Need a switch? Here’s our Top 10 list of Features

The ideal switch will protect your small business network and give your company room to grow

A reliable network is the foundation for any successful business; regardless of whether you’re a florist or GM. Your network connects your business to the outside world, allows your employees to be more productive, and gives you low-cost ways to better serve your customers.

A key cornerstone of any network is the switch: It connects all the computers, printers, servers, and storage devices in your office, giving your employees access to shared resources. A switch keeps data traffic moving efficiently, keeps unauthorized users from accessing sensitive data and allows you to add new users as your business grows.

Here’s a list of the Top 10 features to consider when purchasing a switch:

  1. Easy to configure: Look for a switch that provides common configurations for all the devices you might connect it to, including PCs, printers, and IP phones. For example, Cisco Smartports technology lets you click on a port and assign a configuration for a device, such as for an IP Phone. The switch then automatically configures that port to support the phone.
  2. Easy to manage: A managed switch gives you more control over the traffic traveling in and out of your network. Make sure it offers a Web-based user interface so you can easily handle setup, security, and traffic prioritization. The switch should also include an easy-to-use device discovery tool to help connect it to other devices on your network. Also look for advanced features such as remote management and online software upgrades.
  3. Energy efficiency: Switches consume a surprising amount of energy because they’re always on. Make sure you find one with features that optimize power use, such as a fanless chassis. A “green” switch can help you save money by cutting back on utility bills, so it’s good for your business as well as the environment.
  4. Power-over-Ethernet ports: A switch with power-over-Ethernet (PoE) ports instantly becomes another source of power in your office. PoE, also called “in-line power,” lets the switch provide electricity to networked-attached devices, such as video cameras, IP phones, wireless access points, point-of-sale devices, or security card readers. Using PoE switches gives you more placement options for devices and eliminates the need for separate power supplies, as well as the costs of running additional cable and circuits.
  5. Quality-of-Service (QoS) support: QoS gives priority to certain types of network traffic, such as real-time voice data. For example, QoS gives priority to telephone traffic over e-mail traffic, ensuring that the quality of a phone call isn’t degraded when someone downloads a large file.
  6. Security features: I can’t stress enough the importance of network security, and a switch with built-in security features is a must-have in order to protect a businesses vital data.  Look for a switch that includes the following:
    • embedded security for encrypting network communications
    • access control lists (ACLs) for restricting areas of the network from unauthorized users and guarding against network attacks
    • virtual LANS (VLANs) for segmenting the network to separte work groups or grant visitors access to the Internet without giving them access toall areas of your network.
  7. Support for IPv6: This is the newest version of the Internet Protocol (IP), which is the technology computers use to send data to each other over the Internet. Purchasing a switch that supports IPv6 now ensures that it will continue to work with next-generation networking applications, operating systems, and other devices as they become available.
  8. Expandability: Choose a switch that can grow with your business. As your business grows and you’ll need to support more users and devices, your network needs to be able to support that growth and maintain a high level of performance. 
  9. Interoperability: Getting locked into one vendor for all your technology needs is a concern for many small businesses. Choose a switches that are built to work with other devices and are part of proven designs.  This will protect your investment long into the future.
  10. Support for multiple native languages: Your switch should be able to be used in any location by any employee, regardless of the local language. For a switch to offer true multiple language support, the user interfaces and documentation should be translated in several languages, including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and simplified Chinese.

Of course, your criteria for purchasing a switch will vary, but these Top 10 features will serve as a solid baseline when researching your options. Have you purchased or researched a switch lately? How do these features stack up against your criteria?

Check out the Cisco 300 Series Switches.

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