Few products in Cisco’s illustrious history deserve the title of  “game changer” more than the Cisco Catalyst 6500 switch series. The longevity of the platform is a testament to the continual focus Cisco places on providing our customers with the best in today’s technology. With this in mind, it is good to reflect for a moment and appreciate some of the accomplishments and milestones of the past.

With over a million chassis and hundreds of millions of ports shipped, the Catalyst 6500 Series has answered the needs of tens of thousands of customers and their networks over the last 20 years. Along the way, it set many of the industry’s benchmarks for availability, reliability and security.

There at the beginning

First launched in 1999, the Catalyst 6500 has been the de facto industry switching standard. It was a conduit for much of the early “dot com” expansion of the Internet. Over the course of the next two decades, it was awarded more than 500 patents and helped lead our customers through multiple port transitions, first from Fast Ethernet speeds to Gigabit Ethernet and then to 10 Gigabit Ethernet and then again to 40 G and multi-rate 10G/40G. Always evolving to provide the very best in what we have to offer, the long product lifecycle of the Catalyst 6k switches has helped our customers’ networks run as securely and efficiently as possible for years at a time.

A series of firsts

Twenty years ago, organizations were moving communications to the network. Fifteen years ago, cloud storage was emerging to meet the storage needs of an explosion of data. Ten years ago, the phrase “Internet of Things” was coined. Yet many of the same things were on the minds of network administrators then as are today. How can I scale the capacity of the network to meet increasing demands? How can I make operations more efficient? How can I ensure the network is reliable? As answers to those questions, the Catalyst 6500 was enhanced again and again with innovations that were often industry “firsts,” such as:

  • 2005: Industry’s first Line Rate, IPv6, MPLS with Sup 720
  • 2007: Disruptive VSS with Sup 720 10G
  • 2010: 40G Interoperability – the first for a modular switch
  • 2011: Industry’s first line rate Multicast and VPLS with Sup2T


Ever evolving environment

While networking hardware was evolving to better meet the needs of business, business has evolved to depend upon the network. What we learned along the way was that IT architecture needs to be reinvented to meet not only the realities of this current evolved digital world, but that of the next two decades.

Continual focus on outcomes

To that end, Cisco launched its intent-based networking vision a little less than two years ago, in which the network is designed end-to-end to deliver the best outcomes for users.  In that time, Cisco introduced a new modern OS, Software-Defined Access, automation and assurance all powered by Cisco DNA Center.  We have enhanced our security, integrating identity services that help identify what is connecting to the network and Stealthwatch and Encrypted Traffic Analytics to identify and remediate anomalies even in encrypted traffic. We’ve integrated across domains, including the data center. We have offered a new platform for location analytics that translates networking data into actionable business insights.

Legacy lives on

And, of course, we introduced the new standard bearer for the Catalyst name, the Catalyst 9000 family, where the legacy of the Catalyst 6500 lives on as the foundational underpinnings.

Like the Catalyst 6500 before it, the Catalyst 9000 family will continue to raise the bar in fixed and modular campus core, helping our customers handle both the “now” and the “what’s next.”

Now, another transition is upon us.

Users expect wireless access to be ubiquitous as the new standards for 5G and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) will be game changers, and the entire network architecture will be impacted.

But here is the good news.  As always, we’ve got you covered.

Wi-Fi 6, with up to 4x increase in capacity, will drive a need for more bandwidth throughout the network from the access edge through the network core. This will only accelerate the ongoing network speed transition to 25G for access to distribution and 40G to 100G at the core.  Our innovations in Cisco Multigigabit Technology in our Catalyst 9000 access switches and next generation access points and wireless controllers provide our customers and their users with the bandwidth needed to support positive user experience with the wireless network.

For years, our policy has been to go the extra mile, to go beyond the standards, and to set the bar higher with our achievements in networking innovations. This is the real legacy of the Catalyst 6500 – to show that no objective is insurmountable.

To learn about what’s next, register for the ‘Wired for Wireless’ virtual event on 4/29.


Muninder Sambi

VP, Product Management

Cisco Enterprise Switching