and still is, a bold prediction, Cisco’s latest Catalyst introduction, the Catalyst 6800, provides yet another proof point that this prediction will be reality. Modular switches are big IT investments, with longevity assumed in the purchase. Cisco communicates longevity by continuing to invest in research and development, adding platform value with backward compatibility of previous investments to migrate forward—that is, no forklift upgrades and extracts maximum value from past purchases, delivering investment protection and trust. Cisco does this better than most and is rewarded for the design philosophy. Consider that the Catalyst 6500 is the most deployed campus backbone switch. Cisco’s investing hundreds of million of dollars on a Catalyst innovation roadmap with the 6800 being the latest result of this investment. In this Lippis Report Research Note, we review the Catalyst 6800 and reiterate that this Catalyst will be in operation well into 2025.

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Catalyst 6800: Built for Campus Services with Catalyst 6500 DNA

The Catalyst 6500 has been in operation for many years, thanks to Cisco engineering building functionalities with an eye five to eight years into the future. This future view of features is balanced against a perspective that tens of thousands of corporations have invested in the platform and will keep it in production for a decade or more. Today’s networking requirements are very different than just five years ago. IT business leaders are moving applications into cloud infrastructure accessed by both mobile and desktop computing. One result of this shift is that the velocity of application deployment has never been so high and unpredictable.

Network engineers, in particular, have been struggling to keep up with networking demands. More than 80% of their time is spent on monitoring, troubleshooting, configuring switches/routers/security appliances, upgrading equipment, etc. These tasks are associated with “keeping the lights on” versus design, architecture and, most importantly, translating business objectives into IT solutions. It’s this transition from operational centric networking to business catalyst that IT business leaders seek. As always, there are multiple trends operating simultaneously and dynamically interacting. At the same time that mobile and cloud computing is fundamentally changing IT, so, too, are business requirements to capitalize on a more favorable economic condition in the US and mixed elsewhere. This is a time of unprecedented flexibility needed in networking.

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The Catalyst 6800 seeks to accommodate these trends by first leveraging the Catalyst 6500’s DNA. Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 DNA is made up for four key organizing principles, including: 1) a rich set of services, 2) innovation with investment protection to provide forward and backward compatibility, 3) operational consistency across generations of Catalyst 6500, and 4) lowering total cost of ownership with every new initiative or major upgrade. From a product development point of view, it’s this DNA that keeps the Catalyst 6K in production well into 2025 and is the basis for the new 6800.

The Catalyst 6800 was built for services and simplicity of operations so that network engineers are able to spend more time on strategic business initiatives and programmability to expose network features to applications. From a performance perspective, the Catalyst 6800 offers increased scale, performance and network services. There are three Catalyst 6800 switches. At the backbone is the Catalyst 6807-XL and 6880-X. The Catalyst 6807-XL scales up to 880 Gbps/slot and 11.5 Tbps switching capacity to support 10/40 and 100GbE. The Catalyst 6880-X offers four module slots to support 80 10GbE or 20 40GbE ports. And one of the most innovative introductions is the stackable Catalyst 6848ia, or Instant Access switch, that support 48 10/100/1000 MbE host ports and two 10GbE uplinks as well as PoE/PoE+. The Catalyst 6848ia enables simplification of operations to a new level through centralized port configuration and management through Catalyst Instant Access technology.

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The following are key Catalyst 6800 attributes that are worth calling out:

Rich Set of Services: Network services built into the Catalyst 6500’s operating system IOS or Internetworking Operating System are fundamental in assisting IT executives to take advantage of technology and market transitions. There are over 3,000 features that have matured over the years of the Catalyst’s IOS, and all of them work on the Catalyst 6800.

Built for BYOD and Collaboration: The Catalyst 6800 is equipped with BYOD features to enable wired and wireless convergence plus the ability to scale mobility through integrated Wireless Services Module or WISM-2 module. It also supports one policy through the integration with ISE or Cisco Identify Services Engine and one management through integration with Cisco Prime. Greater application visibility and control is afforded, thanks to flexible NetFlow and the Network Analysis Model or NAM-3, providing deep visibility into application and user traffic. Collaboration services, especially video communications is enabled, thanks to built-in Medianet intelligence and tools, plus the Catalyst 6800’s ability to scale multicast while providing granular analytics of video sessions.

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High Availability: Ultra high availability is afforded through VS4O (VSS Quad Sup SSO) as the next generation VSS technology to support five-nines (99.999%) availability in campus networking. VS40 enables the Catalyst 6800 to keep the backbone up and running even with three Supervisor failures. VS40 makes the backbone bulletproof for BYOD, mobility and collaboration services in the campus.

Built for Security: The Catalyst 6800 family of switches provide comprehensive security across wired, wireless and VPN through Cisco TrustSec and support for Cisco AnyConnect sessions through its integrated ASA or Adaptive Security Appliances service modules. Role-based security, integrated firewall and single policy creation is enabled, thanks to Cisco ISE being integrated into the platform, providing one of the most comprehensive campus network security offerings.

