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What is a Catalyst® Switch?

By A. Rohlandt
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Catalyst® switch is part of a line of network or Ethernet switches produced by Cisco Systems. As Cisco acquired different companies, it re-branded its switches as part of its Catalyst® switch lineup. Over the history of the model, Cisco has incorporated a number of improvements and features.

The term Ethernet switch can be misleading to those unfamiliar with network technology. Most think of a switch as something that starts or stops a device. The Ethernet switch not only connects and disconnects computers or other components in a network, but it can also inspect and reroute information based on content, source, or rules set up by the network administrator.

A network switch performs the same function, but on a more local level. Typically, a network switch will handle traffic that originates and ends within the same office or organization. Like an Ethernet switch, it is more intelligent than just a hub and can inspect, process, and reroute data traffic.

A Catalyst® switch offers differing capabilities depending on the requirements of the user. Cisco has used different operating systems to allow its data switch to operate in any number of environments. The Catalyst® switch can function as a hub, switch router, network switch, or Ethernet switch. This allows for better power efficiency and management of bandwidth, allowing for higher data capacity.

Configuring the switch is usually done through a graphical user interface or though a plain text template, which is available through Cisco. It is possible to configure the switch using an HTTP server, but this is less common due to security issues. Copying the configuration to the switch from another server is possible, but this also is less likely for the same reason.

Another feature of the Catalyst® switch line is modularity. The switches are offered with processor, power, and other components installed on separate cards. This allows the user to repair, upgrade, or reconfigure the switch without replacing the entire switch. With redundancy, it is possible to repair or replace components without taking the switch offline. This saves the labor involved in recabling a replaced switch.

In some cases, Cisco has the switches functioning as a switch router, thereby expanding the role and flexibility of the device and offering the use of different protocols in the switch’s operations. This line of computer switch also has the option of providing interfaces with T1, E1, and various Wide Area Networks (WANs). Some Catalyst® switch models may offer Power over Ethernet (PoE), wherein power is transmitted over the same cabling as the data. This is used primarily for powering cameras and user interface devices.

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