Uncontrolled Network Growth

When companies find themselves growing faster than they had planned their network grows with them. Keeping up with the day-to-day tasks of running an organization that is growing obviously requires focus and dedication and the network almost always gets left behind.  I don’t mean left behind from a Bandwidth or Capacity standpoint, as those things must keep up with the business, what I mean by left behind is the planning, maintenance and overall architecture standpoint.

The result can be overwhelming: Where does one start? Do you rip it all out and start fresh? Do you employ a phased approach? What Vendor do you go with? Do you need to hire a Consultant or Project Manager?

When I come into these situations I must be  careful not to insult the person or people who let it get to this stage, after all they were just responding to the needs of the business. So, where does one start……

I have found that if the organization focused on anything it was the server infrastructure and the network infrastructure is nothing more than a number of BIG BOX store items from various manufacturers.

So, I start with this Foundation and based on the business goals segment the network to allow for Stability, Security and Scalability. Spend a few dollars on this infrastructure and you will save yourself a ton of time and effort in the long run. Employ a logical distribution of servers, services and there tasks across different VLAN’s. Think about some of the longer term goals  like VoIP… Maybe putting in PoE switches now is the right thing to do even if VoIP isn’t in your immediate plans. Think about the industry you’re in and if it hasn’t already developed some form of compliance requirement, will it in the future? Build your network as if you are a bank. Build your network based on best practices.

You will find that once this foundation is in place, the task to add, remove or change any aspect of your network becomes just a task and not some unattainable goal.

Document and monitor your network!!!!!! Purchase a maintenance contract on your equipment (it’s called insurance)… And Finally – if you’re not a network professional give us a call to help you design, build and maintain your network because it is what we do for a living…

Network Design

Options, Options, Options…… That is what network design comes down to. There are so many options, how does one choose the best way to go. Some people choose the cheapest, regardless of the options, security, performance and scalability. Some are all about the Speeds and Feeds – how much traffic it can handle, and some weigh all of the above and come up with the best bang for the buck. Many only look at the cost of the Hardware, which can be a huge mistake. Don’t forget the Maintenance Costs year over year, the cost of Managing the Hardware and the cost when it won’t do what you need it to do.

I see a lot of organizations putting in Hardware just because that was the hardware they used last time, and although I can understand the desire use what is familiar they are often either putting in devices that are near end of life, devices that have a replacement product that is often cheaper and has better performance, or devices that have been over provisioned. The most common example I see is the deployment of the Cisco Catalyst 3750 Switches. These are stackable Layer 3 switches with Gig and PoE options and they are excellent switches. But how many layer 3 devices are really needed in a network – even a big one? It’s great practice to have a couple, for routing redundancy, but many of theses switches I see deployed are basic access switches – there is no need for the added cost of the L3 capabilities.

Others keep purchasing these switches because they can be stacked, and that is a great feature, however Cisco recently release the 2960S series which have the stacking capabilities without the added cost of L3.

For those that do not stack the switches but require L3 functionality there are the 3560 and 3560E series. Essentially the same switches without the stacking.  

Then there are Access-Points! I am still not a big believer in the Lightweight Access-Points (LAP) and the Wireless Controller. Certainly there are some designs where this can be beneficial, and I’m sure that as the technology matures I will be convinced that they are the way to go, but the LAP’s costs  the same as the autonomous AP’s – and those controllers are still thousands of dollars. Unless your managing thousands, I do not see a benefit. Try and convince me otherwise…

I guess what I’m trying to say is, that no matter what network you are going to build there are a lot of options, and no one option will be the best. No one option is the right one. It comes down to a lot of research and a lot of balancing between what is wanted, what is needed and of course what the budget is. If you are in the decision process for a network overhaul or a new network, don’t let some sales guy tell you that his way is the best. That may be his opinion, but I can tell you that no matter what design someone comes up with I can improve on it. Not just me, but anyone with experience can improve on it.

New Cisco Catalyst Lineup

Cisco recently released a new  lineup of Catalyst Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches. Following the same model number scheme as it’s predecessors the new 2960S, 3560X and 3750X switches offer a number of additional features. But the most compelling aspect of this new release is the Enhanced Limited Lifetime Warranty. In an effort to thwart the rise of its competitors (mostly HP) Cisco have included Advanced Next business day Hardware replacement as part of this new warranty.

Here are some of the highlights of the Enhanced Limited Lifetime Warranty:

  • As long as the original end user continues to own or use the product, provided that: fan and power supply warranty is limited to five (5) years.
  • In the event of discontinuance of product manufacture, Cisco warranty support is limited to five (5) years from the announcement of discontinuance.
  • Cisco or its service center will use commercially reasonable efforts to ship a replacement for next business day delivery, where available. Otherwise, a replacement will be shipped within ten (10) working days after receipt of the RMA request. Actual delivery times might vary depending on customer location.

Warranties aside, some great new features are available and from my perspective the 2960S offers the greatest. In the past the stacking capabilities of Cisco switches were limited to the 3750 – a good, yet pricey layer 3 switch. The 2960S can be stacked using a term Cisco calls FlexStack. This optional Hot-Swapable module allows up to 4 2960S switches to be stacked together offering one Management interface for the entire stack with Cross-stack EtherChannel support for high availability. For those with higher density Layer 2 requirements this new feature can supply up to 192 GE ports on, what would appear to be, one switch.

Other features include models that support 2 10GE uplinks, a 10/100 out-of-band management port and PoE+ (30Watts*)

*Cisco Catalyst 2960S-48FPD-L            24 at 30W               48 at 15.4W

All of the new switch models come with 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports. There are no 10/100 models available in this lineup, but they have dropped the price a bit as the equivalent 2960 48 port is over $1000 more than the new comparable model.

On the 3560X and 3750X series switches the new features include Full PoE+ and Dual Redundant Power Supplies. Interestingly the 3560+ does still not support Stacking. Again all of these new models are 10/100/1000 GE only and there are no new 10/100 switches in this lineup.

There are many more features and enhancements to all of these models and if anyone have any questions I would be happy to answer them.