March 30, 2003 9:00 PM PST

Cisco switches on the speed

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Cisco Systems on Monday plans to unveil several upgrades for one of its more popular products, the Catalyst 6500 line of switches.

Most of the equipment gear is geared toward making the switches faster. About 100,000 companies use the Catalyst 6500 switches to create networks out of personal computers, telephones and other equipment, said Cisco Vice President Soni Jiandani.

Among the more notable updates is Cisco's new supervisor engine, which costs $28,000. The engine, available now, doubles the traffic that the Catalyst 6500 can manage, Jiandani said.

The seven other upgrades, ranging in price from $7,000 to $60,000, will be available in the next few months, she said.

The upgrades are a sign of possible new features to come for Cisco's other products, said Joel Conover, principal analyst at Current Analysis. "This is their Cadillac platform; all the features appear here first, and they trickle down to all Cisco products," he said.

One of those changes is a circuit board that Cisco says will give the ability to send both electrical power and 1 gigabit per second of data over the same connection. This equipment could dramatically affect how corporations view wireless local area networks and voice over Internet Protocol, a technology that's behind the merger of office telephone and computer networks, Conover said.

So-called "Power over Ethernet" (PoE) now runs on data highways moving too slow--about 100 megabits per second--for corporations to make a worthwhile investment into an Internet phone system, Conover said. So most companies aren't taking advantage of PoE's main benefit: not needing an electrical outlet.

"The market has been screaming for this, and Cisco just married those two things together," Conover said.

Switches are at the core of any digital network, from the Internet itself to an office phone system. Switches and routers work in tandem to ferry digital information from one place to the next. For instance, a phone call to an office usually first encounters a router, which attaches instructions to direct it to the right place. The switch finishes the job.

Cisco dominates the markets for switches and routers, but more so for switches. While other companies have made in-roads into Cisco's router market share, Cisco continues to sell about 70 percent of the world's switches, the lion's share of a market that generated $12 billion in 2002. The sale of switches represented nearly half, about 42 percent, of all of Cisco's revenue last year.

 

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