The recent launch of Cisco Catalyst 9000 series of switches revealed an interesting design feature capturing the interest of Cisco Live attendees. Pininfarnia, designers to the famed Ferrari auto dynasty, provided design insight to ensure the new Catalyst switches were as ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing as possible. During launch press activities, CNBC wrote the first story about the Pininfarnia Cisco collaboration and I am sharing some of the finer design details and unique usability of the Catalyst 9000 switches here.

 

Building these switches from the ground up allowed us to make usability a central consideration. This led to new, creative thinking and innovative design choices on the Catalyst 9000 switches.

 

But how much design change can we make in switches?

 

Let us start with my favorite topic – the fan tray design on the Catalyst 9400 switch. Historically, front accessibility of all FRUable components has been an ante requirement for enterprise modular platforms. This is to accommodate for space constrained closet environments where the switch had to be placed flush against the wall. Front accessibility of the fan-tray came with the caveat that all the cables need to be routed to the opposite side of fan-tray to enable serviceability in case of a failure. Cable management gets tricky when you have to route 48 twisted pair Ethernet cables to the same side of the chassis and in many cases customers need special cable guides to make this work. The Catalyst 9400 chassis introduces user-configurable dual serviceable fan-tray design to overcome this specific challenge. This innovative design allows users to service the same fan-tray from the front and rear of the chassis. Cable management compromises are no more.

cat9k blog #2 image.pngOn the topic of fans, these generate all the acoustic noise emitted by the switches. In environments where the closets do not have acoustic isolation, the noise can be disruptive and this is exactly what we attempted to minimize on the Catalyst 9000 switches. Historically, sensors measure ambient temperature and dynamically modulate the speed of fans as a mechanism to reduce noise. The Catalyst 9000 switches takes this a step further by deploying sensors to measure the barometric pressure that allows the fans to run at reduced RPMs to minimize acoustic noise at lower altitudes. Furthermore, an intricate network of sensors continuously monitors the Catalyst 9400 platform’s thermal health and increases the speed of selective fans within the fan-tray when alerted, minimizing the overall system generated noise. The same closed loop mechanism is also used to get N+1 redundancy for fans within the fan-tray where neighboring fans can compensate for a failed fan by increasing their RPM.

 

Design choices on the Catalyst 9000 switches also aid day-today operations. Asset management enabled by RFID comes with added overhead of programming the RFID and tagging it to the component that requires tracking. Not anymore! Catalyst 9000 switches come with pre-programmed RFID tags with optional customizable fields making inventory management more convenient than ever before. While RFID tags are included at the switch level on the Catalyst 9300/9500; the Catalyst 9400 sports the RFID tag on all field replaceable units (FRU) -  supervisors, line-cards, fan-trays and power supplies.

 

As a network operator, imagine sending a highly trained employee out ever time you had to touch a switch - be it to connect debug cables or service a failed FRU. The Catalyst 9000 series now includes blue beacons on all switches and FRUs. Anyone with access to the switch can do trivial tasks like replacing a failed power supply. The savings for remote sites maintenance can be significant – just pick up the phone and you can literally ask anyone to service the switch.

 

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins called the Catalyst 9000 series “beautiful” and here are some of the design choices that make the Catalyst 9000 the industry’s most aesthetic switches.

  • Rounded frame without sharp corners – “yes” you can keep touching!
  • Ergonomic pullout handles on the Catalyst 9400 enable better weight distribution – you will not break your back lifting these switches!
  • Innovative slide-out ejectors with latch on the uplink modules of Catalyst 9500 – no more screwdrivers!
  • Molded plastic covers ejectors, screws and handles on field replaceable units – no gloves required!
  • Industry standard icons now advertise the capabilities of the switch – a truly universal switch!

Cat9k blog #2 features image.pngThe Catalyst 9000 series of switches redefines convenience and usability – it is time to make the switch.