Cisco Ethernet Switches Review

A versatile solution with stacking capability

What is our primary use case?

I have been using the newest line of Cisco switches, the 9300 series, for two or three years.

We have two different models for deployment. One is the SDN deployment model, which has to do with Software-Defined Networking and is the more recent.

The other is the traditional three-tier, via core access aggregation layer five switches with an Independent Architecture Designed environment or access layer switches where you just use them to connect users to a specific service. It depends on what the nature of the work would be and the scope of work. But generally, most traditional networks have three layers. You have switches in a core of the network, switches in the distribution or aggregation layer, or switches in the access layer. This is the Three-tier module. If it is a collapsed core then it would be just simply the core and the access.

A primary use case is you could use it to connect mostly end-users and host systems. Systems could be servers, systems could be printers, systems could be telephones, and systems could be video conferencing equipment. That's one end use of it.

Another is the use in the data center. Ethernet Switches can be used in a data center out to provide connectivity, wired connectivity for servers, database systems, platforms, other platforms systems, and storage systems. With Ethernet you could have different speeds, so you can have Ethernet running at 1Gig, you can have Ethernet at 10Gig, you can have Ethernet at 40Gig, and you have Ethernet at 100Gig. So, depending on the nature of connectivity, you have that in the data center, you can have that also in an office environment. Then you go up to have it in industrial space, monitoring of industrial machines and control systems. So again, Ethernet is widely used.

How has it helped my organization?

There are several situations where these switches are used. Most times if they want to move off the main site, or they want to move locations, or they want to have temporary spaces, they can use a switch. Temporary means they may want to expand connectivity from their network to a small branch office that is temporary. Temporary means they're going to run something there for six months and then after that the business won't be there.

With switches, you can expand your network with a connection aside but you can extend your network to a particular area. You can also develop a campus network, campus meaning you may have one building in there and then the company acquires another building, and then it's easy to connect the two buildings together with Fiber and a switch if you have that available. 

There is also multi-tenancy, if you're in a building when you have multiple floors, it's easy to extend the premises from one floor to another floor using a switch as well.

In terms of projects, technical projects, they are several, I mean even down to connectivity to third parties inside the data center. For example, you may find out that you need to connect to BT or you need to connect to your telco provider. Switches will facilitate your ability to connect to a third party to allow communications between two separate environments that are managed differently.

I've done projects where the switches are also used for translation. For example, one part is using Fibre, the other part is using Ethernet, and the switch can be used to communicate between the two technologies. The switch will transform the physical characteristics of the link from Fiber to Ethernet.

What is most valuable?

There are two things about this solution that I find valuable. One valuable feature is that you can string a number of switches together, and the fact that there are various methods to connect them, such as by stacking. A stack means that they operate as one switch spot. You have multiple physical switches in the stack. For example, you could have one particular physical switch and you can have many of them all connected together as if they're one switch.

Another valuable feature is that the switches can operate at different layers of the networking environment. You can have switches that operate at layer three, you can have layer four switches and also obviously layer two, data layer, is their normal operation.

These switches are versatile. They can operate as a router, but they can also operate as a switch as well. The fact that you can run routing protocols on them, and you can also run data link protocols, means that they are quite versatile enough.

What needs improvement?

At the moment the switches that you have can't scale because they've got their control plane and data plane in the same device. The problem with that is you're limited to the number of switches you can string along because of limitations with VLAN. VLAN does have limitations, but with Software-Defined Networking there is no limitation. This is bringing about changes in the networking field that are long-needed. Ultimately, I would like to see all of the switches support SDN.

Switches should be made stackable, even if they are not of the same model. Now stacking is another technology that a lot of switches can benefit from, but not all switches are capable of stacking. There are some switches that are capable of stacking, but not all switches. As a rule, in my view, I feel stacking should work between different switches and at the moment it doesn't. For example, if you want to build a stack, all the switches in the stack have to be literally the same. So that another area of technology which could be different. You could stack switches, even if they're not exactly the same, but they have a way of operating such that they can work together. It would be nice because it means people don't have to throw away things just because they can't meet what they want.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using Cisco switches for eighteen years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

I think this solution is very stable.

These switches have been around for a long time. Before that, all the technologies used couplers, which were called BNC connectors, network taps, all those things that existed. Couplers that existed before the arrival of Ethernet, they didn't last even two, three years, whereas Ethernet has been around for more than fifteen years.

Ethernet will continue to be around, and it's a very stable technology in terms of the operation. As well, Ethernet is the way forward, and it will still be around for another ten or fifteen years.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Ethernet does not scale very well because you've got distance limitations. Ethernet can only run for about one hundred meters or less, so you have to use Couplers. This distance limitation is why we use Fibre. Fibre optics is actually a better technology than Ethernet, but it's more expensive. Everything about it, the equipment, the nature of the way the Fibre cables are prepared, is a lot more expensive compared to Ethernet.

