Product review: Catalyst 2924M XL delivers full IOS support

Cisco Systems' dominant position among network players is no secret. It maintains its position in part by constant innovation and improvement across its product lines. The company's latest switch release, the Catalyst 2924M XL, is no different, finally giving users full support of Cisco's Internetwork Operating System (IOS).

The Ethernet switch market is fairly new to Cisco (compared to routers), but the company has kept up a fast pace of product improvements in its switches. And like any successful large company, Cisco leverages its strengths back and forth across product categories, as it does with this switch.

The 2924M XL switch is based on IOS, which Cisco has been promising the industry since introducing the 2900 series. The 2924M XL also includes a sophisticated Web-based administration facility.

I recommend the 2924M XL to everyone considering a Cisco switch -- which should be most Cisco-based IT shops.

The benefits of using IOS on both switches and routers go beyond just interoperability improvements. By using the same command set, the products allow a network engineer to become more of an IOS specialist. Using IOS should also make it easier for basic networking technicians as they move up the food chain to managing routers.

The 2924M XL resembles the 2820 switches: a 2U rack-mounted package with 24 ports and two optional uplink modules.

The 2924M XL, though, is 10/100Base-T on all 24 ports. Like any modern switch, the 2900 XL series offers Internet Group Management Protocol for IP multicast support. Standard administration protocols such as SNMP and RMon are also included.

The Cisco Visual Switch Manager (CVSM), the 2924M XL's new Web-based administration package, is useful. In addition to offering normal functions such as adjusting the speed or duplex settings for a port, CVSM leverages the Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) to offer a map of the network in its area.

Using CVSM, I easily navigated to other switches and routers in the same network -- this turned out to be a handy administrative and troubleshooting tool.

I looked at the Enterprise Edition of the switch's software, which includes advanced features such as Virtual LAN (802.1q or Cisco Inter-Switch Link) and Terminal Access Controller Access Control System (TACACS+) for authentication.

TACACS+ is useful in large installations with hundreds of switches and many people authorised to troubleshoot them. Rather than having to change passwords on every piece of networking equipment when someone leaves (what fun), implementing TACACS+ lets you centrally administer multiple usernames and passwords.

The Standard Edition, which lacks those features, sells for $US2995 -- a reasonable price for a basic 24-port 10/100Base-T switch with decent uplink capabilities.

The 2924M XL series will become even more useful with the release of Gigabit Ethernet modules this month, and ATM 155 uplink modules some time in April.

The 2924M XL is another solid step forward in the evolution of Cisco's switches. CVSM's integration with CDP is an interesting feature, which no doubt foreshadows even better integration among Cisco's product lines in the future.

Brooks Talley is the test manager at the InfoWorld Test Center. He can be reached at brooks_talley@infoworld.comThe bottom line: VERY GOODCatalyst 2924M XLThis Fast Ethernet switch is another great offering from Cisco that offers enhancements in administration and integration. It is a solid choice for Cisco-centric shops.

Pros: Good integration with other Cisco products; great new Web-based administration toolCons: None significantCisco Systems, San Jose, California; (800) 326-1941; fax: +1 (408) 526-4100; www.cisco.comPrice: $US3495Platforms: All Ethernet platforms

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