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In many ways, this is the small gigabit switch version of my question about server RAM here. Basically, we have a few servers we want to connect through a gigabit switch (few = 4 at present, unlikely to grow at all; if it doubled I'd be truly shocked). When I was doing initial costings on the project, I found a variety of name-brand rackmount switches (such as this Cisco 48-port model) in the £200-500 range (ex-VAT). Our vendor is quoting us one for more than £2,000 (ex-VAT). They haven't given us the model number, but from what they have told us I suspect it's one of these, a "Cisco WS-C2960G-48TC-L - Catalyst 2960 48 10/100/1000, 4 T/SFP LAN Base Image" — for which their price is high, but not ridiculous.

This switch is to go into a rack that we will not grow our presence in, hooking into a network that the vendor is not in charge of (they're in charge of other networks in our deployment, but not this one, it's in a backup data centre). As far as I'm aware, there are no significant routing issues involved, the goal is simply that these four servers will talk fairly quickly to each other and the switch will have an upstream connection to the corporate net (not the internet); data that gets to the switch from the network at all need only be directed at the right server, not further clamped down, shaped, etc. I'm not even sure we need a managed switch.

I'm more a development guy than an admin guy, and I'm fairly aware of my limitations outside my area of expertise. (I definitely know a lot less about network switches than about RAM, vis-a-vis my other question.) Am I missing something? Is there a really solid justification for buying something so much larger and four times as expensive? Totally willing to believe it, but it seems worth asking the question. Naturally I'll be discussing it with the vendor, I just want to get some input from people who know more than I do first.

Edit And, of course, if you have a good experience with a particular brand or model for simple scenarios such as the above (must be rackmount), I'd love to hear them.

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You have 4 Servers, how many client computers do you have ? How many LAN Switches do you have? May be you can get a 10/100 (Fast Ethernet) LAN Switch which has a Gigabit uplink port so you can uplink it to your Server switch. –  rihatum Oct 29 '10 at 13:41
    
@rihatum: All of the other traffic other than talk between these four servers (of which there's a fair bit) comes through from the external corporate network and its switching architecture. So this switch will be attached to the switch serving the rack, and its job is to make sure chatter between the machines is fast. –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 16:05
    
So, that switching backbone would / should have gigabit ports on it, you can simply create a trunk / bundle of two extra ports and connect them with your corporate network backbone - creating a good pipe for the two to get across. I think if you get advise / suggestion from your coporate people they would be in a good position to asses and decide, or you can suggest them the models from here (post below). All the best –  rihatum Oct 29 '10 at 16:10
    
Look at the HP 2510G Layer2 series (as they have more processing / memory power then the 8Port one, plus more throughput) that solely depends on the amount of traffic to and from the corporate network. –  rihatum Oct 29 '10 at 16:11
    
@rihatum: Thanks again! –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 16:53

10 Answers 10

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Firstly I'm a total believer that the larger Cisco switches are well worth the money IF you need them, if you don't and perhaps that's you then there's no point going for something of that cost. There's nothing wrong with the cheaper box but it will of course be missing some resilience and functions. Have you also considered HP's Procurve kit? I've not used it myself but there's a lot of people on this site that really rate it and it does come with lifetime support - might be worth a quick look.

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Thanks! That probably should have been a corrolary to the question, I think I'll add it -- basically, what kit would people recommend for the simple scenario in question? :-) –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 11:17
    
well these (h18000.www1.hp.com/products/quickspecs/13674_div/13674_div.HTML) start at about 36 quid but they're pretty basic. –  Chopper3 Oct 29 '10 at 11:35

What I would say is that non-brand name and the lower end of branded switches tend to not be programmable, tend not to have such high throughput/backplane capacity. In my experience they also tend not to last as long as the higher end gear and are supported less well.

Higher end "intelligent" switches are also likely to be a requirement if you ever need to do things like link aggregation, create VLANs, etc. which from what you say may not be essential here.

For all that, I wouldn't buy the more expensive switches with the fancy features and support if I didn't need these extras. While I believe strongly that using the "right kit for the job" rather than trying to "make do" with something that isn't quite up to it will pay for itself in the end, there's also something to be said for not throwing money away on fancy features you'll never use.

I'd also ask: Why Cisco? I don't want to get into brand-name wars but there are other manufacturers of mid to high end kit who in my experience sell roughly similar products for a lesser price. For something like you're doing I'd probably be looking at an entry-level HP Procurve switch. Maybe something like this. I've had very good experience with HP kit over the years.

