Are Managed Cisco Catalyst Switches the best thing since spliced cables?

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Cisco managed Catalyst switches are the most popular choice for businesses to use for switching their data networks with over half of the market share.  Personally I don’t see this firm losing market share anytime soon.  Their products are fairly good and for what you get it’s not that expensive.  All Cisco equipment is managed, and enterprise class.  Many organizations are standardized on this vendor’s products.  This provides many benefits including a  much less complex and much easier to manage environment.  Cisco catalyst devices can be managed with CiscoWorks which is software dedicated to the management all of their hardware in the enterprise including backups and enterprise configuration pushes.  

There are a lot of advantages to having a managed switch such as the 3750 Catalyst rather than a dumb switch in a business’s communication infrastructure.  For example a technician can login to the switch to check on the hardware.  It is also possible to have an IP address just for the switch which allows a monitoring sensor to watch for any failures and page a technician before the users call.  It is possible to look at the arp tables and determine where a computer is connected based on the computer name.  Also there is logging of both changes and events on the device and it’s environment.  In general having a managed switch means that it is much easier to support and manage the network. 

Cisco switches, as with a few other vendors products, are considered enterprise class meaning they are made for, and suitable for, a very large organization with demanding needs and reliance on their information systems.  LinkSys and D-Link for example make almost exclusively unmanaged switches that are not scaleable enough for use in a large business’s infrastructure.  With this comes reliability considerations, Cisco hardware is very reliable.  Most Catalyst components are hot swappable and the switch ports are usually bundled into modules so  the whole switch doesn’t normally need to be replaced.  Larger models have dual hot swappable power supplies and smaller switches have substantially fewer components.  Unfortunately dual power supplies are unavailable in most smaller switches.

There are several features that come standard with every Cisco catalyst switch.  The most common is a virtual LAN (VLAN).  This ability to separate both the layer two traffic and the IP address ranges based on logical functions (grouping) makes it much easier to manage the switched  network.  The use of VLANs can be used with Access Control Lists (ACLs) for example to restrict traffic like a basic firewall.  For example a protected LAN segment with plant machinery or security equipment can be restricted from the rest of the organization.  The switches also support Quality of Service (QoS) which is strongly recommended if you use Voice over IP (VoIP) or any other form of streaming.  Many switches are layer three devices which means they also route traffic which is useful for having inter-VLAN traffic not need to go to the router & back.  Cisco switches and routers do have a web interface to do anything possible through the command line through your browser.  Unfortunately the web interface is so cumbersome and poorly thought out that even those afraid of the command line will run to it.  No Catalysts do ATM switching.  

Cisco switches are very good and are the choice most businesses use to build their switched networks.  All equipment they make is intended for business users who have a certain level of reliability for the entire lifetime of the device.  The hardware is also made so that the node can easily be managed, and is overall quite scaleable.  There are several features in the equipment to enable or support certain uses of the network.  If you want to learn more you can read Cisco’s introductory book or take an online course here.  Otherwise one of the best ways to learn is to simply look at product listings and prices.  You can go straight to a new & used hardware store  or read our review of the catalyst Cisco 3750 switch

If you or your manager are looking to buy a new managed Cisco Catalyst switch and the model you want isn’t in stock here you may be able to find it at buy.com or MacMall.com.