There are many questions we field every day here at NetworkTigers. In this, the first part of two articles regarding what you should ask, as switching experts, we answer five of the most burning questions people need to consider when considering buying a switch…
Companies run on networks, and key to network success is choosing the correct switch. But how do you choose the correct switch when there are so many switches in the market?
Here is part one of a quick checklist you can use to help you navigate this complex market and decide which switch to buy. You can read part two here.
What switch manufacturers do you like to work with?
Choose a switch that your tech support staff is familiar with, in terms of operations and maintenance. You can read about the latest and greatest switches now available on NetworkTigers, but the first and most important question to ask is what do they already know? Shop in the site section of your switch supplier by brand. For example, if you are a “Cisco Shop” look in Cisco. Conversely, if your techs are a “Juniper Shop”, search in the Juniper section.
This is not a branding-related issue. All switches have an operating system unique to the manufacturer. Sticking to a particular IOS helps companies and network managers save management and troubleshooting time.
Know your company’s tech or support staff’s strengths and weaknesses before choosing the brand.
What is your budget?
Of course, money is next. How much do you want to spend, and how long will you be using the switch you buy?
This will help determine your choice between a bleeding-edge switch, or maybe one that is still great but not as new. Remember, the newer the switch, the more likely the manufacturer will offer on-going support. The older the switch, the more your tech staff will have to self-support.
Good tech staff will ignore expensive new switches and often buy equipment that is 2-5 years old, on the basis that they probably know how to support it better than the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). These days, most support information is available via the web -and many firms are only concerned about hardware support.
The more your staff can support the equipment, the less you have to spend on OEM support. Tech staff experience and good hardware support from your supplier can reduce your budget planning.
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Do you need a PoE, PoE+, PoE++ or no PoE switch?
Most business switches involve some form of Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE gives network managers the ability to bypass power adapters or supply where electronic or network devices must be located. If you have VoIP phones, or an extensive WiFi network with many access points scattered throughout your building, you need PoE.
PoE allows you to connect WAPs, security cameras, IP phones etc. directly over Ethernet. It simplifies wiring by eliminating the need to set up a power supply for the connected devices.
Before choosing a PoE switch, you should know what kind of PoE you need. 802.3af (PoE) provides 15.4W of power per port. 802.3at (PoE+) provides 30W of power per port. 802.3bt (PoE++) provides 60W of power per port. Choosing a switch with the correct PoE means you will not have operating problems after installation.
Note that PoE+ devices may run on PoE switches for a while until they start getting used. There’s a tale of access points requiring 802.3at that worked on the lower power PoE until users actually started trying to download pages from the internet and then they failed – and then came back up when everyone stopped using them.
Who will be managing your network?
If you have a lot of people in your company, that means lots of network traffic. Lots of traffic also means someone has to set up and manage that traffic through the switches. Traffic monitoring and management is an important job for any company with high demand for network services.
With this in mind, there are three types of management options for switches to consider:
A. Unmanaged switches
Simple, unmanaged switches are generally used for home networks, shops and small offices. They can handle up to 10 workstations at a time. They are budget-friendly – without high power consumption – and can be used as soon as they are plugged in.
They can’t be managed or modified, so you don’t need to sit for hours with a network port management manual. Setups are “turn on” and they work. A downside is that unmanaged switches offer no additional security options.
B. Managed switches
A managed switch gives many options to prioritize, control and manage traffic through the ports. These options ensure your equipment has maximum security; that network traffic priority goes to the people and jobs that need it; and that people or systems using the switch have minimum downtime.
A managed switch allows you to control and manage LAN traffic, prioritize channels and segregate smaller devices into new virtual LAN networks which allow you to manage traffic. You’ll need highly trained staff to manage the command-line interface of a managed switch. They cost a lot, but prove to be worth their price in the long run.
These switches tend to be command line managed, so some training is required to install, configure and manage them.
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C. Hybrid switches
A hybrid switch allows you to manage ports and install virtual networks with a simple web interface. Hybrids are relatively easier to run than managed switches, and don’t require highly-trained employees for maintenance, troubleshooting and installation.
They have security features that help protect sensitive information and cost less than a managed switch. Be wary that they may not have features like VLANs and Quality of Service (QoS), depending on the vendor.
Hybrid or web-based switches are ideal for small companies needing VLANs, VoIP phones and workgroups.
How many end users will the switch be supporting?
Any device that will need a port is your port count. Always pad the number of ports you need to assume far more than you need to remove the risk of a single point of failure.
For example, if you need 48 ports, do not buy 1 single 48 port switch to run your company.
If you need one more port, there is no where to plug it in and secondly if that switch goes down, you will have up to 48 people that will not be working.
For 48 end users/devices, you are probably best off to buy two 48 port switches and stack them together. If one goes down for any reason, then moving cables is easily done by anyone with access to the tech room.
The total number of end users also tells you the type of network design – and hence the type of network switch you should consider.
You will only need a two-layer architecture or “layer two” switch for smaller networks with less than 200 connected users which consists of a core layer and an access layer. A layer two switch manages traffic at the “media access control” or MAC layer by looking at where the traffic is coming from and where the response comes from.
It is traditional bridging or switching logic that is in all switches. A good measure of the power of this logic is the size of the MAC table.
For mid-sized and large networks, you will need a three-layer architecture or “layer three” network switch. This internetworking architecture model will be split into access layer, distribution layer and core layer switches.
Essentially, rather than just managing the network traffic at the MAC layer, the switches begin to act as routers and examine the IP address of various packets as they come through the switch.
An access layer switch allows an uninterrupted connection between the end devices and the network. It acts as the first security layer for the network.
A distribution switch receives traffic from the access layer switch and transmits it to the core layer. For small-sized networks, the core and distribution layer is collapsed into one to minimize costs.
A core layer switch is the heart of enterprise networks. It regulates traffic from the distribution and access layer devices. These high-performance switches ensure quick traffic transfer.
• This is the first part of a two-part article examining the questions you need to ask to ensure the right switches for your organisation. Look out for the second part here.