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Breathing New Life into the Catalyst 6500: The Evolution to the 6800

Cisco customers have been wondering what the future holds for the popular Catalyst 6500 Series for years. And within months of the Catalyst 6500 final end-of-life date, Cisco announced a new switching platform, breathing new life into the one of the most widely used switching platforms in the history of networking. Created on a familiar name and structure, the new platform is called the Catalyst 6800.

An extension of Cisco’s popular Catalyst 6500 platform, the new Catalyst 6800 is Cisco’s affirmation that the Catalyst 6500 line is still a core product. While the model number has changed, the technologies underpinning the Catalyst 6800 series are based on the same technologies that powered the Catalyst 6500 series, but with additional capabilities to scale for the future.

Catalyst 6807-XL

The first of the Catalyst 6800 series is the Catalyst 6807-XL switch. This seven-slot fully modular switch is the most direct line between the Catalyst 6500 and the new generation. It currently uses the very same VS-S2T-10G supervisor and associated line cards as the Catalyst 6500, and the exact same software image.

The primary benefit of the Catalyst 6807 is in its ability to scale up to 880 Gbps per slot in the future, making the system ready for medium-density 100GbE deployments. Additionally, the Catalyst 6807 only takes up 10RU, 2RU less than the Catalyst 6506.

Catalyst 6880-X

The next Catalyst 6800 series switch announced is the Catalyst 6880-X. While this switch uses custom line cards and has a fixed supervisor, fundamentally, this too is a Sup2T-based product, so all the same features found in the larger systems are present here as well.

The chassis is only 4RU tall, so it will fit into the same space as the Catalyst 6503-E chassis, but it provides much higher port density: up to 80 10GbE ports per system. The 6880-X chassis has 16 SFP+ ports onboard, and four half card slots, each capable of providing 80 Gbps per slot of throughput. Currently, the only card available is a 16-port 10GbE unit, so these cards (and the ports on the chassis as well) are 2:1 oversubscribed.

Catalyst 6800ia

In addition to these new systems, Cisco has also announced the Catalyst 6800ia fabric extender for use with the Catalyst 6500 and 6800 series switches. The Catalyst 6800ia works the same as the Nexus 2000 extenders, appearing to the parent system as a virtual line card and sending all traffic up to the parent system for forwarding.

The Catalyst 6800ia, however, is optimized for access layer use, providing PoE+ capability and support for FlexStack, allowing up to four extenders in the same rack to be connected together. This allows the use of the Catalyst 6500 and 6800’s advanced ACL and QoS capabilities to be pushed out to the access layer without the expense or size of a full system. Note that when used with the Catalyst 6500 or Catalyst 6807 chassis, the parent card must be one of the WS-X6904-40G line cards; this is currently the only standard card that has the needed logic to manage the 6800ia. The Catalyst 6880-X, however, can support these extenders on all of its ports.

As you can see with the new Catalyst 6800, there is no real sense in comparing the Catalyst 6500 and Catalyst 6800 series. The Catalyst 6800 is an extension to the popular Catalyst 6500, and it provides a clear path forward for the technologies and features of the original line into the 10-, 40-, and 100GbE world.

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