When it comes to extremely powerful switches, Cisco is an industry leader and has been for some time. The company pushes the envelope with switch stacking and high-end performance.
From those endeavors, two stacking architectures stand at the top of the industry: StackWise-480 and StackWise-1T.
Today, you’re going to see a breakdown of each architecture and a comparison to help you decide what might be best for your network.
StackWise-480 was originally released in 2019. It was designed to work with premiere Catalyst switches in order to push stacking capacities higher than they had ever been before. As a result, StackWise-480 switches found their way into many data centers and high-end networks.
Today, StackWise-480 is still compelling in terms of speed and performance, and you still see it in many top-end networks.
As you’ll see, 1T does achieve greater total capabilities as a stacking architecture, but 480 is commonly used and worth exploring in a wide range of applications.
Part of what makes StackWise-480 so special is the design philosophy. Cisco built this architecture specifically to raise its stacking capabilities to a new level.
One of the key aspects of 480’s design is the ring topology. With a flexible ring topology, you can maximize bandwidth while improving redundancy and other aspects of your network.
At the same time, StackWise-480 is designed for simplicity. Any unit can control the whole stack, and you can organize and administer everything from a single control plane. That makes management faster and easier, providing even more value to this stacking architecture.
Switches that support StackWise 480 come in two varieties: modular uplink and fixed uplink. That provides more flexibility in network design.
Most of all, StackWise-480 puts virtualization to great use. You can treat the entire stack as a single logical unit in a virtual network.
These design ideas lead to compelling metrics. StackWise-480 is named for its maximum data capabilities. A stack running at the highest possible levels provides 480G of total bandwidth. With such power, you can see why this technology is so popular in data centers.
Peeling back the layers, StackWise-480 supports up to 6 rings per stack. There is also a limit of 9 units per stack — providing you with a huge range of deployment options and configurations.
While StackWise-480 represented the pinnacle of switch stacking at its debut, technology continues to progress. Today, the best you can get is StackWise-1T. What you’ll see is that 1T has a lot in common with 480. In fact, you can put switches built around both architectures in the same network stack. But, there are some key differences in terms of design and performance, and we need to cover it all.
Philosophically, 1T benefits from the same design ideas as 480. In fact, 1T is a direct successor to 480 technology. Because of that, they have a lot more in common than not.
StackWise-1T utilizes ring architecture. Switches support both modular and fixed uplinks. Each ring can act as a unique virtual stack. You use the same control plane for 1T as 480.
The only real difference is that Cisco managed to stuff even more power into this stacking architecture.
Focusing on raw metrics, the “1T” in the name tells you the most important thing from the start. While StackWise-480 produces up to 480G of bandwidth in a stack, 1T gets up to 1 Tbps data rates. That’s more than double the total bandwidth per stack.
Most of this performance boost comes from expanding the bandwidth per ring. 1T still caps out at 6 rings per stack and 9 units per stack. That means each ring has to provide considerably more bandwidth in order for the 1T stacks to hit their maximum potential.
Comparing the Two
That really is everything you need to know about these variations of StackWise technology, with one exception. It might go without saying, but StackWise-1T hardware is more expensive. Only select Catalyst 9300 models are capable of performing at the 1T level. Everything else still runs on 480.
So, here’s the bottom line. If you need bandwidth and raw networking power more than anything else, then 1T is the way to go. If there is any incentive for you to sacrifice a little bit of speed for the sake of budget, 480 will serve you better.
Most importantly, both of these architectures allow you to build up your network modularly. You can start with 480 and expand as needed, never spending more than is necessary for the performance you demand.
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