May 2011 E-newsletter
Cisco's Small-Office Switch
Cisco Systems offers its 300-series switches in a variety of sizes and capabilities, ranging from simple 8-port Fast Ethernet products to 50-port gigabit departmental switches. The SG300-MP is in the middle of the line, combining eight 10/100/1000 copper ports and two 10/100/1000 combo ports that accept either copper Ethernet cables or mini-GBIC (gigabit interface converter) fiber connectors.
The SG300-MP is designed to be installed and managed by the staff of a small office. Its eight ports feature Power over Ethernet (PoE) for supporting Voice over IP (VoIP) phones, and it supports a very complete management interface. But what's more important is that this switch is designed for easy set up and configuration.
Small offices that are the primary market for the SG300-MP are unlikely to have their own IT support person, meaning that setting up a switch requires either a visit from another office or hiring an outside consultant. Cisco has solved this problem by eliminating two significant stumbling blocks: easing the initial setup, which is difficult for most managed switches, and simplifying the actual management process itself.
Cisco equipped this switch with a free network discovery utility called FindIT, which, when run on a machine attached to the same network as the switch, will locate the switch, reveal the IP address and connect the user to the administrative interface with a mere click of the mouse. This means that the person setting up the switch no longer needs to go through the process of using a serial interface cable to make the initial switch settings. The setup person can also let the switch obtain its IP address using DHCP, instead of setting the configuration manually.
The ability to plug a managed switch into the network and then begin managing it is significant in itself. Equally significant is Cisco's clear and usable interface. When the switch is turned on, once the user changes the default password, a "Getting Started" page appears that demonstrates the task of activating the switch. Once the basic settings are configured, a tabbed interface is presented that lets the setup person control the entire range of user-configurable settings. Each is clear, there's help available, and for the most part, once this is initially done, the only maintenance task is to check occasionally for problems.
Why It Works for IT
20 gigabits per second
The maximum throughput of the SG300-MP switch
SOURCE: Cisco Systems
The Cisco SG300-MP is designed to be a user-managed switch. Although it can work as a standalone device in a very small office, the primary use of the switch is as an edge device on a larger network, either to support a small office or to support the VoIP phones on a voice network. Because the switch can be found and configured by end users, the time and staff commitment required to deploy this device is significantly reduced. In addition, the switch's dynamic addressing feature lets the central IT department easily manage the SG300-MP from elsewhere in the enterprise when more advanced configuration is required.
The 300-series Cisco products are primarily intended for small organizations without a dedicated IT staff. This means that the IT staffing load required to manage them is reduced. It also means that when these switches are used in a larger organization, they require relatively little staff overhead, while still offering the full range of features that users have come to expect from Cisco products. In fact, for those organizations that demand it, the Cisco command-line interface is still available.
There's something amiss with the automatic clock-setting feature in the SG300-MP. Setting the clock for daylight saving time resulted in the switch's timing being off by an hour. This problem persisted regardless of whether the switch was receiving its time settings from an external computer or an Internet time server. Cisco is aware of this problem.
Why PoE Matters
Power over Ethernet, a feature supported in the SG300-MP, is a standard that lets DC power be injected into Ethernet cables to enable devices such as VoIP phones or Wi-Fi access points to function without having their own power supplies. The external power supply included with this switch is unusually large to support that capability. Without PoE, each device on the network needing power would have to have its own power block, and the setup person would have to run a separate power cable to the device. This might not be a huge deal for phones, but for Wi-Fi access points, it can make or break an installation.