Cisco – Choosing the right Software for your Cisco Devices

When managing a Cisco network, selecting the right software version for your devices is crucial for ensuring stability, performance, and access to the latest features. Cisco uses various labels to indicate the type and stability of their software releases. This guide will help you understand what each label means and how to choose the right version for your needs.

Building a Relationship with Cisco

I’m putting this first because this is very important for all companies. While understanding these labels is crucial, having a solid relationship with Cisco is equally essential. Knowing your Cisco Sales Engineer and Account Manager can be immensely beneficial. Develop a relationship with them, as they can provide you with the recommended IOS/OS/NX-OS versions to use and offer insights into Cisco’s roadmaps. They are invaluable resources for maximizing your Cisco investments and ensuring your network runs smoothly.

Cisco Software Release Designations

DF (Deferred)

The Deferred (DF) label indicates a software version that has been withdrawn due to major issues. If you encounter a release marked as DF, avoid using it in your production environment as it may contain significant bugs or vulnerabilities.

ED (Early Deployment)

The Early Deployment (ED) label is assigned to releases that provide new features and hardware support. These versions are ideal for customers who need the latest innovations and are willing to adopt newer, less-tested software. While ED releases are functional, they may not be as stable as other versions due to their relatively recent release.

F (Feature)

Feature (F) releases include new features and enhancements. They are aimed at customers looking to leverage the latest capabilities offered by Cisco. While they bring the newest innovations, they might not yet have the extensive testing that more mature versions have undergone.

M (Maintenance)

Maintenance (M) releases are long-lived and focus on providing bug fixes and minor updates. These versions are generally considered stable and are recommended for long-term deployment in production environments. If stability is a priority, M releases are a safe choice.

MD (Maintenance Deployment)

The Maintenance Deployment (MD) label signifies a maintenance release that includes both bug fixes and minor feature updates. These releases are stable and recommended for long-term deployment, offering a balance of reliability and functionality. MD releases often have a Gold Star, indicating they are recommended for their stability and reliability.

GD (General Deployment)

General Deployment (GD) releases are thoroughly tested and validated for broad deployment. They are considered stable and suitable for all customers, including those with large and complex networks. GD releases are often the most reliable and widely recommended versions for deployment.

LD (Limited Deployment)

The Limited Deployment (LD) label indicates a release designed for customers with specific requirements addressed by the features or fixes in this version. LD releases may not have undergone as extensive testing as GD releases but are critical for environments needing those particular enhancements.

Gold Stars and Suggested Releases

Cisco uses Gold Stars to denote highly recommended and stable images. You may see Gold Stars next to Maintenance Deployment (MD) and Early Deployment (ED) images. This indicates that Cisco has validated these versions and considers them reliable choices for deployment.

Below is what it says if you see a gold star and highlight it:

Cisco Suggested release based on software quality, stability and longevity.


Understanding these labels helps you make informed decisions about which Cisco software versions to deploy in your network. Always refer to Cisco’s official documentation and recommendations to ensure you are using the most appropriate and stable software for your environment. Additionally, leveraging the expertise of your Cisco representatives can provide you with tailored advice and access to the latest information and resources.

By carefully selecting the right software versions and building a strong relationship with Cisco, you can maintain a robust, secure, and efficient network that meets your organization’s needs.

You can go to Cisco’s “Software Research” and see which images are suggested by Cisco: