Built-in switch features can not only save time but also help eliminate errors
Your network is vital to your small business. It connects the devices critical to running your business as well as connecting employees to the resources they need, such as servers, printers, and storage. Managing your network, though, can cost you in both time and resources. There can be a lot to manage when it comes to a small business network—from configuring employee PCs and troubleshooting wireless connectivity to managing unified communications if you’re running voice and data on the same network. Most small businesses can’t justify a full-time in-house IT person. Oftentimes, the job of managing the network becomes an added responsibility of someone in the company.
To ease this burden, however, there are features you can look for in a switch that simplify the learning curve so you’re up and running more quickly, make configuring and managing your network easier, and save time troubleshooting problems when they arise. If you’re just building your small business network or have plans to upgrade, here is a list of switch features to consider that will help minimize the job of managing your network.
- Web management: A switch with a graphical user interface makes setting up and managing a switch much easier. A browser-based tool provides a more intuitive means for configuring the switch, including security and quality-of-service (QoS) settings, making it possible for non-technical employees to set up the switch pretty quickly. Some web management tools function much like a “wizard” in a desktop application. For example, the Cisco 200 Series Smart Switches device manager software moves the user through the logical order of configuration options and also offers context-sensitive help.
- Command-line interface: For those comfortable with a more technical interface, a command-line interface (CLI) provides more advanced configuration options in addition to the same options offered by a browser-based management tool. With the Cisco 300 Series Management Switches, for example, the CLI allows you to build templates with preset configurations, which saves time if you’re installing multiple devices. In addition, 300 Series switches support an auto-configuration capability using Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), which allows you to pull down the configuration template from the network, eliminating the need to manually configure the switch.
- Simple Network Management Protocol: A standards-based management platform, Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) shows how well your network is running and if any of the devices on your network are experiencing trouble, and allows you to manage and configure other devices—both from Cisco and other vendors—on your network. SNMP also provides remote management capabilities, enabling you to make changes to the devices on your network and repair any problems through the web-based interface, without having to directly connect to the switch itself.
More tools make light work
In addition to these features, some vendors may provide additional tools for making network management easier. For example, Cisco FindIT Network Discovery Utility is a plug-in for Windows-based machines and works through a toolbar on your browser to discover Cisco switches and routers on your network and provides basic information such as IP addresses. Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) and Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) automatically detect the Cisco and non-Cisco devices, respectively, connected to your network and then automatically configures them to the appropriate settings. Finally, Cisco Smartports provide more advanced capabilities, such as macros with pre-tested recommended configurations, including security and QoS, that can be applied to specific ports on a switch. This not only saves you time configuring the devices but also helps eliminate configuration errors.
Using switches that make managing your network easier gives you more time to focus on the tasks that contribute to your company’s bottom line.
What network management chores are you spending the most time on?