The Five On… Catalyst 9800 Wireless controllers

At the last PartnerSummit, Cisco introduced the new Catalyst 9800 wireless controller. With me today is Simone Arena, wireless specialist and principal TME within the Enterprise Networking Group from Cisco and co-author of the Digital Network Architecture  book from Cisco Press.

Welcome Simone to today’s The Five On.. The catalyst 9800 Serie Wireless controllers

What is the new Catalyst 9000 wireless controller?

It’s not a single controller, but an entire series. Cisco Catalyst 9800 wireless controller series represents the next generation of wireless infrastructure products that have been built from the ground-up for Intent-based Networking. This means an open programmable architecture with built-in security, streaming telemetry and rich analytics orchestrated via DNA Center. The Cisco Catalyst 9800 Series Wireless Controllers are built on three pillars of network excellence (always on, secure, and deployed anywhere) and combines 15 years of RF excellence with IOS XE benefits

Going a bit into the technical details, is the controller running within IOS-XE? Or does it run as a container?

Yes, it’s running on the same IOS-XE software the powers the routing and switching products, one common operating system across all EN products. IOS-XE is a modern modular operating system, built with high availability, scalability and programmability in mind. The wireless controller software is made of multiple processes that are completely integrated in IOS-XE architecture.

As this is running on IOS-XE again, some readers might associate it with Converged Access introduced with the cat3k. What are the key differences to converged access?

First of all, the software that runs on the Catalyst 9800 has been written completely from scratch and it leverages a modular, highly available, scalable, multi-process wireless software architecture, just like any modern operating system. The Catalyst 9800 has a complete and flexible management solution from the get go: it can be managed via DNAC (Automation & Assurance), via Cisco Prime or via programmable interfaces and third-party tools. Last but not least, there is a different approach with the network architecture itself, the C9800 leverages a centralised controller plane and a distributed flexible data plane based on CAPWAP, dot1q or VXLAN.

What feature parity is there with existing wireless networks and code bases? Can I run a new controller and old WLC controller in parallel? Are there some pitfalls? How can I check the pitfalls?

At first customer shipment Cisco claims feature parity with AireOS 8.8 Enterprise features. For brownfield deployments, Cisco supports IRCM (Inter Release Controller Mobility) between c9800 and AireOS controllers. 8.8MR2 is the recommended releases to support seamless mobility between the two series of controllers. The Catalyst 9800 supports existing 802.11ac Wave1 and Wave2 access points (Cisco x700 and Cisco x800 access point series), so existing wireless networks can easily be migrated to the new controller. Cisco Partners can use a tool where you can check your AireOS code and validate if your wireless network can run off the Catalyst 9800 controller.


Update 21 May 2019: The feature parity tool is generally available here.

What is really different in configuration of the Cat9800 wireless?

The Catalyst 9800 leverages a new configuration data model based on design principles of modularization and flexibility. This model is based on two new constructs, Profiles and Tags:


  • Profiles contain the different wireless settings like SSID, Policy (security, QoS, etc.) and RF settings. Each profile is independently defined and reusable. Profiles are applied to Tags
  • Tags are independently defined and reusable – Tags are applied to APs. As a result the APs receive the configuration based on the profiles applied to those tags.

Thank you Simone for your time and answers on this TheFiveOn.. More information on the Catalyst 9800 can be found on Cisco’s website.

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