New Switches Don't Cut Corners

Cisco's newest gear for small business fits the bill when an unmanaged switch won't do.

Cisco's 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.

The 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.

Check out eWEEK Labs' image gallery of the Cisco 300 Series here.

The 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.

I 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.

The 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.