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Small Business Team Update: Friday the 13th

June 13, 2014 at 9:41 am PST

It is Friday the 13th and we have a full moon, perfect time to provide a quick update from the Cisco SMB Team.

First off, we have posted a Teaser Announcement providing a quick view of some new products that are coming out later this month. The entire Cisco SMB Team has been working hard on this new launch so look for more information that will be coming out.

220 Smart Plus Series

220 Smart Plus Series

The Switching Team currently has a cisco.com for the new 220 Smart Plus Series.

Ivor Diedricks posted a new Blog earlier this month called Understanding the different types of Ethernet Switches. He explains the differences between fixed and modular switches, and goes into the details of what makes an Unmanaged, Smart and Fully Managed models. It is a good read, if you haven’t already, please take a look.

Finally, I have a new RV325 emulator on our Cisco Emulator Page. These emulators provide you the chance to take a test drive through our device user interface. You can take a look at our easy-to-use configuration wizards, configure features such as VLAN’s, Single-Point-Setup on our Wireless Access Points, and even configure VPN’s on the routers.

Make it a safe Friday the 13th!

 

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Understanding the different types of Ethernet Switches

Ethernet Switches are broadly categorized into two main categories -- Modular and Fixed Configuration.

Modular switches, as the name implies, allows you to add expansion modules into the switches as needed, thereby delivering the best flexibility to address changing networks. Examples of expansion modules are application-specific (such as Firewall, Wireless, or Network Analysis), modules for additional interfaces, power supplies, or cooling fans. Cisco Catalyst 4K and 6K are good examples of Modular switches.

Fixed Configuration switches are switches with a fixed number of ports and are typically not expandable. This category is discussed in further detail below. Cisco Catalyst 2K, 3K and the Cisco 300/500 series are good examples of Fixed Configuration switches.

Let me say up front that there are variations to the categories below as switch makers are constantly adding capabilities and evolving the categories, but the broad essence remains the same.

The Fixed configuration switch category is further broken down into:

- Unmanaged Switches

- Smart Switches

- Managed L2 and L3 Switches

Unmanaged Switches:

This category of switch is the most cost effective for deployment scenarios that require only basic layer 2 switching and connectivity. As such, they fit best when you need a few extra ports on your desk, in a lab, in a conference room, or even at home.

With some Unmanaged switches in the market, you can even get capabilities such as cable diagnostics, prioritization of traffic using default QoS settings, Energy savings capabilities using EEE (Energy Efficient Ethernet) and even PoE (Power Over Ethernet). However, as the name implies, these switches generally cannot be modified/managed. You simply plug them in and they require no configuration at all.

Cisco 100 Series switches are good examples of this category.

Smart Switches (also known as Lightly Managed Switches):

This category of switches is the most blurred and fastest changing. The general rule here is that these switches offer certain levels of Management, QoS, Security, etc. but is “lighter” in capabilities and less scalable than the Managed switches. It therefore makes them a cost-effective alternative to Managed switches. As such, Smart switches fit best at the edge of a large network (with Managed Switches being used in the core), as the infrastructure for smaller deployments, or for low complexity networks in general.

The capabilities available for this Smart switch category vary widely. All of these devices have an interface for Management – historically a browser-based interface used to be the only way to configure these devices, though nowadays you can manage some of these devices with CLI and/or SNMP/RMON as well. Regardless, these capabilities are lighter than what you will find in their Managed switch counterparts.  Smart switches tend to have a management interface that is more simplified than what Managed Switches offer.

Smart switches allow you to segment the network into workgroups by creating VLANs, though with a lower number of VLANs and nodes (MAC addresses) than you’d get with a Managed switch.

They also offer some levels of security, such as 802.1x endpoint authentication, and in some cases with limited numbers of ACLs (access control lists), though the levels of control and granularity would not be the same as a Managed switch.

In addition, Smart switches support basic quality-of-service (QoS) that facilitates prioritization of users and applications based on 802.1q/TOS/DSCP, thereby making it quite a versatile solution.

Cisco 200 Series switches are good examples of this category.

