MLS versus 8500s

Which method of Layer 3 switching is better, switching routers (8500s) or routing switches (MLS)? Well, as you can imagine, the real answer is, it depends. Neither option is technically superior to the other. Neither option is newer. In fact, both were released in the same month (June, 1998). Neither option is inherently faster than the other option (although in the first several revisions of both products, the 8500s have had higher throughput). Many people have therefore come to the conclusion that MLS and 8500s are interchangeable options. However, the opposite view is much closer to the truth.

From a design perspective, MLS and 8500s approach the same problem (Layer 3 switching) from completely different angles. On one hand, MLS is a technique that adds Layer 3 capabilities into predominately Layer 2 Catalysts. Think of MLS as enabling Layer 2 Catalyst Supervisors to move up into Layer 3 processing. On the other hand, the 8500s function as a pure router that, like all Cisco routers, happens to also support bridging functionality. It is not an issue of which device can or cannot do Layer 3 processing—after all, both devices can do both Layer 2 and Layer 3. Instead, the issue is what layer a device is most comfortable with (or what the device does by default).

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