Stackable Switches for Low-End Needs

SMC's TigerStack III comes out of the consumer-class closet.

September 2, 2003

4 Min Read
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Stack 'Em Deep

The SMC6824M stands out among economy-class managed switches. It packs a lot under the hood of its chassis architecture, which scales to eight stacked units (a respectable 192 ports) managed under a single IP address. Yet it remains economically priced--$599.99 to start--even despite the onboard 9.6-Gbps switching fabric. Compare that with the Cisco Catalyst 2950's 8.8-Gbps switch that lists for $995.

The SMC6824M's stacks are easily managed via a Web interface or direct console connection. Additionally, the product offers security features you would expect to find in an enterprise-ready switch, including SSH, SSL, RADIUS, HTTPS (HTTP Secure), variable HTTP port and typical passwording options.

The console connection through a conventional DB9 link on the front of the 1U switch means

TigerStack III

click to enlarge

no fumbling around behind the switch in busy closets when direct-connecting for management. Aside from the stacking interface boards, the SMC6824M's two expansion slots will accommodate a variety of Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet network interface boards in both copper and fiber. The switch offers a redundant power-supply assembly for high availability.On the downside, the interface boards that facilitate the stack process can't be inserted hot; the switches need to be powered down.

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Enterprises scoping out new switches typically have a list of must-have features, most of which SMC has built into the SMC6824M's robust selection of Layer 2 functions. Network planners deploying wireless networks and VoIP (voice over IP) won't find PoE (Power over Ethernet) capabilities in the SMC6824M (or in the rest of the switch series), but the VLAN and QoS (Quality of Service) requirements of these applications have been provisioned for as part of the switch's bag of tricks. The SMC6824M's supported 255 VLAN capacity is small compared to some of the competition's VLAN capacities--switches from Foundry Networks and Cisco do thousands of VLAN taggings at Layer 2--but it should more than fill the bill for many environments. Private VLAN options are a nice touch and exemplify the SMC6824M's quality of extended functionality.

Noninvasive monitoring is available with the SMC6824M's Port Mirroring feature, as is 802.3ad LACP (Link Aggregation Control Protocol) for Ether Channel-like configurations and all the typical SNMP, RMON and Spanning Tree options. Rate-limiting capabilities and multicast support enable more per-port flexibility.

Going LiveI stacked and tested two SMC6824M switches in Network Computing's Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. The supporting manual was adequate, and the switches came with all cables and brackets needed to put them into service. My configuration session started locally through the console cable with the typical IP addressing and security setups. The switch was easy to put on the wire, and after poking around at the command-line console, I used the Web interface for the bulk of my test drive.

The SMC6824M's Web-based management is facilitated by an easy-to-navigate Java-based configuration and monitoring tool that puts the various options into sensible groupings, and includes a graphic of the switch that shows the hardware's status at a glance. One minor annoyance with the graphical representation of the switch is that the system LEDs are not shown--only the port LEDs are available in this view. The information the missing LED symbols would provide can be found elsewhere on the pages, but the graphical representation of the switch would have a more complete feel if the LEDs were included.I had great fun creating VLANs across the two stackables I tested, creating different rate limiting, and setting up QoS parameters and the like. Connecting a variety of PCs with different vintage interface cards and operating systems, I found that in all cases, speed and duplex worked themselves out, with no need to change the default autonegotiation or fool with Spanning Tree settings such as PortFast.

At one point, I had a wireless VLAN set up with access points from Cisco and Microsoft connecting to ports on each stack. Traffic speed and reliability were consistent throughout. I monitored single ports as well as groups, and found every configuration simple to manipulate.

To test throughput, I attached 20 100-Mbps bidirectional clients and pelted the switch with traffic. Per-port metrics matched those of the Cisco Catalyst 2950--in fact, the SMC6824M's aggregate numbers slightly exceeded the 2950's (which is in line with the manufacturer's claims). This is especially impressive, considering the difference in price.

By and large, the SMC6824M--though not part of the most robust switch series on the market--is a capable, high-density, affordable option that's ready to play in any network's edge closet.

Lee Badman is a network engineer at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected].Post a comment or question on this story.

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