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Cisco upgrades Ethernet switches

The networking giant continues adding Gigabit Ethernet technology to its roster of network equipment with a new series of switching devices.

Networking giant Cisco Systems (CSCO) continues to put its high-speed house in order.

Amid rumors that the first high-profile gigabit-speed acquisition in the industry did not go well, Cisco will continue its plans to add the next-generation version of Ethernet technology to its sprawling roster of network equipment next month with a new series of switching devices.

The new line, called the Catalyst 8500, is expected to consist of two models that combine the previous top speed for Ethernet with the next-generation Gigabit Ethernet ports, which send data across a wire at 1000 mbps, according to sources.

Ethernet is the dominant means for connecting desktops and servers together and to a network. The next version of the technology is highly anticipated because it will allow users of Ethernet to extend their investments with a familiar connection type. A standard for Gigabit Ethernet is due to be ratified in June, according to proponents of the technology.

A Cisco spokesman refused to comment on unannounced products. Existence of the upcoming series was confirmed through documentation found on the company's Web site. A rollout will likely come before or at the largest networking trade show of the year, Networld+Interop in early May.

Cisco acquired Granite Systems for its Gigabit Ethernet chip technology in the fall of 1996. Given the long delay between that $220 million purchase and the debut of gear based on the high-speed technology, some industry pundits dismissed the move as a failure. "They got burned," said Virginia Brooks, managing director of networking and telecommunications for the Aberdeen Group.

Nevertheless, the new series is expected to contain 4-port and 16-port module options for the technology, according to sources. The former model, dubbed the 8510, is due to ship in June, with the latter model due in September, according to sources. The new equipment also adds support for networking technology dubbed "layer 3," which basically allows switches to provide limited routing functions when necessary.

The move builds on the recent announcement of initial gigabit-speed support within the company's existing Catalyst 5500 line of switching devices and 7500 series of routing gear.

The 8500 series could be a revenue gold mine for Cisco, since many existing company installations may want to upgrade their existing equipment to take advantage of the higher speeds of Gigabit Ethernet.

Also included in the 8510 is a 32-port density for Fast Ethernet and a switching capacity of 5 gbps (gigabits per second). The 8540 includes 128 ports of Fast Ethernet density with up to 20 gbps of switching capacity.