Fully Managed L2 and L3 switches:

Managed Switches are designed to deliver the most comprehensive set of features to provide the best application experience, the highest levels of security, the most precise control and management of the network, and offer the greatest scalability in the Fixed Configuration category of Switches. As a result, they are usually deployed as aggregation/access switches in very large networks or as core switches in relatively smaller networks. Managed switches should support both L2 switching and L3 IP routing though you’ll find some with only L2 switching support.

From a Security perspective, Managed switches provide protection of the data plane (User traffic being forwarded), control plane (traffic being communicated between networking devices to ensure user traffic goes to the right destination), and management plane (traffic used to manage the network or device itself). Managed switches also offer network storm control, denial-of-service protection, and much more.

The Access Control List capabilities allows for flexibly dropping, rate limiting, mirroring, or logging of traffic by L2 address, L3 address, TCP/UDP port numbers, Ethernet type, ICMP or TCP flags, etc.

Managed switches are rich in features that enable them to protect themselves and the network from deliberate or unintended Denial of Service attacks.  It includes Dynamic ARP Inspection, IPv4 DHCP snooping, IPv6 First Hop Security with RA Guard, ND Inspection, Neighbor Binding Integrity, and much more.

Additional Security capabilities may include Private VLANs for securing communities of users or device isolation, Secure Management (downloads through SCP, Web-based Authentication, Radius/TACACS AAA, etc), Control Plane Policing (CoPP) for protecting the CPU of the switch, richer support for 802.1x (time-based, Dynamic VLAN Assignment, port/host-based, etc)

From a Scalability perspective, these devices have large table sizes so that you can create large numbers of VLANs (for workgroups), devices (MAC table size), IP routes, and ACL policies for flow-based security/QoS purposes, etc.

For highest network availability and uptime, Managed switches support L3 redundancy using VRRP (Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol), large numbers of Link Aggregation groups (which is used both for scalability and resiliency), and capabilities for protecting L2 such as Spanning Tree Root Guard and BPDU Guard.

When we talk about QoS and Multicast features, the richness of capabilities goes far beyond what you’d see in a Smart Switch. Here you’d see things such as IGMP and MLD Snooping with Querier functions for optimizing IPv4/v6 multicast traffic in the LAN, TCP Congestion Avoidance, 4 or 8 queues to treat traffic differently by importance, setting/tagging traffic by L2 (802.1p) or L3 (DSCP/TOS), and rate limiting traffic.

In terms of Management, things such as multiple ways to configure (using CLI, Web GUI, SNMP Management application), discovering of neighbor devices in the networks (using CDP, LLDP, Bonjour, etc), and troubleshooting capabilities (such as VLAN and Port Mirroring, Traceroute, Ping, Syslog, Cable Diagnostics, RMON, etc) are all included.

What I highlighted is by no means exhaustive, but gives you a sense of what some of the differences may be between Managed and Smart Switches.

Cisco Catalyst and Cisco 300 Series and 500 Series switches are good examples of this category of products.

Managed Switches can go even further than what I’ve highlighted. For example, there’s even richer support for Dynamic Unicast and Multicast Routing protocols, deeper flow intelligence or macro flow statistics with Netflow/SFlow, non-Stop Forwarding capabilities, MPLS/VRF support, Policy enforcement, and many others.

Now, to take a deeper dive into these switch categories and talk about various options, you can select the switches based on:

- Speed

- Number of ports

- POE versus non-POE

- Stackable versus Standalone

Speed:

You can find Fixed Configuration switches in Fast Ethernet (10/100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 Mbps), Ten Gigabit (10/100/1000/10000 Mbps) and even some 40/100 Gbps speeds. These switches have a number of uplink ports and a number of downlink ports. Downlinks connect to end users -- uplinks connect to other Switches or to the network infrastructure. Currently, Gigabit is the most popular interface speed though Fast Ethernet is still widely used, especially in price-sensitive environments. Ten Gigabit has been growing rapidly, especially in the datacenter and, as the cost comes down, it will continue to expand into more network applications. With 10GBase-T Ten Gigabit copper interfaces being integrated into LOM (LAN on the Motherboard) and 10G-Base-T switches becoming available now  (see the new Cisco SG500XG-8F8T 16-port 10-Gigabit switch), building a Storage or Server farm with 10 Gigabit interfaces has never been easier or more cost-effective. 40G/100G is still emerging and will be mainstream in a few years.

