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Managed vs Unmanaged Switches

Posted on 2003-03-03
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We currently have 3 seperate office locations connected by dedicated point-to-point T1 lines that do not use the public internet.  Each office has an average of 25 nodes.  I am currently using a mixture of hubs and small unmanaged switches as we have grown quickly.  I want to replace all my hubs and switches with new, but cost is a large factor.  Therefore, I cannot afford 3com or Cisco.  I currently do not have anything routing packets across the T1's.  Traffic just passes over a standard switch port and we use radio broadcast routers from Harris that give me an ethernet port.  The routers do not manage.

My questions are this.  

Do I really need managed switches to keep traffic clean or can I use unmanaged?  

If I use managed, do I need to purchase software to manage the switches?  

Do I need switches for the nodes and routers for each T1 termination in order to control traffic over the T1's or can the switches do this?

Money is a factor so I could only afford the cheapest managed switch.
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Question by:murryc
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10 Comments
 
LVL 5

Expert Comment

by:rrhunt28
ID: 8060748
I think you should maybe include a bit more info for the experts to really help, like what kind of traffic you are using, and have you run any tests to see if there are any bottle necks.  If you only have 25 users in a typical office and have a full t1 for them, that is alot of bandwidth for 25 people, however if they are all using the net alot at the same time, it might be slow.  And explain what you mean by radio.
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LVL 79

Expert Comment

by:lrmoore
ID: 8061326
You need 3 routers to terminate the T1's. Switches do not terminate T1's unless they have a built-in T1 module and simply bridge everything. Don't see many of them anymore.

You don't necessarily need managed switches. Buy decent low-end like Linksys, Allied Telesyn, or Netgear and just buy a spare.

If you did buy managed switches, they are usually managable via telnet or web interface, so you would not need extra software or anything else to manage them.
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LVL 13

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Dr-IP earned 300 total points
ID: 8061987
A little advice before I try and answer your question; your company might not be a large one yet, but it is no longer what I would call a small one either. You have crossed the point where trying to save money is likely to cost it instead. It is now time to start putting a dollar amount on what it costs when things don’t work, and with 75 employees (3 offices X 25) a half hour of LAN down time can easily over a grand just in salaries. Add lost revenues into the pictures and those makeshift solutions start looking real expensive. You should go to your bosses and try to make a case for finding the money to do things right even if you don’t think they will listen just to cover your own hide, because sooner or latter skimping here is going to come back and haunt you, and the last think you want to do is to have to try to explain to the bosses why you never told them.
 

The performance deference between a managed switch and an unmanaged one in the average office environment is nil. What a managed switch brings to the table is control, and the ability to quickly analyze and diagnose network problems. For example your phone starts ringing off the hook from people at both your remote offices complaining things are as slow as molasses. So you call up the company that handles you T1’s and they look into the routers and find the T1’s are maxed out, where do you go from there? If you have managed switches you look at port utilization on them and pinpoint which ones are using more bandwidth than the others and start turning them off until you find the offenders. In no time at all you will have the guilty parties on the phone crying they can’t connect to anything ready for a grilling as to what they where doing, and what where they up to in this example, trading MP3 collections across the network. Time to solve the problem in this example about 20 minutes, with unmanaged switches you might never find it before they finish transferring the files, and if that happens you can bet you it won’t be the last time you have that problem.

Recommendations, get rid of the hubs ASAP, you have so many users per location that they are definitely impacting performance. If you want to get a managed switch cheep look into buying used Cisco 2924 switches as they can be bought for about what a good 24 port unmanaged switch costs. They might not be the latest in technology, but they are probably better than any unmanaged switch made. Look into moving into a routed environment, having every thing on the same subnet like it seems you do from your description is hurting performance by allowing LAN traffic to go over the WAN that shouldn’t be going over it. Besides keeping local traffic from passing over the routers can prioritize and filter traffic so that your office apps get the bandwidth first and web browsing gets the leftovers. And you can limit or stop usage of troublesome programs like peer to peer file sharing programs that frequently hog bandwidth all too often now days.    
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Author Comment

by:murryc
ID: 8065627
The harris broadcast routers are made for radio stations that need to break up the T1 channels for linear/compressed audio, dry contact control channels and data.  The routers do not manage the traffic, but rather just terminate the T1 lines and divide the channels.  I am running terminal services over the T1's for 5 users to access a shared program that needs bandwidth.  Internet is shared over the T1 lines as well as Internal ICQ and file replication with DFS and active directory.  We grew quick that the AD is all on one domain and all nodes are still on the same subnet.

Thank you Dr-Ip for the good detail.  You are talking down my alley on what I might need.  Do I need data routers to manage the traffic across the T1 lines?  When talking about subnets, dow you mean 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.1.1 as being on two seperate subnets?  I will look now on Ebay for the Cisco routers you mentioned.
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LVL 13

Expert Comment

by:Dr-IP
ID: 8069617
It depends on your subnet mask as to if 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.1.1 are different subnets. If its 255.255.255.0 they are separate subnets, and if it’s for example 255.255.254.0 they are not.

As for needing routers, you definitely have a large enough network that you should have them, although that doesn’t mean they are necessary. They definitely can improve performance by keeping local traffic from needlessly going across the T1’s. You can reserve bandwidth for terminal server users so that someone downloading a big file off the Internet doesn’t bring them to a halt. Stop people from hogging up all the Internet bandwidth downloading MP3’s with peer-to-peer file sharing programs like Gnutella. Put it this way, if just the thought of having options like this is appealing you need them.

One thing I should mention is unless you are used to dealing on E-Bay get someone who is to help you, which is what I do. I have my E-Bay expert where I work and let him handle most of the dealing for me. I say I want this and he comes up with a list of prospects after weeding out the questionable sellers and those out of my price range. I then double-check things to make sure they are what I want and let him handle the rest after that. I am not going to claim this has always worked perfectly, but it has worked pretty dam well so far.    
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Author Comment

by:murryc
ID: 8160859
What brand and model of routers do you suggest I go with to help control my T1 traffic. Keep in mind that the Harris Broadcast routers handle the termination of the T1 and have a WAN/LAN connection on them for connection to a router or switch.  Right now I just have that conenction going to a standard port ont he switch.  When a computer broadcast it sends it over the T1's just like any other computer.  It looks like the Harris equipment is acting like a bridge that terminates the T1 lines.  What is your take on what kind of routers I need to put inline with the switch and the harris equipment?
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LVL 5

Expert Comment

by:rrhunt28
ID: 8160923
If you have your t1 terminated at a router, then you just need some switches.  Something like a cisco 2950 model.  It depends on how much bandwidth you want to put out, and how much you plan on growing.  The 2950's are pretty fast and expensive, so you might want to look at something smaller.  
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Author Comment

by:murryc
ID: 8161118
DrIP recommended Cisco 2924,  What is your take rrhunt28 on this model?  Also, because the Harris routers do NOT control traffic across the T1's do I need another router that does or can the Cisco switches do that?
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LVL 79

Expert Comment

by:lrmoore
ID: 8161160
Cisco switches cannot terminate T1's, you need a router for that. My first low budget choice would be a Cisco 2691XM with three T1 modules to terminate the T1's. Cisco 7200 would be my first choice if money were no object. Much more flexibility and performance. And Cisco 2950 series switches. The 2924XL series has been discontinued.

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Author Comment

by:murryc
ID: 8420568
I purchased 5 Cisco 2924 switches because of your recommendation and I love what they do.  Thanks again.
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