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Closet and Edge Switches

The Essentials

What must your edge/closet switch do? The answer will steer you to the right switch. Are you setting up a studio for a videographer? Building a plain-vanilla branch office? Adding a testing lab? Hiring call-center flunkies relying on VoIP (voice over IP)? Hanging wireless access points hungry for PoE (power over Ethernet)?

Consider whether 24 ports will be enough for the life of the switch--you might hit that ceiling in a year or two. If you're working with an existing infrastructure or you must adhere to a corporate standard, your product choices are likely to be further constrained.

If you're looking to VoIP, most vendors offer support for Layer 2 (802.1p) traffic prioritization and Layer 3 QoS (quality of service). Look for strong support for VLANs (virtual LANs), which is a must for installing VoIP in your shop--security is strongest when the PBX and phones are on their own VLAN. Even lower-priced switches support at least 255 VLANs, which should be enough for most shops. If you're adding a switch to a complex infrastructure and your choice isn't limited by other factors, select a switch that supports more than 4,000 VLANs and 64,000 MAC (Media Access Control) addresses.

Switch Fabric bandwidth--the switching fabric that makes up the backplane of these switches--may play a part in your decision. A 24-port gigabit switch with an 8.4-Gbps fabric may meet the needs of a real estate office, but be brought to its knees by a newsroom feeding off multiple video sources. If you move a lot of large files (CAD drawings, images, full-screen video), up the specs on the switching fabric to avoid unhappy users.

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