Cisco launches metro Ethernet assault

Cisco Systems this week is expected to unveil a series of new and enhanced products designed to let service providers offer a greater variety of metropolitan Ethernet services to their business customers.

Chief among the products is a new metropolitan Ethernet switch, the Catalyst 3750, the first in a line of fixed-configuration multilayer access devices for the customer premises. The 3750 lets service providers offer differentiated Ethernet services such as Layer 2 and Multi-protocol Label Switching VPNs with quality of service (QoS)-based service-level agreements, Cisco says.

The switch sports 24 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet ports along with two Gigabit Ethernet ports. Among the intelligence and QoS features are Ethernet-over-MPLS; IEEE 802.1Q tunneling and lookup; Multi-VPN Routing and Forwarding for enabling multiple VPN customers to share a customer-edge device and physical connection on a provider-edge device; hierarchical queuing based on class-of-service (CoS), virtual LAN IDs and physical interfaces; and rate limiting.

"It's amazing to me that what looks like a wiring closet switch now has a lot of service provider functionality in it, including the capability to deliver QoS for individual customer applications," says Michael Howard, principal analyst and co-founder of Infonetics Research Inc. "One of the primary concerns of metropolitan Ethernet service providers is end-to-end QoS. It may not be easy but it's doable" with the 3750.

It's also doable with just about any Ethernet switch -- including those from Cisco rivals Extreme Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc. and Riverstone Networks Inc. -- that supports VLAN stacking or the ability to aggregate multiple VLANs onto one WAN circuit, Howard says. It's hard to find an Ethernet switch that does not support VLAN stacking.

Among the enhanced products in Cisco's metropolitan Ethernet flurry this week are the 7600 series router, and Catalyst 6500 and 4500 switches. A 48-port mixed-media Gigabit Ethernet module for the 7600 and 6500 features 48 mix-and-match small-form-factor optics to address a range of media types and distances. The module also supports dual 20G bit/sec switch fabric connections and 9K-byte Jumbo Frames, for improved datastreaming and reduced processing.

The 7600 and 6500 also now support Cisco IOS software features such as VLAN translation and CoS mutation. VLAN translation lets Layer 2 VPN subscribers utilize their existing VLAN tags instead of service provider-coordinated VLAN tags. This provides more-efficient access to additional services, such as Internet access and IP VPNs, Cisco says.

CoS mutation lets service providers preserve end-user QoS across the network for Layer 2 VPN services, Cisco says. It does this by mapping 802.1p priority bits between customer and provider switches.

Enhancements to the 4500 include 802.1Q tunneling. This transparent LAN feature lets service providers utilize a single VLAN for transporting and preserving customers' multiple internal VLANs across a metropolitan network.

The Catalyst 3750 costs US$7,000 with AC power or $8,000 with DC power. Software licenses cost from $3,000 to $7,000. It is scheduled to be available later this month.

Pricing for the 48-port mixed media Gigabit Ethernet module for the 7600 router and 6500 switch is scheduled to be available later next month.

The enhanced Cisco IOS software is available now for the 7600 and 6500. It will be available next month for the 4500 and 3750.

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