Catalyst 4000 Supervisor Engine III is a self-contained hardware module that can be plugged into the company's existing line of Layer 2 Gigabit Ethernet switches. Once the module is in place, customers can upgrade any of their high-density 10/100 Catalyst 4000 switches to handle Layer 3 routing functions.
"This announcement is a big deal for the Cisco installed base that is considering upgrading," said David Passmore, research director of The Burton Group, an analyst company. "Layer 3 services like QoS are starting to become more important for enterprises, especially those considering putting in Ethernet-based phones on the LAN."
The new switching engine allows large enterprises and metropolitan Ethernet providers to offer services such as quality of service (QoS), security, and multi-layer switching. Ultimately, the enhancement allows an enterprise to offer converged voice, data, and video services such as voice over IP (VOIP) from the desktop.
By placing a control module in the wiring closet, network administrators can have more and finer control of their traffic from the edge, rather than from the core. Supervisor III allows customers to differentiate LAN traffic types and prioritise based on their own requirements.
"Resource-hungry applications can now be controlled, which is very important in a converged environment," said Les Poltrack, director of marketing for the gigabit switching business unit at Cisco. "This is done by performing both inbound and outbound policing of traffic."
Using a proprietary IP switching technology called Cisco Express Forwarding (CEF), Supervisor III can switch 48 million packets per second - two and half times more than what Catalyst 4000 can do without the engine. The line of switches also provides up to 240 ports per system, including support for copper.
Meanwhile, Foundry Networks has introduced an ASIC chip set for its FastIron family of enterprise switches that compete with the Cisco Catalyst 4000 line. The chip set, JetCore, allows Foundry to double the port count on its module systems and control the bandwidth on a per-user level.