Dell drops the cost of managed gigabit switching
Thinking big at the low endFollow @pvenezia
About six months ago I found that I needed one more gigabit port for a project I was working on. The Cisco gigabit copper switch I had was full. In a hurry, I ordered a cheap, no-frills, unmanaged eight-port gigabit switch for $139 plus shipping. I was thrilled. It wasn't pretty, and it certainly wasn't enterprise-class, but it got the job done.
Now Dell has introduced the PowerConnect 2700 switches. Dell's new eight-port model, the PowerConnect 2708, would run me $139 as well, but it includes Web-based management, 802.1q VLAN support, LAG (Link Aggregation Group) link aggregation, rudimentary QoS, jumbo frame support, port mirroring, and even an integrated cable tester. That's a whole lot for a whole little.
The PowerConnect 2700 series switches also include 16- and 24-port models, the PowerConnect 2716 and 2724, respectively. All three models are identical, aside from the port count, and the PowerConnect 2724 adds two SFP (Small Form Factor Pluggable) slots for optical transceivers, making it a potential closet switch fed via a fiber link. These SFP ports don't give you more than 24 ports: They double as copper ports but cannot be used simultaneously with their copper counterparts.
Aimed squarely at small and midsize businesses, the PowerConnect 2700 switches attempt to bridge the gap between managed and unmanaged switching while maintaining a low price point. Naturally, this means that many higher-end features were left on the drawing board.
For instance, these switches have no serial console capability. When powered up, they are completely inaccessible via IP, but by pressing the recessed "Management Mode" button on the front, the unit will reboot and enable the Web management with the default to a 192.168.2.1 IP address. This unique feature is necessary, since IP conflicts could easily result due to administrator inexperience. Once triggered, the switch awaits configuration. Of course, there's no requirement to configure anything. If nothing else, you should change the default log-in.
The PowerConnect 2700 series also lacks a command-line interface. Once you're on the network, the only way to manage these switches is via a Web browser. The Web interface closely matches the look and feel of Dell's OpenManage framework, so current Dell customers will feel right at home. From the management page every port can be configured for link speed, duplex, and flow control. LAG membership can be assigned, port mirroring configured, and so forth. The major features lacking in the PowerConnect 2700 switching OS are spanning tree, discovery protocol support, and SNMP access. If you don't mind the Web interface being the only route to the brains of the switch, the extremely low cost should make the other omissions bearable. On the plus side, I drove the management interface with Mozilla Firefox as well as Internet Explorer.
The PowerConnect 2700 series switches are a great fit for small businesses, and that's where they should stay. During testing I quickly rendered the management interface useless by sending a floodping to the switch IP address, proving that the switch management isn't exactly robust. In a complex, high-traffic environment these switches would probably be eaten alive.
But remember, even the 24-port PowerConnect 2724 costs about half the list price of a Cisco 1000SX fiber GBIC (Gigabit Interface Converter). In a small server farm or at the edge of the network, these switches should provide solid service for a truly astonishing price -- until it's time to move into the big leagues.