Rolling Review: 3Com Baseline Switch 2900 Plus

The Baseline 2900 supports VoIP and PoE without breaking the bank.

January 28, 2008

5 Min Read
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CLAIM: 3Com positions its Baseline Switch 2900 Plus Family as "smart" switches for small and midsize organizations. By delivering Gigabit Ethernet switching and special voice traffic controls, 3Com aims to simplify VoIP deployments. The unit we reviewed also includes PoE functionality.CONTEXT: The Baseline Switch 2900s take advantage of high-end technologies while maintaining a reasonable price. Competing switches at similar price points lack the same feature set. CREDIBILITY:

Overall, the Baseline Switch is an excellent choice for those seeking advanced features in an easy-to-use, economical package. Admins will need to do some tweaking beyond simple plug-and-play to access advanced VoIP functionality, but that's a reasonable price to pay.

In the market for switches? Take a gander at 3Com's new Baseline Switch 2900 Plus Family. These bad boys support Gigabit speeds and Power over Ethernet and sport features that help streamline VoIP deployment. At a street price of around $850 for the model we tested, cost-conscious IT groups don't have to sacrifice capabilities to stay within budget.

We tested the Baseline Switch 2924 PWR Plus model, which comes in a 1U rack-mountable form factor with 24 ports. Of particular interest to us is the auto-voice VLAN functionality. This feature is billed as able to detect VoIP devices, such as SIP phones, and auto-assign the port to which the phones connect to a VoIP-only VLAN. This allows switch administrator to not only keep data and voice traffic on separate broadcast domains, but also apply QoS settings to VoIP traffic more easily—that is, at the VLAN level.

We plugged in several Cisco 7941 IP phones and were initially disappointed. The phones were hanging out on the default VLAN instead of the VoIP VLAN we'd configured, so we did a little digging. The auto-voice VLAN feature works by observing the MAC addresses of connected devices. If the first three two-hex groupings of the MAC address (called the OID) match a predefined value in the management interface, then the device is identified as VoIP capable. This means that VoIP endpoints must be connected directly to the switch for the auto-voice VLAN feature to come into play. In our case, the OIDs of our particular phones were not among the predefined values on the switch, so they were not automatically assigned to the VoIP VLAN. Luckily it was simple to add OIDs through the Web management interface, so the problem was quickly resolved.

Despite this temporary setback, we're impressed with the possibilities inherent in the auto-voice VLAN feature. IT theoretically wouldn't have to worry about a VoIP phone being plugged into the wrong port at the user's end, for example, and audio quality issues with VoIP are the most painful and costly to resolve. Any feature that takes user error and QoS issues out of the equation is always welcome.We were likewise happy to find that the PoE capability worked as expected. Other PoE switches require purchase of an additional power supply device because they don't provide enough wattage out of the box to power devices on every port. This was not the case for the "PWR Plus" model, which provides up to 180W total power across its 24 ports; each port can provide 7.5W if the power is evenly distributed. The Cisco IP phones we used require only 6.3W per device. Additionally, each port can be allotted a specific amount of power through the Web management interface, so you can reserve power port by port. The switch also has LED indicators on the front panel that indicate which ports are using PoE.

Helpful Help Files

Setup was painless. The management interface will either acquire a DHCP address from the network or fall back to a predefined static address if it doesn't find a DHCP server. The switch comes with a single VLAN configuration, meaning it operates as an unmanaged switch until directed otherwise. This is convenient for those with the most basic of needs, but you'll want to reconfigure it to take advantage of features such as the auto-voice VLAN.We were pleased that the Web interface supports the Safari browser; we've had trouble in the past with Dell switches requiring Internet Explorer. The Web interface is clean, logically organized and easy to use. Though we generally don't get excited about documentation, clear and concise help files were provided on each management interface Web page. When we encountered unfamiliar features, the help files actually cleared up our confusion. That hasn't been the case with competing switches, whose documentation often seems to have been translated from another language.

Included in the packaging are the power cord, console cable, mounting hardware, and a CD with documentation. 3Com chose to use an RJ-45 (Ethernet) connector for the console port on the front of the device, so the console cable is an RJ-45-to-serial adapter. This is very useful for management on a larger scale, in the sense that CAT5 cabling can be used to connect to the switch's console ports instead of having to run serial cables through an existing setup.

We were impressed with 3Com's switch, and excited to see emerging voice technologies built into the product. Combined with PoE and Gigabit speeds, this switch should be considered during your next network deployment or expansion.Taylor Boyko is CTO and co-owner of Pacific Swell Networks, a VoIP specialty company. Write to him at [email protected]

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