Buyer's Guide to Enterprise Switches - Page 2

By Drew Robb | Posted Mar 2, 2011
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Important enterprise switch features

The best switches on the market, of course, are 10 GbE. These typically contain the latest and greatest. Most, for example, are fully managed, meaning they have some type of interface that allows you to see the entire network. Most of the big vendors supply one piece of software that lets you see your whole network and all of its information.

Other common features and specifications to consider include:

  • Port Count: It is wise to have an idea of how many ports you might need. Switches can be purchased with a handful of ports up to 50 or more. But as you pay for those extra ports, don't buy what you won't use.
  • Port Type: ports are typically 10 GBE, 1 Gb, and fiber or copper.
  • Management: Some switches are managed while others are unmanaged.
  • Switching Capabilities: Some switches operate at layer 2 -- the data link layer -- working with MAC addresses associated with network interface cards. Others operate at layer 3 -- the network layer -- providing high performance for network routing.
  • Uplink Speed/Media: choices are generally 10/100/1000 copper, 100 MB fiber, 10/100/1000 fiber and 10 Gbe copper.
  • Additional Features: These can include PoE (see below), PoE+, fanless systems and IPv6 host/management, as well as redundancy features for high availability.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) Features

With PoE, you only have to run a single cable to support both IP phones and desktop equipment. If you are rebuilding your network or creating an entirely new network, PoE is a smart idea as you avoid paying double for cables and cable pulling. In a large organization, PoE eliminates the heavy costs associated with the sprawl of cables.

"When you consider how much PoE has come down in cost recently, it is a great feature to consider," said Rasmussen. "Some vendors even include PoE as a standard feature today. In most cases, the charge is negligible when you compare it to the cost of not having it."

With POE, keep in mind that there is a difference in switches that are known as standard PoE vs. PoE Plus. The difference is whether the switch is capable of delivering 15 watts of power, or more. Some phones require only 6 W of power, while others require 12 -- enough for standard PoE. Certain equipment for physical security, however, can require more than 15 W of power -- a case where you have a need to use PoE Plus, which provides up to 25.5 W of power.

"There is no comprehensive approach to the way that PoE works with different equipment," said Rasmussen. "You need to know what your power budget is, and select from there."

Cooling/power cost is another factor to consider in the purchasing decision. Vendors often seek to differentiate their products by highlighting their "green" features. Switches that use far less power than older models and require less cooling are increasingly coming on the market.

"If products and vendors are equal on all other levels, buyers should consider the product that provides the greatest potential for additional savings due to reduced energy use," said Rasmussen.

Over the next few weeks, the remaining articles in our buyer's guide will cover the top three vendors in the enterprise switch marketplace.

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