Dell's PowerConnect 5324 delivers high-capacity switching power and even some enterprise featuresFollow @pvenezia
Sometimes, a switch is just a switch. Sometimes, it’s worth another look. Dell has long been looking to expand its reach beyond servers in the datacenter, hoping to capitalize on the small to midsize business that needs high-capacity switching power but isn’t ready to spring for a Cisco-powered network. The Dell PowerConnect 5324 is the most recent example of this initiative.
Clearly aimed at an infrastructure looking to increase the bandwidth available to servers without breaking the budget, the PowerConnect 5324’s $1,199 price tag hits the mark. It delivers in the network, too, performing well enough for small server aggregation tasks or high-throughput workgroup implementations.
Like other Dell switching products, the 5324 is a 24-port switch with four shared ports. These four ports can be used as either copper or fiber but not both. The fiber ports are SFP (small form-factor pluggable) gigabit ports, and all copper ports on the 5324 are 10/100/1000 auto-negotiating Ethernet ports. The use of SFP ports is a benefit to smaller infrastructures; SFP modules not only cost far less than standard gigabit interface converters, but they support both single- and multi-mode fiber.
Solid Spec Sheet
The broad strokes of Ethernet switching are evident in the 5324. Via the decidedly Cisco-like CLI or the Web interface, most of the features you would expect from a managed switch are present. These include 802.1q VLANs, LACP (Link Aggregation Control Protocol) link aggregation, TACACS+ (Terminal Access Controller Access Control System) and RADIUS authentication, IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol), GARP (Generic Attribute Registration Protocol), port and VLAN mirroring, STP (Spanning Tree Protocol) and RSTP (Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol) support, jumbo frame, auto-negotiation for speed and duplex, auto-MDIX (medium dependent interface crossover), and even rudimentary QoS support. The 5324 also supports redundant power via Dell’s RPS-600 power supply.
Another important feature found in the 5324 is port-based authentication via 802.1x and EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) to a RADIUS server, permitting implementation of network-layer access control. Also worth noting is a novel feature that allows admins to perform basic cable integrity testing.
Dell claims that the 5324 has a top-end switch fabric capacity of 48Gbps and a forwarding rate of 35.6 million packets per second; the forwarding table can handle as many as 8,000 MAC addresses. These specs balanced against the low price make the 5324 attractive for nearly any high-bandwidth application.
In practice, the PowerConnect 5324 drives identically to its elder brethren, with only minor changes to the interfaces since I last looked at the PowerConnect line. This switch does seem to have more horsepower than the 3000 series, and the hardware has been updated, showing Dell’s efforts to improve the base. For a switch built like the 5324, more power is definitely desirable.
I threw a few billion packets at the 5324 in the lab, using dual NICs on three dual-processor servers running TCP streaming tests back and forth for several hours, accompanied by pingfloods from other servers to monitor accurate packet traversal under load. The 5324 handled these tests with no packet loss.