Cisco's Throws Weight Behind Gigabit Ethernet

LAS VEGAS (05/08/2000) - Cisco Systems Inc. this week is expected to throw its considerable weight behind copper-based Gigabit Ethernet, with the release of high-density 1000Base-T modules for two LAN switching lines.

At NetWorld+Interop 2000, Cisco is expected to roll out 16-port 1000Base-T modules for its Catalyst 4000 and Catalyst 6000 switches, which can be used in wiring closets and backbones. Cisco's product announcement will ostensibly be the most significant Gigabit Ethernet-over-copper launch for the company and perhaps for the industry. Cisco is the leader in Layers 2 and 3 Ethernet switching for large companies, with just under a 50% market share, according to Dell'Oro Group in Portola Valley, California.

"It's significant and not significant," says Tere' Bracco, principal analyst for enterprise infrastructure at Current Analysis in Washington, D.C. "It's significant that the enterprise can scale, but it is beyond what any enterprise really needs. We have the capability, but do we need it right now? Not really."

Gigabit Ethernet over copper - or 1000Base-T - is an important offering for companies seeking high-performance computing at low cost. The technology lets customers use existing copper wiring infrastructure instead of pulling new fiber, which is disruptive and costly.

But the major drawback of 1000Base-T is its distance limitation - 330 feet vs. up to 3.1 miles on single-mode fiber. This limits 1000Base-T to in-building connectivity for the most part - desktop to switch, switch-to-switch, building risers and switch-to-server - as opposed to campus or limited metropolitan-area links.

The 1000Base-T standard was approved within the IEEE in June 1999.

The new modules would bring copper-based Gigabit Ethernet port densities up to at least 80 ports on a six-slot Catalyst 4006 and at least 128 ports on a nine-slot Catalyst 6000. To date, Cisco offers only a single-port copper Gigabit Ethernet module for its Catalyst 2900 switch, according to the company's Web site.

Cisco would not confirm the expected announcement.

At last year's NetWorld+ Interop, Cisco demonstrated prestandard copper-based Gigabit Ethernet connectivity between two Catalyst 4003 switches. Cisco's lack of shippable 1000Base-T products has not been lost on competitors.

"We've been shipping for a quarter," says George Prodan, vice president of marketing at Extreme Networks. He adds Extreme shipped 5,000 1000Base-T ports between January and March 2000.

Sources say that in addition to the 16-port blades for the Catalyst 4000 and 6000 chassis, Cisco may also pop 1000Base-T versions of its fixed-configuration Catalyst 4912G and 4908G-L3 switches. This could not be confirmed, however.

The 4912G is a 12-port Layer 2 aggregation switch. The 4908G-L3 is an eight-port Layer 3 switch for midsize campus backbones.

Pricing and availability of the 16-port 1000Base-T modules for the Catalyst 4000 and 6000 could not be learned by press time.

Separately, Cisco's small/ midsize business unit is expected to unveil a modular IP telephony system for branch-office sites. The system runs Cisco's CallManager 3.0 call-processing software and supports up to 150 handsets, sources say.

Cisco's small/midsize business unit did not comment.

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