Ideally, everybody would like to run Fiber switches because it's a better technology that carries more bandwidth. The high price is due in part to the components. All the components that make Fibre work are expensive to produce. It can be relatively cheap for what we use it for but overall, it's way more expensive than Ethernet. If it wasn't for that then Fibre would have been the best solution. Ethernet, as it is right now, the cost price point for Ethernet is very good, so it won't be going anywhere fast soon. In terms of scalability, don't have limits. If you want to scale, you need to use Fiber to scale.

In terms of users, the organization right now has more than a thousand, and the previous one had approximately five thousand.

With respect to user roles, some are call center personnel, some platform systems guys, some are software developers, some project managers, some are marketing managers, some are sales managers, and some are professional services. Department-wise you have your legal, HR, and your finance department.

To my knowledge, our business is focused on doing work for clients so I expect that our usage of Ethernet Switches will be expanding.

How are customer service and technical support?

The technical support for this solution is very good. They're very responsive.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

I have also used the Meraki MX switches, but they are more like routers and used to support the wireless systems for Meraki.

How was the initial setup?

With respect to the initial setup, the complexity depends on the topology. Most times they're not complicated. What's complicated is if you need to use them as a layer three switch, then you could have some complex configurations to do. However, if it's layer two, which is data layer connectivity only, then it's easy. If it's layer three then it's a little more challenging because you combine layer two and layer three and it could involve routing protocols. It's a lot more complex. 

Generally speaking, it depends on the manner in which you want to use the switch. Some deployments took maybe two weeks, some three days, some a month, and some even up to three months.

When it comes to my implementation strategy, first of all, you have to get the physical hardware into the data center or location where it needs to be. Make sure the right structured cabling was in place to connect this equipment so that it can work in that environment. Both from a power perspective and from a cabling perspective. I got to cable this switch to other systems and make sure that the right type of cabling is in place. Also, I have to make sure of the configurations that I'm going to use and get them organized upfront. In other words, I have the configurations I am going to put on a device and the software version. 

Another important thing is the software version. Make sure that the version is the appropriate one to put on there. Ensure that it doesn't have bugs or things, the type of configuration I want to put on there doesn't have bugs or anything that could impact the operation of those configurations.

After that is complete, I make sure that all of the connectors or transceivers that I've brought are the right type of transceivers for the systems. I'm able to connect them onto the network. Now that's just the physical connectivity.

There are other things you would do in implementation to test that the switch is working fine once it's operational. There are other tests that you conduct like Ping test, IP test, or whatever to show basic connectivity exists to that switch from the management perspective. You may also have tools, such as monitoring tools that you would use. You would also configure the monitoring tools to be able to recognize that particular device on the network and maybe things like memory, CPU, all the things to do with power, all these environmental conditions around that device are being monitored as well.

Then obviously you've got documentation as part of it. If you're putting a new set of equipment in there, the site probably has existing documentation that needs to be updated to reflect the fact that the typologies changed or you're introducing new equipment into that topology. In some cases, you've done this all upfront before you start the implementation. While in some cases, some companies, for the rush of time they want you to implement first and then do the documentation later. So again, it's still part of that strategy. Implementation wise, that's the approach you would go with in my opinion. Obviously there are different implementation approaches, and the stuff we're talking about here is just hardware.

What about the implementation team?

I am a specialist, and in most cases, I handle the implementation and deployment.

The time I would use another person is if the data center was far away when it's not conceivable that I would travel to that location. I'd probably use somebody from the data center or use a data center engineer who would set up the hardware. He would put the hardware in the rack, the network cage, or rack where the equipment is going to be located. He would help me physically screw the equipment, take it out of the box, and connect it into the cage, and then I'd give him instructions on where to put cable or where to plug the various cables that come with the equipment. So once he's done that, I'm able to remotely connect to the device.

Those are remote working situations where you're not physically able to go to the site and do the work there. Then yes, I would work with other people sometimes and give them some instructions on what I want to have done at that location.

What other advice do I have?

What is happening in the industry is that they are separating two things that traditionally held back the growth of switches, which is the control plane aspect of the switch from the data point. What you're finding is that the newer generation of switches, you can control them with a different device separately from the switch itself. In terms of the improvements, the improvements that are going on right now, Software Defined Networking creates the basis for you to have switches that can scale, and can scale very well.

I would rate this solution a nine out of ten.

**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner.
More Cisco Ethernet Switches reviews from users
...who work at a Comms Service Provider
...who compared it with HPE Ethernet Switches
Add a Comment