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Core vs. Edge: Why It Matters When Choosing a Switch

For a more detailed description of this topic and what Cisco has to offer in this space, please see Understanding the different types of Ethernet Switches


It can mean the difference between dependable service and frustrating downtime

When considering buying a new switch for your small business, you need to ask yourself a few questions: How many devices will the switch need to support? What kinds of devices will I be connecting? Has our network grown to the point where we need a switch with more advanced management capabilities? And don’t forget one more important decision: whether this going to be a “core” or “edge” switch.

What are core and edge switches and why should you care? A core switch is a backbone device, a switch that is central to your network’s successful operation. You use it to connect to servers, your Internet service provider (ISP) via a router, and to aggregate all switches that your company uses to connect crucial pieces of equipment that your company can’t afford to lose to downtime. As a result, your core switch should always be a fast, full-featured managed switch.

Managed switches, such as the Cisco 300 Series, include a web-based, command line, and/or SNMP management interface that allows you to monitor network traffic and troubleshoot problems. Other advanced features include support for IPv6 for user traffic and management; built-in quality-of-service controls to keep critical applications running smoothly; and security capabilities such as BPDU Guard, DOS prevention, and advanced ACLs to keep the network secure.

A small company with fewer than 100 employees should function well with one core switch. However, as your business—and your network—grow, you might need to expand the number of core switches to two or more. In this case, you might want to consider stackable switches, which further simplify management.

Saving money with edge switches

Edge switches, on the other hand, connect client devices, such as laptops, desktops, security cameras, and wireless access points, to your network. For this reason, edge switches generally are considered less crucial than core switches to a network’s smooth operation. If there are areas of the office such as a conference room where you don’t need the features of a fully managed switch, your company can save some money by installing smart switches, such as the Cisco 200 Series, or even unmanaged switches for use at the edges of your network.

But if you can’t tolerate any downtime whatsoever, want to maintain tight security throughout your office, or have the infrastructure to be able to add multiple different types of applications in the future, you should consider outfitting your entire network with managed switches. For example, you might want to control who’s connected to the network when to avoid unauthorized access as well as to better balance the workload on the network; or, if you’re running voice as well as data over your network and need to ensure call quality and continuity. In these cases, you’ll want managed switches on the “edges,” too.

Fortunately, managed switches are no longer out of reach for small businesses. Not long ago the price gap between managed and smart switches was as much as 40 percent. Today, though, that difference has shrunk to 10 – 20 percent.

If you’re unsure which switch will meet your business’s needs, a local Cisco reseller specializing in networking can help you choose the product that’s just right.

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