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Recommendation for replacement router in MAC environment

Posted on 2008-06-16
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Last Modified: 2010-04-21
I am in a Mac environment with the following properties;

About 20 machines
Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ NAS device
Cable (virgin media) broadband with Motorola Surfboard modem
One Netgear RP114 Web Safe Router
connected to a series of switches
which are connected to a series of sockets in a cabinet in the store room
which deliver to floor boxes around the office

Basically, our network performance seems a little low for my liking and I suspect a lot of it is due to the fact that the router is SO old, I estimate at least 5 years.
So, I was wondering what router to replace it with? Our NAS works best with something that can handle jumbo frames and an indicative compatibility list is here: http://www.readynas.com/?page_id=84

Any suggestions, advice would be greatly appreciated. I know an amount about routers and networks but  it's an everyday 'keeping the things running' kind of knowledge self-taught, so please don't assume I know the subject in-depth. (for example, no idea what jumbo frames are?!)

Thanks in advance
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Question by:aarondown
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by:mabutterfield
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Jumbo Frames is a layer 2 configuration, which implies working on the switches.  I see you listed 'series of switches'.  Unless your performance problems are ONLY internet related, I would think that the switches are the first place to look.  

Would you please give more detail about what is not performing to your liking?  Also, what switches are you using?
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by:aarondown
ID: 21801175
Thanks butterfield.

Basically, our network performance is quite poor. I have done a 3GB drag and drop file transfer test and got 8MB/sec write and even slower read.
The average for the device should be closer to 21-40MB/sec write and 34-36 MB/sec read.

The switches are:
2 x Asante FS5005C 5-port
1 x Netgear FS108 8-port
1 x Intellinet 16-port Fast Ethernet Switch (cannot find a model number)

I don't know why they are all different as I inherited this system about 3 years ago.  Looking at the ReadyNAS compatability list I'm wondering about getting the following:

2 x GS716T (16-Port GigE, Jumbo Frames, QOS)
1 x GS608 v2 (8-Port GigE, Jumbo Frames)

Does this make sense?

Still not sur eon whether a new router is needed. The fact that this is a business and we have a 6 year old piece of essential equipment worries me.
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by:mabutterfield
ID: 21802182
Unless you're doing inter-vlan routing (which I don't think the router will support), you shouldn't (don't need to)  have anything plugged into the router.  I would definitely look at replacing the switches first.  The link that you had for compatable devices lists several switches.  In that list, I like the HP 1800-24G.

Personally,  I've had bad luck with D-Link and Dell switches, and avoid them.  The upgrade to a single switch, with Gigabit, and Jumbo frames (you have to configure that on some of them) should help quite a bit.  

As far as the router goes, I don't see a reason it NEEDS to be replaced at this time.  However, are you using the router for DHCP/DNS?  If so, you may want to move the DHCP/DNS services to a server inside the network.  I don't use routers for DNS/DHCP except in the smallest of networks.  

Basically, Jumbo frames are allow more data per frame, requiring less overhead.  I'm pulling these numbers out of my head, but I think a normal frame is around 1500, and a Jumbo frame around 9000 bytes / frame.  

Also, do you have gigabit cards on your desktops?
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by:aarondown
ID: 21802840
In answer to your comments:

Not doing inter-vlan routing (don't know what it is!)
Currently, the four switches plug into the router in addition to the Motorola modem
Due to costs It would probably be a case of 2 x 16-port and 1 x 8-port, i.e. 3 switches.
The router handles all DHCP for the network. This is because there are actually 4 companies that share the network and the only servers within the network are company specific, not office communal. Hence the outer is the only common point for DHCP.
Would the fact that the router is not Gbit and does not support jumbo frames affect the new switches?

Almost all the machines are Mac Pro's, and as such have Gbit cards.

Thank you for your continued advice. It is very clear and appreciated.
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by:mabutterfield
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Right now, the speed of the router is affecting the network speed BETWEEN the switches.  What I would do is purchase a new gigabit switch, at least 8 ports, preferably big enough to handle all the Mac Pros and the NAS device.  use the new switch as a 'core' switch, meaning all other switches plug into it, and it plugs into the router.  

The reasoning for this is that you want your fastest switch to connect all of the other smaller switches together, because it's going to handle the most traffic, and would potentially be your biggest bottleneck.  



Modem <---->Gigabit Switch------>Mac Pro / NAS
                         |     |----> other switch
                         |---->other switch  

If $$$ is the issue, several Gigabit switches interlinked this way would be just about as good as one 24/48 port gigabit switch.  Replace the 'core' switch first, and always keep your biggest, fastest switch as the 'core'.

Also, provide a static IP to your NAS device, and edit the hosts file on all of your desktops to include that IP.  This will help speed up name-resolution since you're using the router as a DHCP/DNS server.

VLANs would be a great way to provide additional security.  They would separate out the 4 different companies into 4 different networks.  company 1 would be IP 192.168.0.x, company 2 could be 192.168.25.x, etc.  The machines from each company would be isolated, and not able to communicate with the machines from other companies.  To do this, you'd also need a new router, and probably a much more expensive one than what you've got, and beyond the scope of this question/project.


