Layer 3 switches can improve the performance and expandability of your small business network
The performance of your network to your small business is vital. In addition to bandwidth, you should consider whether the network you built to support your small business still meets your needs. If your network seems sluggish and is impacting employee productivity, chances are that flat network design is the cause. Adding Layer 3 switches would improve your network’s performance and enable it to grow with your fledgling business.
Most small businesses use Layer 2 switches in their network foundation, which makes sense. They’re a cost-effective way to connect all the devices in your office (e.g., PCs, servers, and storage) and employees to the resources they need. As a company grows and adds employees, devices, and applications like voice over IP (VoIP), however, a flat network like that has trouble keeping up with the increase in traffic. The network slows down because certain types of data, such as Microsoft Networking messages, get broadcast to all the devices on the network.
This is where implementing virtual LANs (VLANs) helps. By creating different groups or sub-networks within your company—for example for finance, human resources, and marketing—you can isolate network traffic and improve performance by ensuring that the data sent by various devices and applications are contained within their VLAN.
But you still want devices on your VLANs to have access to each other; to central resources, such as servers and storage; or to the Internet. This function would typically be performed by a router. However, because routers use software to direct network traffic, they’re slower at getting data to its destination. A switch that uses Layer 3 routing moves that function into the switch hardware, allowing communication between VLANs without slowing down the network because data is moving at wire speed—whether Fast Ethernet (10/100) or Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000). Layer 3 switches also make the network more expandable because you can have many VLANs, adding groups as you need them, without impacting performance.
You still need a router to connect employees to the Internet and provide remote workers and other locations access to the network. Using a Layer 3 switch, however, offloads tasks like inter-VLAN routing or security capabilities such as preventing access for some users to certain resources like servers. This frees up the router to do what it does best—act as a gateway between your company and the world with which you do business.
If your network is due for some upgrades and you’re not sure whether you need a Layer 3 switch just yet, consider a switch that offers both Layer 2 and Layer 3 modes, such as Cisco 300 Series Managed Switches. This lets you configure the switch for Layer 3 when you’re ready without having to upgrade the switch, allowing you to get more out of your investment.
What’s on your network upgrade wish list?