Product Review: Cisco 3500 line offers bandwidth, scalability

A big problem IT managers face with remote or departmental wiring closets is juggling device affordability, expandability and bandwidth. Cisco Systems helps you balance these issues with its new line of 3500 switches.

The 3500 series of stackable departmental Ethernet switches puts Cisco on a par with Nortel and 3Com. They support high-speed gigabit uplinks, so you can extend the core backbone to remote wiring closets to give departments high-speed connectivity to the data centre. These switches stack to provide more ports almost on the fly. They are manageable and cheap, at about $US170 per port.

The 3500 series has built-in gigabit ports that allow the units to connect to the backbone and stack together. Using fibre or Cisco's GigaStack GigaBit Interface Converters, you can configure the switches in several ways, allowing for an aggregate bandwidth of up to 4Gbps between switches. Or, you can use a 2Gbytes interconnect between switches plus a 2Gbyte connection to the backbone, or interconnect 4Gbytes between the backbone and all of the switches in a stack.

One exciting feature is support for the Cisco Switch Clustering (CSC), an add-on to the Cisco Visual Switch Manager (CVSM). CSC refers to the capability of a 3500 switch to become the command switch, controlling the configuration of as many as 16 other 3500-or 2900-series switches through a single CVSM.

Using the CVSM to control the five switches I tested (one 3508GXL, three 3524XLs, and one 3412XL), I was able to manage each one through the central command switch using a single IP address. This significantly improved the viability of the CVSM -- for once I was not telnet-ing to each switch to configure them through the command-line interface. I consider this a big improvement.

Unfortunately, the CVSM can manage only 16 switches, which must be in the same subnet. In most cases, if you are managing more than 16 switches, you will probably move from the CVSM to a more centralised SNMP-based system. However, if you do have a few switches deployed across two or three subnets, it would be helpful to be able to use the cluster management through CVSM.

The 3500-series switch is a fine product. Even shops using non-Cisco devices will find compelling reasons to deploy these switches in departmental wiring closets.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Cisco 3500-series switches

Summary: Allowing for multiple gigabit aggregate connections, the 3500 line provides high-speed backbone connections to the data centre. These units give enterprise departments the bandwidth to scale in size and add cutting-edge multimedia tools.

Business Case: The 3500-series switches stack easily and support high-speed bandwidth aggregation, so you can add more ports and the bandwidth you need will be available. This lets you keep costs down initially, without impairing your ability to expand.

Pros:

+ Stackable

+ Easy-to-use Web-based management

+ Cisco Switch Clustering support for management+ Runs Internetwork Operating System+ Extensive SNMP and RMON supportCons:

- Cisco Switch Clustering supports only 16 devices and only works within a subnet.

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