How to find the perfect network switch

network switchThe perfect network switch is elusive. Organizations want a cost-effective option, as well as one that supports the majority of protocols, from RFCs to IEEE 802.1 standards. But the perfect switch must also be smart, simple to implement and maintain, and primed to adapt to new technology, all of which are more difficult to find. It must also be capable of providing an overall data center network topology that solves the organization’s need.

Here are five aspects of the perfect network switch that avoid the common challenges that network administrators typically deal with when implementing and maintaining network switches.

  1. Uses a command-line interface you’re used to. Most admins don’t want to relearn another command-line interface. The perfect switch offers an interface that’s similar enough to what you’re using and doesn’t require you to relearn anything. A gentle learning curve is an important requirement.
  2. Has a flexible product portfolio. Work with vendors that offer not one solution, but many different types of solutions. Organizations have different requirements based on what they’re trying to do with their network — cloud switches are different from data center switches and workgroup or office switches, and each type of switch has different needs. By working with a vendor that offers a variety of switches within a product group — from 1GB to 100GB — organizations can more easily support current and future requirements.
  3. Supports future technologies. You must identify new ways to connect switches to take advantage of all the connections they can support. For example, Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) has been widely adopted across most data centers by networking engineers, but there’s also a new one called TRILL that provides advantages with a greater number of links across all the switches, creating a fabric. And then there’s software-defined networking (SDN) — a topic suitable for a complete book. By supporting future technologies, the switch prepares for future requirements and enhancements to the overall network.
  4. Commits its configuration across the entire environment. When adding another switch to a network, the perfect switch should be able to download the current configuration for the network and apply only the parts that the switch needs for its own use within the topology. This includes VLANs, default settings, route tables, and other applicable networking settings. In a sense, the perfect switch eliminates the need to update every switch in the network. The network fabric does this work for the administrator instead.
  5. Integrates with and understands the hypervisor’s view of the network. There should be integration between the switch and the virtual hosts and virtual machines (VMs). When a VM moves among the various hosts, it can bring its VLAN or have its VLAN ready for it to use. The perfect switch is smart enough to do that for the administrator. This eliminates the time an administrator has to spend configuring all of the VLANs necessary on every switch or supporting changes.

Finding the perfect switch

The perfect network switch is easy to use because it doesn’t ask you to learn a new command-line interface. It supports full bandwidth, load balanced across all the connections and across all the switching fabric, and without a lot of effort on behalf of the administrator. That is, it doesn’t take an enormous number of steps to get a full fabric up and running.

It’s capable of preventing possible configuration errors that would lead to network disaster. You don’t want the administrator entering a command on one switch that would essentially take down certain links and cause a disaster in the network. The network itself should be able to propagate those changes, and then if it can’t implement them, it should back out those changes.

The perfect switch has the ability to add additional links without complicated configuration steps. Ideally, a cable is run, the connections made, and the switch automatically adds the link to its trunk links. All traffic is load balanced across all links, as appropriate.

Ultimately, the perfect network switch is simple to install, quick to configure, easy to implement, and painless to maintain.

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