Network Switch Sense.
The right switch can maximize network value by offering optimal support for business applications.
Back in the early ‘90s, the IT industry offices where people want a basic network to connect
buzzed about the convergence of voice, their PCs, servers and peripherals and don’t need complex
video and data over corporate networks. management features.
This was going to be a killer app that
Managed Switches: Offering built-in processors and
would revolutionize communication,
manageability features, they provide the ability to control
business and the IT infrastructure. And
and prioritize traffic going through the network. They
network switches would make it happen.
also have the ability to manage and troubleshoot devices
remotely from a web interface. Managed switches can
support up to 300 or more ports in a chassis.
However, it didn’t happen. Many firms didn’t see the return
on investment in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Video Smart Switches: Also known as web-managed
had some early implementations, but the quality wasn’t switches, they provide a networking device with the
sufficient. And the industry lacked adequate standards for key features of a managed switch such as Spanning-
the prioritization of traffic. Tree Protocol, support for Virtual Local Area Networks
(VLANs), Simple Network Management Protocol
Fifteen years later, convergence is finally starting to take off.
(SNMP), Quality of Service (QoS) and trunking.
And the new adopters might be surprising. “We’re seeing
However, support for these features is scaled down.
it now, and more in the small- and medium-sized business
(SMB) space than in the enterprise,” explains Kevin Kabat, Smart switches, for instance, typically don’t support extra
HP ProCurve Americas channel sales and marketing director. security features, such as 802.1x authentication. But they
are easy to install, require no configuration and can be
“If I’m an enterprise and have 1,000 employees, I have a
managed through a web-based interface. Many models
heavy investment in my phone switch,” he says. “To risk
come in 24-port and 48-port configurations and support
that on a new IP telephony solution is a much higher risk.”
10/100Mbps or 10/100/1000Mbps speeds.
But even larger companies see the writing on the wall and
Networks that offer video, voice, data and other
are looking for a migration path to upgrade their networks
next-generation features will require managed
and switches. They want to accommodate convergence,
switches. Companies will gain further benefits by
telepresence and unified communication in the future. In
adding Layer 3 (routing) switches, says Anthony
the meantime, enterprises are still looking for IP solutions
Annexy, a CDW LAN/WAN design specialist.
for surveillance cameras and card-key access — all driven
on switches. “As you implement more applications in the environment,
segmentation of voice and data becomes very attractive,”
Likewise, network switch vendors are migrating from
he says. “You do that with Layer 3 routing switches. This
deploying, managing and maintaining many services-
helps isolate processes so bandwidth is more guaranteed
specific networks to delivering all services on a single
for those apps that need it. It’s cleaner.”
IP Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)-based
network. Cisco, HP and other vendors are delivering
technology to accelerate network convergence and
Security and Beyond
help businesses reduce their infrastructure costs. Security features within switches have become a “must
have” for businesses of all sizes. “Everyone expects security
In addition, providers haven’t forgotten more immediate
to be there,” says Jennifer Geisler, senior manager of
switching needs. These include security, power and
network systems at Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose, Calif.
efficiency plus “green” considerations and better pricing.
Manufacturers are incorporating these features into their “If I’m going to put these applications on my network,
latest switch releases. I must have a very secure network,” she says. Even
more than security features, “accommodation [of video,
The Basics voice and data] is what’s driving the organization.”
IT departments usually deploy different types of Cisco’s Catalyst Switch portfolio includes the firm’s flagship
switches depending on application, bandwidth and 6500 series. It’s one product that handles both security and
manageability needs. accommodation requirements.
Unmanaged Switches: Available in five-port to as many The Catalyst 6500 Series has secure converged network
as 24-port configurations, they are best used for small services for enterprise networks. It is designed to address
Network Switches 45
Your CDW Account Manager
can connect you with a
LAN/WAN specialist to assist
with making network choices.
the increased requirements for gigabit scalability, high availability, rich technology is also useful for powering other appliances where it would
services and multilayer switching in backbone, distribution and wiring-closet be inconvenient, expensive or impractical to supply power separately.
topologies as well as data-center environments. And its security features
include deep-packet inspection right in the switch. PoE port shipments have more than doubled over the last three years,
according to statistics sited by Cisco. “Everybody is doubling up in their
Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 Series Switches also help optimize voice quality with capacity,” Geisler adds. Shipments are expected to triple this year to
video. “We’ve raised the bar to a higher level because there’s zero tolerance
2 million ports.
for any stuttering or talking-head effects in video,” Geisler adds. “We’re
really concerned about optimizing [audio and video] from end to end — Nortel Networks’ Ethernet Routing Switch 5520 offers 48 PoE ports.
from the time the user accesses it, to the time it’s actually served up.” Motorola’s ES3000 Ethernet Switch offers 24 ports. HP’s ProCurve Network
Switch 2610 Series offers 12-48 PoE ports. “The PoE version is a 30 percent
Need for Speed reduction in the cost of acquisition,” says HP’s Kabat. “There are more
When choosing a network switch, network administrators can opt for Fast enhancements with PoE, and we’ve been able to lower the cost.”
Ethernet (10/100Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000Mbps) or 10 Gigabit
Cisco has rolled out a new 96-port 10/100Mbps PoE module for its
speed, which is a growing requirement for voice, video and data conversion.
Catalyst 6500 Series. PoE is particularly helpful in deploying IP surveillance,
“Most customers aren’t doing 10 Gig yet — only those with high file-transfer according to Cisco’s Geisler.
requirements,” CDW’s Annexy says. “But if you can afford it, it’s definitely
“A lot of existing security surveillance cameras are run over proprietary
beneficial.” For now, a switch with one Gigabit speed gets the job done and
allows a migration path to 10 Gig speed as departments and applications systems, much like voice used to run on IP. But now we have voice sharing
require it. the network with data,” she explains.
Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, SMC Networks and others offer switches Similarly, “now we take video systems and put them over the same network
with 10 Gigabit options. SMC, for instance, now offers its next-generation and power those networks with Power over Ethernet,” she adds. “You can
TigerSwitch 110G, 24-Port Managed Switch with 20 10GBASE-T and four put surveillance anywhere you want as long as you have one of our switches
XFP ports. “10G networking is something we see as a critical growth area in the wiring closet.”
for 2008 and 2009,” says Iain Kenney, director of product marketing at
SMC Networks in Irvine, Calif. Geisler does acknowledge that multiple devices do consume more power
from a single switch. However, that power is being used more efficiently
TigerSwitch enables Ethernet adoption across various LAN applications through PoE.
including performance networking and storage, aggregation points and
campus environments. The IEEE 802.3an-compliant switch offers 100m
reach on all 20 ports, enabling the next-generation data center to have the
bandwidth of 10G. According to SMC Networks, businesses are clamoring for energy-efficient,
green solutions to their networking needs. “People are asking us, ‘Are your
Power over Ethernet switches efficient? How much power do they draw?’” SMC’s Kenney says.
“They also want the best performance for the best value.”
Companies that deploy or plan to adopt multiple network applications,
such as IP telephones, wireless LAN access points, network cameras, Green solutions will dominate future equipment purchases, according
remote network switches and embedded computers, should consider
to research firm In-Stat. “As many businesses develop green initiatives
Power over Ethernet.
using best practices published by organizations like the The Green Grid, IT
PoE allows you to transmit electrical power, along with data, to remote managers will be forced to absorb some degree of responsibility for their
devices over standard twisted-pair cable in an Ethernet network. This organization’s power usage,” says Victoria Fodale, analyst for In-Stat.
In a recent In-Stat report that measured green networking equipment, The Nexus 5020 Switch starts with a base configuration of 40 ports,
SMC was ranked second out of 13 in 24-port network switches, with each running 10 Gigabit Ethernet. That can be expanded to 56 ports
a fabric capacity (Gbps) per Watt of just under two. 3Com’s 24-port with the insertion of two out of three available modules. One of
network switch took the top spot. SMC also ranked fifth of 13 in the three other modules comes with eight Fibre-Channel ports.
48-port switches, with a fabric capacity of just under two.
Some vendors have added management capabilities to their switches
to promote energy efficiency. For example, Cisco’s Embedded Even The price of faster, more energy-efficient switches has stabilized, and in
Manager (EEM) can automate the capabilities in the switches. some cases is going down. What’s more, the 10 Gigabit options are also
becoming more affordable.
Case in point, a company could save power by shutting down all
phones on the accounting floor after hours. Cisco or one of its partners At SMC, “the prices haven’t been dropping that significantly through 2007-
can program the switch to automatically shut down the phones. 2008,” Kenney says. “SMC as an organization is trying to refocus on SMBs.
We’ve found prices to be pretty stable, which has been very good.”
“Things in standby mode consume power,” Geisler says. “This saves a
lot of power. In the morning the switch powers them back up again.” HP has reduced the cost of its ProCurve 2510 Switch. “The cost per
gigabit has come down dramatically and is becoming more affordable
Consolidation Gains in the SMB space,” Kabat says. “They don’t need all the bells and
whistles, and they don’t need service contracts. If I have four to five
Business can also gain power efficiencies by consolidating and virtualizing
switches, I don’t need a service contract. So the cost of acquisition
their devices, Geisler adds. “That’s where you get the biggest gain as far as
and ownership over a three-year period is substantially improved.”
being more efficient. It reduces the number of devices being powered and
makes sure the devices you do have are being used for maximum efficiency.” Cisco has lowered the price of its 10 Gigabit Ethernet products
to promote adoption, according to Geisler. “People see video
There are also switches that consolidate storage, networking and
coming and want to do some now. IT [departments] needs to see
virtualization functions in data centers. Cisco’s Nexus 5020 Switch
opportunity coming and be ready for it. This is what you need
unifies Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) with data center Ethernet and
to have ready for an end-to-end, video-ready network.”
virtualization capabilities, which should reduce data center cabling and
cooling costs by 30-to-50 percent, as well as cut the need for staff oversight.
Switch Shelf Life
When should network switches be upgraded or replaced? “My ballpark for
reviewing infrastructure is a two- to three-year review cycle,” says SMC’s
Kenney. “Not necessarily replacing, but looking at changing business needs.
“Even if changes are required, that doesn’t mean a complete tear-out,” he
adds. “That wouldn’t be a sensible way to do business. But maybe replace
Unmanaged Switches —
a small component in one area.”
• Available in up to 24-port configurations
• Connect devices together on a network Advancing the Business
Today’s switch purchases are more than just an IT consideration.
Managed Switches — They should be one that takes into consideration the entire business.
• Available in up to 300 or more port configurations “Companies are concerned about how do they evolve IT from being a cost
• Offer manageability, including controlling network traffic center to more of a business leader,” Cisco’s Geisler says. IT staff should be
and troubleshooting devices remotely positioned to ask smart business questions before making IT purchases.
For example, a business manager may want to deploy a video-on-demand
Smart Switches — application. The IT manager can then talk about the business application
and come up with an IT plan to support it.
• Available in up to 48-port configurations
• Offer key features of managed switches, plus one or more “Have a business conversation,” Geisler says. That way, “you’re going from
of the following: Spanning-Tree Protocol, support for Virtual a cost center to a business leader. If you can’t tie that switch back to a
Local Area Network (VLAN), Simple Network Management business value, they’re not going to give you money for it.” ◊
Protocol (SMNP), Quality of Service (QoS) and trunking.
Network Switches 47