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Cisco Catalyst Switches vs. Nexus Switches

What is the difference between Cisco Catalyst and Nexus Switches?

When you’re designing a powerful network, you need access to the best switches. In order to determine which switches might be the best, you have to explore a few options.

Cisco has plenty of switches to offer, and for high-end networking, the Catalyst and Nexus series come up a lot. What really distinguishes one from the other? We can take a dive into their differences, and you can determine if either family is right for your network.

Catalyst vs. Nexus: Major Differences

Cisco has been making high-end networking switches for a long time, and the Catalyst and Nexus series both fit into that mold. The first Nexus switch was introduced in 2008. It was made for servers that handle large amounts of storage, and subsequent iterations stayed well within that lane.

Catalyst has been around even longer. The first Catalyst switch became available in 1994. This is a series that has experienced almost the full lifespan of the internet and networking as we know it today. Of course, Catalyst switches have undergone persistent design improvements, and modern Catalysts are much more capable than the switches that immortalized the series back in the 90s.

With so much history in operation, you can expect that the switches have undergone plenty of changes, leading to the primary differences that exist today. We can go over the most impactful of those differences now.

Operating Systems?

One of the primary differences between the types of switches can be found in the operating systems they use. While both switch types have been around for a long time, they have also both been modernized.

The Catalyst series uses IOS for its operating system. With this system, it supports both LACP (Link Aggregation Control Protocol) and PAGP (Port Aggregation Protocol).

Conversely, the Nexus series uses NX-OS. It only supports LACP.

Immediately you can see a primary difference between the two families of switches and how they might impact some of your networking decisions.

FCoE Support

Another major difference comes down to the types of connections supported by each switch.

The Nexus supports FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet), Ethernet and fiber connections. In fact, you can have all three supported in a single chassis. That allows for incredible network power and flexibility, which is why the Nexus series has remained so popular for so long.

Meanwhile, the Catalyst family of switches does not support FCoE. It is capable of fewer connection types and is less flexible in terms of raw network design potential.

Use Cases

The biggest difference you will see between Catalyst and Nexus switches is in how they are used. Each is designed for a different primary use case, and network designers tend to follow the classifications.

The Catalyst series was developed for large enterprise networking. It’s common for campus connections with high numbers of users, long-range signals and a lot of demand. Catalyst switches are more than up to these demands.

Meanwhile, Nexus switches are found more commonly in data centers. Nexus switches are designed for high-end professional use. When you have sufficient investments into a Cisco infrastructure, Nexus switches can really shine. With their variable connection support and raw networking power, they have been a cornerstone in data center networking for a very long time.

There are plenty of other distinctions that you can find between these switch classes. For instance, the Nexus switch is capable of independent updates, so you can update switches one at a time and prevent any network downtime.

If you want to explore the full extent of differences between Catalyst and Nexus switches, it will take some time. You can work with Cisco specialists or browse the literature published by the company. However you tackle the challenge, the only way to optimize your network and get the most from your equipment is to do the homework.

Additional Learning Center Resources