Cisco's newest gear for small business fits the bill when an unmanaged switch won't do.
300 Series switches give small businesses and branch offices a wealth of new
choices for creating reliable managed networks. The 300 Series includes 15
models with a range of Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet ports, Power over
Ethernet support and Layer 3 switching capabilities. They provide a
cost-effective upgrade path for those shops that have outgrown existing
unmanaged switches, but lack the monetary and technical resources required by a
traditional managed switching environment.
Cisco 300 Series offers simple setup and straightforward management functions;
many of the tools are browser-based and provide access to a range of features
that one would ordinarily associate with more expensive networking gear, such
as the classic Cisco Catalyst line of switches. At the very lowest end of the
price and feature range, the SF 300-08 offers eight 10/100 ports for $217. At
the other extreme, the SG 300-52 has 50 Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1,000) ports
and two "combo" ports that allow either a 10/100/1000 Ethernet or a
mini-GBIC (Gigabit interface converter) connection. It is listed at $1,357. The
similarly priced SF 300-48P has 48 10/100 PoE ports, two 10/100/1,000 ports and
two "combo" ports for $1,356.
300 Series switches can be configured with access control lists, cross-VLAN (virtual
LAN) switching at Layer 3 and IPv6 support.
They automatically recognize IP telephones and configure them with the
necessary VLAN and QOS (quality-of-service) parameters for voice traffic, and they
have been designed for energy-efficient operations. The power-saving features
include low-power 65nm chipsets, fanless designs and the ability to reduce the
power supplied to a non-PoE connection when connected to a "sleeping"
device, or when using cables below a defined length. Switches in the 300 Series
are meant for tabletop or rack-mounted use; wall mounting is also an option for
the four eight-port models in the series.
spent the better part of a week with an SG 300-10MP that has 10 PoE Gigabit
ports, two of which can be converted to a GBIC if needed. The switch offers a
wide array of user-configurable features; two configuration files can be stored
on the device, and a TFTP (Trivial
File Transfer Protocol) server can be used to centrally host and manage
configurations. The browser interface for the device includes diagnostic
features that simplify remote management and access to the wide array of
features. These include spanning-tree functions, VOIP (voice over IP) device
recognition, and discovery of neighboring devices via LLDP (Link Layer
Discovery Protocol) or Apple's zero-configuration Bonjour. A fine-grained set
of controls can be applied to the device itself, if desired.
From my admittedly selfish perspective, the only
downside to the 300 Series switches is that they're only certified as Class A
devices by the Federal Communications Commission; this presents a small problem
for the test network that I run at home. Maybe when I give up on San
Francisco-style cheek-by-jowl living, I'll be a little bit more cavalier about
RF emissions, but I like my current neighbors too much to impose on their
airspace at this time.
300 Series switches do a good job of bridging the feature gap between unmanaged
consumer-grade devices and high-end managed ones. With a wide range of port
configurations and a powerful array of configuration options, these can fill
the place of more expensive switching gear in the branch office role when
management features are a must.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.