One big switch vs multiple smaller ones?

Posted on 2009-05-06
Last Modified: 2012-05-06

I'm thinking that I should use this slow period to try and upgrade our infrastructure a bit.  
We have about 30 workstations in our office, 5 servers, and 8 Network printers.
What I'm wondering is, what would be better
A) Having things seperated by smaller switches, and the smaller switches connected to one central switch. (Printserver and printers on one switch, Oil Data and users on another switch, Land Data and users on another, Admin data and users on another.  Have the DC also connected to the main switch)
B) As I have it now, two 24 port switches, one connected to the other, and everthing coming off the two of them.

The oil users usually only access the oil data and print, but sometimes they would access the admin data.  And the same goes for the other groups, they usually only access their own data, but sometimes they go to the other data sources.

Assuming that we are 100% GB, switches (unmanaged), NICs, Cat5e, would either method have a significant benefit over the other?

Question by:1bigboomstick
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Expert Comment

ID: 24315716
On my understanding its a best practice to use 2x24 port switch. But make sure your uplink line is faster then those normal ports. To avoid bottleneck in cascading switches.


Expert Comment

ID: 24315736
I am a fan of using the distributed approach where you effectively have core, distribution and access layer devices.

Going with scenario A):
In this scenario, your router and high-end networking gear act as the core layer,

Your primary switch acts as the distribution layer feeding the other switches

The other switches act as your access layer that interfaces with the clients.

This is a model that Cisco Systems uses and created, so I personally would recommend it. You put less load on the primary switches by using smaller switches localized to groups.

In this case, since the switches are unmanaged, you cannot limit based on switch / where the user belongs. If you had managed switches, this would allow you to place limitations / controls on what user can see what data.

Hope this helps, let me know if you need anything else,
LVL 12

Expert Comment

ID: 24316470
I agree with post 1 all the way and the concept of post 2.
I would definitely upgrade to two 24 port gigabit managed switches with fiber uplinks.  That should get you well into the future.I would absolutely buy managed switches (personally, HP Procurve) in case you get VoIP later or SIP, which you probably will sooner than you think. Managed switches will also help you with an multimedia that you may implement years down the road as well.  Managed switches can seperate your VLANs out between Oil and Land if that need arises.
Procurve has a lifetime warranty on hardware and software + free upgrades forever.  That is future proofing your maintenance costs to be sure.
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LVL 10

Expert Comment

ID: 24316544
you do not need a single point of failure.

Author Comment

ID: 24316646
I appreciate all of the opinions; please keep them coming.


Expert Comment

ID: 24316874
Coupling on the other facts presented, it would be highly advisable to get managed switches so you can add redundancy in your topology. With managed switches, you eliminate your single point of failure (as stated in a previous post) if you enable spanning tree.

This will effectively allow you to link two distribution switches together and have redundancy in case one switch goes down.

It is definitely worth the extra money to upgrade to managed switches. This will give you much greater control of your network (assuming you want to add access-lists, maybe control bandwidth, segregate the network based on department, etc - you will have seemingly infinite control contrary to what you have now).

I still think you are better off to use managed switches with a distribution layer feeding the smaller groups of users. :)

LVL 14

Accepted Solution

steveoskh earned 250 total points
ID: 24320406
Get in touch with the HP Network Design Center.  They will provide free diagrams, layouts and parts lists.
If the choice was between adding multiple unmanaged switchs and a single managed switch, I would go with the managed.  
You don't mention where the two switches are located now.  Are they at one spot or is there two seperate wiring closets?   If they are both in the same wiring closet, I would replace them with a managed 48port.  The bandwidth inside a single switch will be far faster than uplinks.
If the wiring closets are seperated now, then you will need two unless you are going to rewire.
There are many factors (reason for contacting HP) that may be unique to your situation.  It sounds like you may have a harsh environment that may affect decisions.
For the different groups, you most likely need Vlans instead of seperate physical switches.

Expert Comment

ID: 24321781
For Managed switches you might also want to check this link:

Its about cascading and stackable switches..
LVL 16

Assisted Solution

by:Aaron Street
Aaron Street earned 250 total points
ID: 24323211
To be honest on a network your size, soplitting the network to much will just incure extra costs at very little gain...

In an ideal world you would have tw ocore switchs (managed) and fibre connected togather. (cisco 3750G say)

then two server switchs, stacked (again 3750's maybe) with each having a link back to the core switchs and servers have a link in to each.

so you have fully redunency

then a switch for client PC's with duel links back to the core.

See digram.

now as you can imagen thsi will be expensive, as the core and server switchs all need to be managed to offer full redundency. but with this set up, either of the core switchs or either of the server switchs can fail with out any loss of network connectivity.

I would suggest you start of looking at the core switchs. you can reuse the switchs you have as access switchs for servers or clients. So look for some nice managed core switchs. I suggested the 3750G switch as this can run all ports at full 1gig speed. you can also duel link swith to swith and incress the interswith bandwith up to 2gig or beyond very easly (to be honest very few applications need a 1gig backbone)

these are quite expensive so you amy want to look at 3600 series. (I wont suggests other makes as I have little experince with them, and I belive Cisco are the main players in the networking world)

Get the core upgraded, then look at the server side, and leave the client switchs till last.

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