Less Downtime, More Productivity with an Advanced Switch

An advanced switch with performance, security, and availability features is the heart of every high-availability network

Most of today’s advanced communications and business applications have been scaled for the small business. Smaller companies are using technologies like cloud computing, mobile computing, and IP voice to grow their business and connect more personally with customers. Unfortunately, these data-hungry applications can quickly slow down small business networks, which aren’t always built for such a demanding environment. To keep these applications—and your business—running continuously at top speed, your network must be built for high availability, performance, and security.

A high-availability (HA) network is fast, reliable, and redundant, and it has a minimum of unplanned downtime; it’s a network that lets employees stay online and remain productive as much as possible. Because an HA network is critical to most businesses, it’s usually built with network components, particularly switches, that have features that provide maximum bandwidth, increased security, and built-in redundancy. You can increase network availability and improve performance by upgrading to a more powerful, HA small business switch with advanced capabilities, such as the new Cisco 500 Series Stackable Managed Switches. (High availability is just one must-have technology for small businesses in 2012—find more about the others here.)

High availability means the switch is on and network uptime is maximized. So, an HA switch increases the reliability of the network and makes it more resilient. In a small business switch like the Cisco 500 Series, look for true stacking, which lets you manage and configure more than one switch in a stack as though it’s a single device with one IP address. In a stack, if one switch fails, the other switch (or switches) will continue to pass traffic across the network. Stacking not only makes a network more resilient and available, but also makes it easier to manage as it grows.

An additional layer of resiliency with support for the Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP) may be offered by an HA switch, such as Cisco 500X. VRRP lets you extend the same resiliency that stacking provides for individual switches to complete network domains. By running VRRP between two stacks, you can instantly cut over from one stack to another in the event of a problem and continue operating even after a failure.

Another important feature is quality of service (QoS). It lets you optimize the flow of traffic and ensure that critical applications always have the priority they need. With QoS and other traffic management features, such as static and dynamic Layer 3 routing, you can improve the performance of the network.

An advanced switch also typically has features to improve performance and security. The switch should provide enough bandwidth for demanding communications applications like IP-based voice and video, so look for a switch that supports Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, or even 10 Gigabit Ethernet 10 (GbE) connections. If the traffic on your network is sluggish at Fast Ethernet speeds, switch to Gigabit Ethernet. If you’re already running Gigabit Ethernet and you need even more bandwidth—or you want your network to be able to continue growing with new applications— upgrade to 10 GbE, which is 10 times faster than Gigabit Ethernet. A mature technology now, 10 GbE has come down in price enough to be appealing to smaller companies. It’s fully backwards compatible with Gigabit Ethernet, so 10 GbE can easily fit into your current network infrastructure and applications. The Cisco 500 Series switches come in 24- and 48-port Fast Ethernet models, 28- and 52-port Gigabit Ethernet models, and 24- and 48-port Gigabit Ethernet models with optional 10 GbE ports.

An advanced switch also bolsters network security, so it’s less likely to suffer downtime due to an attack or other security breach. Security features should include access control lists (ACLs ) that let you give certain people access to particular resources on the network, VLANs that you can set up to separate different types of traffic on the network (including guest traffic), and encryption. Also, advanced defense mechanisms such as dynamic Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) inspection, IP Source Guard, and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) discover, detect, and block deliberate network attacks.

An advanced small business switch like the Cisco 500 Series provides a solid foundation for your current applications while giving you room to expand as your business grows. Look for future-proofing features like support for IPv6, the next-generation Internet protocol, and expansion slots. Also, when upgrading to a more advanced switch, make sure it’s built for the small business, affordable, and easy to deploy and manage. Moving to an HA network is a key step in upgrading your network for the future.

Have you made the switch to an advanced small business switch with high availability, performance, and security features? Share your experience!

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