Number of ports:

Fixed Configuration Switches typically come in 5, 8, 10, 16, 24, 28, 48, and 52-port configurations. These ports may be a combination of SFP/SFP+ slots for fiber connectivity, but more commonly they are copper ports with RJ-45 connectors on the front, allowing for distances up to 100 meters. With Fiber SFP modules, you can go distances up to 40 kilometers

POE versus non-POE:

Power over Ethernet is a capability that facilitates powering a device (such as an IP phone, IP Surveillance Camera, or Wireless Access Point) over the same cable as the data traffic.  One of the advantages of PoE is the flexibility it provides in allowing you to easily place endpoints anywhere in the business, even places where it might be difficult to run a power outlet. One example is that you can place a Wireless Access Point inside a wall or ceiling.

Switches deliver power according to a few standards -- IEEE 802.3af delivers power up to 15.4 Watts on a switch port whereas IEEE 802.3at (also known as POE+) delivers power up to 30 Watts on a switch port. For most endpoints, 802.3af is sufficient but there are devices, such as Video phones or Access Points with multiple radios, which have higher power needs. It’s important to point out that there are other PoE standards currently being developed that will deliver even high levels of power for future applications. Switches have a power budget set aside for running the switch itself, and also an amount of power dedicated for POE endpoints.

To find the switch that is right for you, all you need to do is choose a switch according to your power needs. When connecting to desktops or other types of devices which do not require POE, the non-POE switches are a more cost-effective option.

Stackable versus Standalone:

As the network grows, you will need more switches to provide network connectivity to the growing number of devices in the network. When using Standalone switches, each switch is managed, troubleshot, and configured as an individual entity.

In contrast, Stackable switches provide a way to simplify and increase the availability of the network. Instead of configuring, managing, and troubleshooting eight 48-port switches individually, you can manage all eight like a single unit using a Stackable Switches. With a true Stackable Switch, those eight switches (total 384 ports) function as a single switch -- there is a single SNMP/RMON agent, single Spanning Tree domain, single CLI or Web interface – i.e. single management plane. You can also create link aggregation groups spanning across multiple units in the stack, port mirror traffic from one unit in the stack to another, or setup ACLs/QoS spanning all the units. There are valuable operational advantages to be gained by this approach.

Here’s a word of warning. Be careful about products in the market which are sold as “Stackable” when they merely offer a single user interface, or central management interface, for getting to each individual switch unit. This approach is not stackable, but really “clustering”. You still have to configure every feature such as ACLs, QoS, Port mirroring, etc, individually on each switch. Use the following as a proof point -- can I create a link aggregation group with one port in one unit of the stack and another port of that group in another unit of the stack? Can I select a port on one unit in the stack and mirror the traffic to a port on another unit of the stack? When I configure an ACL for Security purposes, can I apply that to any port on any unit in the stack? If the answer is “No” to any of these questions, you’re probably not working with a stackable switch.

There are other advantages of True Stacking as well. You can connect the stack members in a ring such that, if a port or cable fails, the stack will automatically route around that failure, many times at microsecond speeds. You can also add or subtract stack members and have it automatically recognized and added into the stack.

Cisco Catalyst 2K-X and 3K or Cisco 500 Series Switches are examples of Switches in this category.

As you can see there’s a multitude of switch options to choose from. So, have a close look at your current deployment and future needs to determine the right switch for your network.

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How to Properly Optimize Your Website to Increase Business

May 27, 2014 at 9:58 am PST

If you want to get more leads for your business, you need to increase the traffic to your website. We live in an age where anyone who fails to take full advantage of the Internet’s massive potential is missing out on a crucial number of customers. Utilize these seven techniques to increase the amount of traffic to your site and to convert casual visitors into lifelong customers.

Create Content with Real Value

Blogging and content marketing are effective strategies for almost any niche. Offering valuable content that’ll help your target market will attract visitors and can lead to social sharing that’ll attract even more customers. The key with blogging is to avoid creating the same run-of-the-mill content that most businesses do. Instead, create truly valuable articles and guides that’ll help your readers. They’ll return in the future, and every great post will increase the amount of trust your customers have in your business.