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Built for Programmability: Cisco’s onePK is a Cisco Software-Defined Networking (SDN) toolkit for development, automation, rapid service creation, etc. Catalyst 6800 switches are onePK ready, and thus enable IT to build applications to automate and create services across the campus. Catalyst 6800 switches also support the industry standard OpenFlow interface to program switches to avail of custom network services like network slicing and traffic steering.

Built for Simplicity: Cisco introduces a revolutionary way to deploy and operate a campus network in its Instant Access technology. Catalyst Instant Access is a solution to significantly simplify campus network operations. It simplifies network operations through a single point of operation and management for campus access and backbone. The solution is comprised of Catalyst 6500 or 6800 core switch and Catalyst 6800ia access switches. The Catalyst 6800ia access switches are connected to the Catalyst 6500 or 6800 with the entire network configuration presented as a single extended switch with a single management domain. Catalyst Instant Access allows Catalyst 6500/6800 features to be extended to network access, e.g., MPLS/EVN (Easy Virtual Network), to access ports. The Catalyst Instant Access solution is optimized for wired devices with centralized wireless control.

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The Catalyst 6800ia access switches can support POE+ and are stackable, offering higher port density and resiliency. IT has flexibility to deploy the Catalyst Instant Access solution on all or a subset of the campus network and can even reuse existing network cabling infrastructure to deploy this solution.


Innovation with Investment Protection: Most, if not all, network engineers prefer to deploy and quickly turn new network investments operational. The Catalyst 6800 offers unique attributes in this regard. IOS software possess 15 years of maturity and breadth of features, thus the Catalyst 6800 switches run the same IOS software as the Catalyst 6500, supporting all features from day one of deployment. That is no new training of network engineers or IT operations are required. In addition, the Catalyst 6807-XL is a new Catalyst chassis that offers up to 880 Gbps/slot and supports Catalyst Supervisor Engine 2T, all software, linecards and service modules, only much faster.

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Operational Consistency across Catalyst 6500 and 6800: The Catalyst 6500 customers are accustomed to consistent management, and the Catalyst 6800 will be no different. It provides full feature and operational consistency with the Catalyst 6500; therefore, IT can upgrade the backbone with minimal service interruption. IT and network operations have been able to maintain operational consistency in IT trouble ticketing process, for example. In addition, there is minimal retraining of network operations when Catalyst 6800 upgrades are deployed, thanks to consistent IOS functionality and feature retention.

Lowering Total Cost of Ownership: As mentioned earlier, Catalyst Instant Access is a technology developed chiefly to minimize the repetitive and non-productive operations performed by IT on network access. It radically lowers operational cost by replacing repetitive switch-by-switch configuration and management with a simplified install-and-connect approach for all 6848ia host ports via the Catalyst 6800 or 6500 switches. The Catalyst 6848ia is integrated with Cisco Prime, its enterprise management suite, plus Cisco ISE for policy creation. The Catalyst 6800 supports all the features of the 6500 that aim to reduce Total Cost of Ownership or TCO. For example, Embedded Event Manager (EEM) provides real-time network event detection and onboard automation. Smart Install provides plug-and-play configuration and software image-management for zero-touch deployment of new switches and high availability via VS40, as mentioned above.

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Making 10GbE Affordable to Mid-Market and Mid-Sized Campus Networks: Mid-market enterprises as well as enterprises with mid-size campuses require 10GbE services in their backbone too. However, fixed low-end backbone switches lack advanced services and 10GbE density while high-end modular switches with advanced services are better suited for larger campuses and have high entry costs. Catalyst 6880-X, supporting up to 80-10GbE/1GbE or 20-40GbE ports, is targeted to fill this gap. The Catalyst 6880-X inherits the same advanced software features as the Catalyst 6500, while its combination of 10GbE density, services and price are targeted for mid-size campus networks.

Will Catalyst Be Around in 2025?

Enterprise computing has been quickly transitioning toward mobile and cloud computing since 2007. In this new computing model, what are important from a campus network perspective are increased application visibility, control, automation and operational efficiency plus performance. Based upon the above, the Catalyst 6800 is prepared for this IT transformation.

Cisco Catalyst 6800 Series Switches differentiate themselves from competing products by their rich services, longevity and unprecedented investment protection. The features make the product a platform to roll out value-added IT services. Hardly any products in the industry can match the longevity of the Catalyst 6K and its hardware forward compatibility, software and operational consistency that enable IT to consistently deliver new value, thanks to added services, without the costly rip-and-replace requirement of network infrastructure.

In December 2012, we asked the question: “will the Catalyst 6500 be around in 2025?” With the new 6800 chassis, the Catalyst will be in operation, more than likely, well into 2025.

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