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Cisco comes out of switch closet with Catalyst

Switches, switches everywhere

Security for virtualized datacentres

Probably the only time when Cisco Systems doesn't see a switch as being the solution to a problem is when it thinks a router will do the trick. Or maybe a server.

With the proliferation of network-connected devices that are powered by switches through LAN cables, companies to move switches closer to the devices and get them out of the wiring closet and eliminate a spaghetti monster of cables. A new line of Catalyst switches announced by Cisco Systems today aims to pull some of the networking out of the wiring closet and distribute it around classrooms, stores, conference rooms, doctor's offices hotel rooms, casinos, and just about any other place that has networked devices.

Wireless networks can provide connectivity from point to point just fine, but for security reasons sometimes people want to use wired links between devices out there in the organization and the back-end switching infrastructure. Rather than try to run a LAN cable to each device, the Cisco "borderless networks" strategy wants customers to put baby Ethernet switches in cruise ship berths, hotel rooms, kiosks, classrooms and conference rooms, and so forth and then run just one wire from these locations back to the wiring closet.

In many cases, the big switches back in the closet can power these little Catalyst switches, and depending on the model customers buy, these small out-of-closet switches can power devices that plug into them, such as telephones and cameras. At the very least, the local switches provide secure links back to the Internet for kiosks, cash registers, lab equipment, and other devices.

The new Catalyst C-Series compact switches announced today follow the company's push into other specialized networking arenas, including its Industrial Ethernet 3000 and 3010 switches, designed for harsh physical environments, and its Aironet 3500, a high-end wireless access point with extra electronics to make better use of spectrum and dodge interference.

There are five different models of the C-Series compact switches. They all run the same IOS operating system that larger (both physically and in terms of port and bandwidth capacity) and more expensive Catalyst switches use and network administrators babysit them in exactly the same manner. The machines come in two basic flavors.

All of the machines have eight ports and two uplinks and they differ from each other in the speed of the ports and uplinks and whether they have their own power supply or offer support for Power over Ethernet (PoE) for devices attached to them.

Cisco Catalyst Entry Switches

The Cisco Systems Catalyst C-Series compact switch family

The 2960-C PD/PSE switch has eight ports that run at 10 or 100 Mbit/sec and has two Gigabit Ethernet input ports with support for the PoE+ protocol (meaning it can power devices that draw as much as 30 watts from a single port). The PSE designation means it has its own power supply and does not draw power out of the upstream switches back in the wiring closet.

The other four models in the Catalyst compact switch line draw their power from the writing closet and they do not have fans or special cooling requirements. The 2960-C PD has the same eight 10 or 100 Mbit ports and two Gigabit Ethernet PoE+ input ports, but it gets power from upstream. The 2960-C GE boosts the port speed up to Gigabit Ethernet on those eight ports and has two plain-old Gigabit Ethernet uplink ports. (No PoE+ on the uplinks or downlinks). All of the 2960-C compact switches are Layer 2 switches and have TrustSec and PCI DSS security.

The 3560-C switches are upgraded with Layer 3 support and add MACsec security (also known as the IEEE 802.1AE standard), which can help defend against attacks on Layer 2 networks. The MACsec protocol provides hop-by-hop encryption from the endpoint device back to the wiring closet, and presumably Cisco will charge a premium for that. The 3560-C GE has eight Gigabit Ethernet ports and two Gigabit Ethernet uplinks, and the 3560-C PoE, as the name suggests, adds PoE+ support for those eight ports.

All five switches are 1.75 inches high by 10.6 inches wide, with depths varying from 6.4 inches to 9.6 inches, depending on if they have a power supply built in or not.

Laura Finkelstein, senior director of borderless networks at Cisco, says that when the machines start shipping in March, they will even come with optional security cables that lock into place and can't be yanked out of the switch allowing someone to hack into your network. (Let's face it, a hotel room, a kiosk and a classroom are not the most secure locations in a physical sense.) The PoE power features on the C-Series switches allow them to be up to 100 meters away from the wiring closet.

Pricing on the C-Series compact switches has not been set yet, according to Finkelstein. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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