Make Your Site Shareable

Unless you like paying loads for advertising, you should start trying to attract more organic ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ via various social platforms. Focus on the biggest ones at first like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Include prominent sharing buttons on your website and interact with your audience using whichever platforms that will yield the highest ROI. Include content on your blog that fits with the typical type of content that’s usually appreciated. For example, high-quality pictures are necessary to attract attention on Pinterest.

Have a Giveaway

There are several benefits of a good giveaway. Don’t just offer up cash as a prize. Instead, use it as a chance to get your products in the hands of potential future customers who could also leave reviews and share their experience. A big giveaway will help boost the attention you’re getting on social media and online forums, attracting new customers while rewarding existing ones too.

Take Advantage of Holidays

Holidays provide you with easy content ideas for your website and potential product lines. Plan an event around a major upcoming holiday like a sale, giveaway, or comprehensive guide on how your product could enhance their holiday. Creative ideas are sure to attract attention from all over the web. Finally, get involved with major online events in your industry to increase your exposure. Fundraising activities and Twitter chats are great places to start.

Optimize Your Site for Search Engines

Organic search engine traffic converts measurably and it’s free, so what’s not to love? You don’t need to have extensive search engine optimization (SEO) experience to make a few simple improvements to your site. While you can hire someone to make the improvements for you, it’s fairly simple to learn.

Optimize your site for speed to improve your rankings in search engines and user experience. Use one of the numerous free keyword tools available on the Web to find highly searched keywords related to your product or service. Include these keywords naturally in your website content and over time you’ll attract more free visitors. Take advantage of free SEO resources to learn about all the changes you should make.

Modernize Your Website

In order to attract new visitors without spending a ton of money, you’re going to need to convince other people or sites to link to yours. If your site looks like it’s from the 90s, no one is going to link to you because it makes them look bad. Even with a tight budget, you can hire a relatively cheap designer and take advantage of content management platforms like WordPress to create a user-friendly site.

Finally, ensure that your website functions properly most of the time by tracking your uptime and downtime. All your social media and content marketing efforts will be for naught if your site is always down. And if your visitors can’t access your website reliably, they’ll probably go somewhere else.

Be warned that it could take some time and persistence before you see the results from certain methods. However, if you focus on creating the best experience for your customers, you’ll see great returns on your effort over time.

Automatic Software Delivery now available on the Cisco Small Business RV215W VPN Router

May 13, 2014 at 4:15 pm PST

You may not realize this, but Cisco has a thriving business building and selling networking products specifically designed for Small Businesses. Unfortunately, we know dealing with Cisco can sometimes be challenging for some smaller customers, a good example of this is managing software. Sometimes, it can be quite challenging to finding out whether equipment is running the latest software, and if not, how to get the latest software.

We recently announced a new feature called Automatic Service Delivery (ASD) on the RV215W, a wireless-n VPN Router that is in the Cisco Small Business Routing Portfolio.

The Automated Software Delivery service allows network devices such as the Cisco RV215W router or management tools such as Cisco FindIT to automatically retrieve software release information and software images from the cisco.com software library. This means that the user can be notified when a new software image is available, and they can obtain that software at the click of a button, rather than having to find their way through the thousands of files in the software library. If the user so chooses, a device can even automatically update itself, thereby ensuring the network is always running the most current versions of software.

This work was completed by our Smart Web Technology Group (SWTG). The API they developed enables client applications to retrieve vital software release and image information including release note, field notices and PSIRT information.

In order to gain access to this new feature, simply download the latest RV215W firmware form the RV215W product page and enable automatic updates on the Administration > Firmware/Language Upgrade page.

Cisco RV Series_RV215W VPN Firewall

Look for more RV Series Models to get this free ASD Service.

So to wrap this up, we know Cisco’s Small Business customers face so many challenges and demands on their time, the Automated Software Delivery service is a great tool that helps make their job just that little bit easier.

Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to hang out with us.

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7 Data Trends That Are Changing the Internet

April 15, 2014 at 3:30 pm PST

Trying to stay entirely up-to-date on the ways the Internet and data in general are changing is like trying to spot the winner in a horse race where the horses are traveling faster than the speed of light. Everything looks impressive and things change so often and so quickly that it all just looks like one, big blur. With the proliferation of mobile technology and seismic cultural shifts in the way people find and consume media, some clear trends are starting to emerge from the fray. Here are some of the major data trends that will determine how the Internet looks, feels and evolves over the next several years.