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by:aarondown
ID: 21804083
Just to confirm, should it not be like this:

Modem<---->Router<---->Gigabit switch<--------->Mac Pros/NAS
                                           |              |--------->second gigabit switch<----->other machines
                                           |-------->third gigabit switch<------>other machines


Also, we have a fixed IP for the NAS. What do you mean by "edit the hosts file on all of your desktops to include that IP"?

VLANS sound interesting, I will research them some more. However, I suspect our IT budget will not strecth that far. I'm looking at a £100 router.

Thanks again
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by:aarondown
ID: 21804124
Also, currently the switches are all separately plugged into the router as it has 5 ports. Is this better than plugging them into the 'core' switch?
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mabutterfield earned 500 total points
ID: 21804178
This is how it SHOULD be.
One gigabit switch as core, plugged into all other switches and router.  This will leave 4 open ports on the router.  You shouldn't use them.

Modem<---->Router<---->Gigabit switch<--------->Mac Pros/NAS
                                           |              |--------->second gigabit switch<----->other machines2
                                           |-------->third gigabit switch<------>other machines3

In this scenario, no traffic goes through the router, which is your bottleneck.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

My understanding is that you currently have it like this:

Modem<---->Router<---->switch1<--------->machines1
                       |     |--------->switch2<-----> machines2
                       |-------->switch3 <------> machines3

This current setup uses your router as the 'core' of the network.  The low-end router is not built to do that, and causes a bottleneck.  (not to mention it doesn't support jumbo frames)
Traffic from machines1 would have to go through switch1, the router, and switch2 to get to machines2.

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by:mabutterfield
mabutterfield earned 500 total points
ID: 21804241
The host file will map network names, such as www.google.com, or NAS_Server to their ip addresses, 74.125.47.147, or 192.168.0.25.  
Whenever your machine tries to connect to 'NAS_Server', it has to lookup the IP address.  Normally, this is done by a request to a DNS server.  However, if you add the information to your hosts file, it will have the information stored locally on the machine, and not have to ask the DNS server.  This makes for much faster lookups.  

Due to the maintenance, this is only an efficient way of doing this for small networks, such as yours.  

in Windows, edit the file c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts.  It's read-only, so you'll have to change that first.  Instructions are in the file.

On the Mac machines (OS X, i don't know how on OS 9), edit the file /etc/hosts  
I normally edit them using a terminal and Vi.  I don't know if there's a GUI way to do this.
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by:aarondown
ID: 21804923
Aha, I think I'm getting it!
Thus, for the internal network the setup you have shown means that it is not necessary for the router to support jumbo frames, as all the traffic passes through the 'core' switch. Right?

Also, we connect to the NAS using AFP. Is the hosts file comment still relevant?
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by:mabutterfield
ID: 21805000
You are correct that the router will not need to support Jumbo Frames, as LAN traffic will not pass through it.

I'm not 100% on how AFP works, but if it uses TCP/IP, then the hosts file will still help.  
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by:aarondown
ID: 21914644
Sorry for the delay, I've been away. About to order 3 new 16 port switches but figure that if I'm gonna take down the whole network one day this weekend, I may as well replace the router. Any recommendations on a product?
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by:mabutterfield
mabutterfield earned 500 total points
ID: 21914909
I always like Cisco, an 800 series would be fine (851 is dual ethernet, for your cable modem),  On a slightly tighter budget, Adtrans are also pretty good (net vanta 2050).
 If you're on a really tight budget, you could get something like a Linksys RV042. (i've read about it, but never used it, not a recommendation from experience)

I wouldn't get a cheap home router, otherwise it's not really worth replacing what you've got.

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by:aarondown
ID: 21914970
I like the Cisco, the price seems fine but I seem to be running low on my IT budget! The money's there if this is necessary but what benefits do you think we will see if I replace the router as well, as opposed to just replacing the switches?
Thanks again for you continued excellent advcie
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by:mabutterfield
ID: 21914980
I don't think there will be much of a benefit to justify the cost of the router, at least not initially.  I'd purchase the switches first, get them in, and working, and see how things go.  

Your requirements for a router also may change after you put the switches in.  

I think your biggest benefit from replacing the router is having a service contract/new hardware that you're pretty sure won't fail, and that you KNOW how it's configured and why.  
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by:aarondown
ID: 21933469
Ma B,

Many thanks for all your help.
The new switches turned up today (3 x Netgear 16 port) and I'm gonna install them tomorrow so that I don't disrupt anyone.
One final question:
Should I give the switches fixed IPs?
Also, any tips for the install process? I'm expecting a reasonably easy process but some best practice stuff is always useful.

Thanks again.
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by:mabutterfield
ID: 21933530
Static ip address on the switch.  If you have that setup, there's not much else to do for your environment.  
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by:aarondown
ID: 21962556
We're up and running!
Read speeds are much better, 25MB/sec. Write is better, at 11MB/sec, but still needs more work.
Thanks for all your help.
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by:aarondown
ID: 31467553
Thanks again!
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