WideBand WB28GMPRO

WideBand is a decent performer with limited features, and it's less expensive than the imports

Network managers driven by frugality, patriotism or both, might want to consider the WideBand WB28GMPRO, a low-cost managed Gigabit Ethernet switch made in the American heartland.

In a market awash in Layer-2 managed Ethernet switches, this device's key differentiator is its list price of US$3,328. That's far less than prices for managed-access switches from major vendors such as Cisco, Extreme and Foundry Networks, but higher than managed switches from Dell and HP. However, with 28 ports instead of the usual 24, WideBand's device offers higher port density.

WideBand says it gains a price advantage by manufacturing in Missouri, where labor costs are relatively low. Nearly all other network equipment is made in Asia, often through outsourcing to component assembly firms.

The WB28GMPRO performed well in some areas of our tests, while lacking polish in others. This is a fast switch, delivering line-rate throughput for all frame sizes in tests lasting 60 seconds, and near-line-rate throughput for tests lasting 300 seconds. Latency was in line with other low-cost gigabit switches we've tested.

On the downside, the switch's user interface is quite limited in terms of features supported, and we were unable to complete a test of link aggregation because of performance issues.

Switch setup is fast but not entirely straightforward. Most switches offer a command-line or Web interface, and usually both. In contrast, WideBand's Windows-based management software has a proprietary interface, accessible via serial or Ethernet ports.

That's where we hit our first snag: Software supplied with the switch would communicate only over a serial link attached to COM1 of a PC running Windows. That was a problem for us, because the machine we used for configuration allocated COM1 to an infrared port. Within a day, WideBand released an updated version of the management software that let us select serial ports.

Even so, we'd be happier with a simple command-line interface (CLI) to the switch. A CLI also has the advantage of not requiring a given operating system or serial port. We'd be even happier if the switch management software supported Secure Shell for remote access.

The management interface is serviceable but limited compared with competing offerings. The interface displays information about port counters, virtual LAN (VLAN) assignment, SNMP and link aggregation. One notable feature is the switch's support for 4,094 VLAN IDs; many access switches support only a few hundred VLANs.

A port can be assigned to as many as four VLANs based on frame type, and that port will accept untagged traffic from each VLAN. The switch also will accept tagged frames, but managing trunk ports requires WideBand's nMU network management software, which we didn't test. We found a few other functions available only through nMU, such as jumbo frame configuration (though jumbo handling is enabled by default) and controlling address aging timers.

In performance tests, we measured the WideBand switch in four areas: throughput, latency, address learning capacity and link aggregation. We determined throughput and latency by attaching a Spirent TestCenter traffic generator/analyzer to all 28 ports of the switch and running TestCenter's RFC 2889 suite of switch tests.

It's common practice to run this type of test for 60 seconds, and here the WideBand switch was perfect. For every frame length, from the Ethernet minimum of 64 bytes all the way to 9,216-byte jumbo frames, the switch forwarded traffic at line rate without dropping a frame.

When we increased the test duration to 300 seconds - a practice increasingly used by service providers to model long-lived flows such as video feeds - the switch forwarded traffic without loss at a rate equivalent to 99 percent of line rate for all frame sizes.

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