Speed and Demand

The relationship between how fast our Internet connections are and how much data we transfer in a given day is a chicken and egg scenario. Is it the development of ever-faster connection speeds that make people want bigger data streams, or is the demand for increasingly huge chunks of data pushing engineers to go beyond current limits in transfer speeds? It’s probably a bit of both, and the infrastructure around Internet service is struggling to keep up. There’s some hope in the so-called “gigabit networks” that are becoming more common every day. While big-name pioneers like Google have been setting up test networks that deliver faster upload and download speeds than even the fastest standard services in cable and DSL, small, local and even government-supported gigabit networks are starting to pop up in major cities.

Cloud and Mobile

The average person looks more mobile every year, showing a greater preference for laptops, tablets and smartphones over desktop PCs in a consistent trend. This, in turn, has created a greater demand for software and data storage outside of the relative limitations of mobile hardware. The answer to the limited memory of a mobile device is cloud computing, which encompasses many methods of running and storing programs and data virtually. The design philosophy of Software as a Service (SaaS) is ever-more the go-to for the mobile cloud. Users are happy to rent an online-only, cloud-supported version of, say, the Adobe Creative Suite for a monthly fee instead of buying the software and storing it locally. This continues to change the very foundation of software-focused business models and switches the Internet into an application-driven space.

High-Def Becomes Low-Quality

Increasing connection speeds and the growing mobile cloud are making it possible for online content to achieve new heights in quality. Once the peak of online video, 1080p is quickly becoming the grainy, low-end version of definition qualities that double, triple and even quadruple the package. The latest in monitors and TVs is 4k, which is essentially 4000+p, with YouTube already offering video in that range and some new, online-only TV shows already shooting in 4k. If viewers no longer have to worry about overtaxing their Internet connections or downloading whole videos that take up massive amounts of hard drive space, the quality of large media like videos and games is functionally limitless. The onus of data management and security is then on increasingly in-demand data centers that will essentially act as the mainframes that physically host this ultra-high-definition content.

Longer Content

Traditional wisdom about Internet content is that viewers won’t have the patience for anything longer than five minutes, but that has proven false as people get more and more of their content online exclusively. A number of platforms, some Web-native and some multimedia, have already had success grabbing millions of viewers with long-form content. VICE has been hitting the long-form philosophy harder as of late, putting its stamp on ambitious journalism with “mini-documentaries” that are essentially long-form Web videos heavy on content. In just a few short years, video on the Internet has evolved from two-minute home movies to cinema-quality trips to never-before-filmed corners of North Korea with VICE CEO Shane Smith. The demand for content is only more voracious, but attention spans, it seems, are growing more robust.

Short-Form Ubiquity

That isn’t to say that there’s a dearth of short-form video content in this new atmosphere. Quite the opposite, actually. Video banner ads are more common than ever, but it goes beyond that into the realm of non-ad content from news and entertainment sources. Using short-form apps like Instagram and Vine to create content that’s just seconds long, respected platforms like USA Today are investing in everything from teasers for larger stories to 15-second stand-alone news segments. This kind of content is tailor made to be shared, embedded on other sites and viewed on mobile devices that many users don’t feel are ideal for long-form content like movies and TV shows.

Someone Else’s Eyes

Look back at some of the most innovative, widely shared videos of the past year and you’ll find a lot of first-person perspectives. GoPro videos are basically a category unto themselves today, but that field is about to get a lot more crowded. As Google’s Project Glass goes from its testing phase to full market release, expect first-person videos to become standard in everything from scripted content to games and news. Content will be designed both using wearable recorders and for wearable devices. We will literally be seeing what others see, shaping content into experiences first and foremost.

Connecting Everything

For future-minded thinkers, all of the above developments look like precursors to something bigger and truly life-changing. The idea that the Internet is even a separate thing from our everyday lives is becoming antiquated. When our phones communicate with our cars which will soon communicate with our road infrastructure, the gap between “online” and “in real life” will close almost completely.

In the end, everything on the Internet is just data. How we manage it, create it and receive it depends on our tastes and the capabilities of our technology. Today, the leading taste is mobile, the hunger for content insatiable and the quality of the content is only rising. We look forward to a very fast, very crisp and very cloudy Internet atmosphere over the next decade.