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Thanks! I'm not at all married to Cisco, that's just what they recommended. Back in the day, of course, they were the switch to have, but it's probably been years since that was true. You're the second person to mention the Procurve stuff, well worth looking at if it ends up being a "we need X feature" situation and the Procurve has it at half the price. Thanks again. –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 11:36
    
Re comparison, I did link what I'm fairly sure they're recommending vs. at least one alternative I found... –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 11:37
    
So you did with the links. Sorry about that. –  RobM Oct 29 '10 at 11:40
    
+1 for Procurve –  Tom O'Connor Oct 29 '10 at 13:08
    
+1 for procurve - we are using them and they are very reliable plus they have a lifetime warranty !! –  rihatum Oct 29 '10 at 13:43

As the others have already covered most of the issues, I'll just add my two cents on whether the management is a thing to have.

It's likely your setup doesn't really have much to configure, if anything. But actually you'd like to disable speed auto negotiation from the ports and force them to work at gigabit. And force full duplex on. This is stuff that usually "just works" out of the box, but every once in a while it can bite back.

It's also a good practice to monitor your networks just to make sure everything stays right, and because of this I prefer using managed switches in server environments.

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Thanks. Yeah, I don't think I want to counter-propose anything without at least basic management features, but it seems to me we have a lot of room even within those parameters. –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 16:10

I use a small netgear switch for my internal routing. 16 ports, gigabit, passive cooling, metal casing and dead cheap. Fat enough to handle multiple 1gbit links at full speed.

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Cheers! Do you happen to have a link to that model (or a similar one)? –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 11:17
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netgear.com/products/business/switches/… - if you outgrow it, it makes a nice office switch. REALLY stable outside and totally silent. –  TomTom Oct 29 '10 at 11:21
    
Cheers. The client would probably balk at it being a "desktop" switch, sadly. Can I say, though, I want one for my lab! –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 11:34
    
They also have more intelligent switches and stuff for rack mount. –  TomTom Oct 29 '10 at 11:44

That seems a bit overkill for 4 servers. I've always been somewhat partial to Dell switches. Why not a 24 port, fully managed, GB switch from Dell? You can get this switch from Dell for US $769.00 (on sale).

http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?oc=bccw1k1&c=us&l=en&s=bsd&cs=04&model_id=powerconnect-5424

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This HP Procurve would Do in your environment :
http://www.broadbandbuyer.co.uk/Shop/Specifications.asp?ProductID=8372
£77.64 / £66.08 ex VAT


If it has to be cisco then your vendor is definitely not understanding your topology right, as this one will be way too much for the environment you have : (4 Servers)

http://www.broadbandbuyer.co.uk/Shop/Specifications.asp?ProductID=2740
£257.45 / £219.11 ex VAT


Another Cisco Model :
http://www.broadbandbuyer.co.uk/Shop/Specifications.asp?ProductID=9969
£296.59 / £252.42 ex VAT

Hope that Helps we are running HP 2510G Layer-2 Managed, 24Port GigaBit switches as we had more then 10 servers with room for expansion. Even all four of them costed around £1700.

EDIT : As you only have four Servers, you can uplink this gigabit switch to your LAN Switch on its GigaBit port..

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Brilliant, cheers. Really appreciated it. –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 16:10

"Cisco Small Business" is a not so feature-rich series - looks more or less like the old Linksys-stuff...

The 2950/2960 ist quite different in features - and that makes some big difference in price...

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Thanks. Yeah, I get that, I guess that's the heart of the question: Are there major features there that the simple scenario in question really justifies the cost of? –  T.J. Crowder Oct 29 '10 at 11:25
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IMHO no. SNMP traffic analysis MAY be interesting, but with 4 servers.... seriously, who cares? –  TomTom Oct 29 '10 at 11:26

Check out the Juniper EX4200 switch, affordable, good backplane, can do dual power supplies.

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As long as the backplane is capable of ~4 Gbps aggregate traffic, I don't think it matters much what vendor you go for (if you're only looking at 4 servers, you want the aggregate to be at least as much as you expect to push across the backplane at any instant).

There's something to be said for using as small number of vendors as you can get away with, for any one class of equipment (so no more than 2-3 switch vendors, no more than 2-3 router vendors, no more than 2-3 server hardware vendors, no more than 2-3 desktop hardware vendors...), to keep management costs down.

I suspect you'd want managed switches, if nothing else from the knowledge that you can then pull usage data off your switch, so you stand a chance of going "we're running at 95% average on server X, we should consider bonding two links to it" before you go "Server X is out of capacity!".

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Can corporate IT not provide you with the hardware you need, or at least with recommendations on which hardware to buy?

You keep referring to an upstream 'Corporate network', but it appears you have your own IT budget. It's likely they have a preferred supplier due to support contracts or discounts. They may at least be able to get you a discount from their regular supplier, for example Dell or HP. Perhaps they can provide support and monitoring on the switch, relieving you of the responsibility.

At the very least, consult with them before you buy.

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"At the very least, consult with them before you buy." Well, of course. :-) Re IT budgets. It's...complex. But it's also done and dusted now. –  T.J. Crowder Nov 8 '10 at 11:24

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