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Cisco adds to networking lines

The networking giant rolls out another wave of new equipment, spanning its high-performance switching lines and remote access equipment.

Cisco Systems has got something for everyone, it seems.

The networking giant today rolled out another wave of new equipment and associated enhancements that span its high-performance switching lines and remote access equipment--two hot areas that are driving growth at Cisco .

In particular, Cisco continues to focus on adding support for Gigabit Ethernet--the latest speed enhancement to classic Ethernet--to various parts of its switching lines, underscoring the tempered approach the company has taken in delivering high-speed upgrades.

Cisco executives said the new gigabit-speed Ethernet equipment is based on technology from Granite Systems, a late 1996 purchase that was thought by some to be one of the company's less successful acquisitions--a view supported by the relatively slow pace that Cisco has brought the technology to market.

But Granite veterans dispute the notion that Cisco mishandled its entry into the Gigabit Ethernet market. "I think there's probably a lot of misunderstanding," said Les Poltrack, senior product manager at Cisco for gigabit solutions, and a member of the Granite team that came over via the acquisition. "I think the reality is more important."

The market for gigabit-speed devices based on Ethernet, the dominant means to connect PCs and servers on a network, was once filled with a slew of start-ups, including Granite. But competition has led to a rapid market consolidation, as major networking players snap up gigabit networking technology. Only a few small independent companies remain.

All the major competitors in the networking arena, such as 3Com, Nortel Networks, and Cabletron Systems, are making serious gigabit bets. Even overseas entrants, such as European giant Alcatel have dipped into their war chests for a piece of the action; the French company snagged Packet Engines in October for $315 million in cash.

Cisco's Poltrack characterized current use of the technology as being in "the early stages of deployment," with implementations largely coming from switch-to-switch network installations. More customers are now looking to deploy gigabit speeds in server-to-server or server-to-network system connections, he said.

Among the additions to Cisco's portfolio are:

  • New product additions to augment the company's strategy to embrace gigabit-speed Ethernet. The new equipment--targeted at departments within corporations--continues Cisco's strategy to tie 1000-Mbps Ethernet speeds to existing 10/100-Mbps switching devices. One new Catalyst 4003 model includes up to 36 gigabit ports while another, the Catalyst 2948G, offers two gigabit uplinks amid 10/100-Mbps ports. Both models will be available in the first quarter of next year.

  • A doubling of the modem density for Cisco's dial-up access equipment, another move to compete in the fast-paced market to deliver more connections in the same-sized equipment to service providers. Covered in the upgrade are Cisco's AS 5300, AS 5800, and AccessPath-TS3 line of remote access hardware. The upgrades will roll out through the end of the year.

  • New hardware and software capabilities for the company's Catalyst 5500 series of switching devices that allow the networking equipment to recognize and prioritize data traffic on a network, based on application type. The new quality-of-service capabilities--which extend the breadth of the company's CiscoAssure policy-based network management software tools--feed into an over-arching Cisco strategy to allow network managers to slice up bandwidth and prioritize traffic across a layout, a key requirement for networking companies going forward. The modules and associated software will roll out by the end of the year.

    One competitor, Cabletron, said it would ship a low-end switching device as part of its SmartStack line to compete with the 2948G in January at a lower cost. Cisco's device is priced at $8,995.

    Separately, Cisco also rolled out a new "Built for Broadband" marketing program tailored to aid the development of software applications that take advantage of bandwidth offered by broadband technologies, such as data-over-cable.