Switches: defining traffic management

The humble switch has become a very important product in the eyes of the enterprise, and while the traditional managed and unmanaged switches are still important, the new hybrid switch is starting to take centre stage, writes Piers Ford.

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Switches: defining traffic management
By  Piers Ford Published  January 30, 2013

The humble switch has become a very important product in the eyes of the enterprise, and while the traditional managed and unmanaged switches are still important, the new hybrid switch is starting to take centre stage, writes Piers Ford.

These are heady days for the switch market in the Middle East. Most of the trends that are central to the evolution of the corporate IT infrastructure – data centre consolidation, the rise of virtualisation, increased security concerns (particularly where businesses seek to realise the benefits of the cloud by outsourcing aspects of their IT environment), and the growing reliance on web-based applications, have a direct impact on network performance and capacity.

What used to be the humble switch is now a major strategic product for the network manager charged with ensuring guaranteed service levels and availability. And while the unmanaged switch still has a role to play at local level, providing basic functionality and secure uplinks, the eyes of the enterprise, and increasingly, SMBs who can afford to be nimble in their IT deployment, are today focused on the benefits of sophisticated managed switches that allow the infinite fine tuning of traffic management across the IT network.

Managed switches; what are they?

Ports on a managed switch can be adjusted individually so that in theory, a network can be configured in any way that suits the business. Data management and access can be monitored and controlled, and the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) gives the network manager a constant real-time view of connection and port status, traffic throughput and errors. They are, by definition, a more complex product than unmanaged switches – and more expensive – and they will usually require a degree of technical expertise to implement them.

While the traditional plug-and-play unmanaged switch will still meet the need for basic, intra-device connectivity at a local level, even smaller businesses are now looking at how managed switches can bring greater flexibility and scalability to their networks. Vendors are responding with switches that offer an increasingly integrated set of features, including firewalls, wireless capability, enhanced security and virtual private networks.

The latest noise around Software Defined Networks – the promise of programmable infrastructures that will allow a much greater degree of flexibility in creating and delivering services and virtual networks – is already raising expectations among network managers.

The demand for application-intelligent networks that can meet the demands of multi-media data, and provide comprehensive and automated manageability, has never been higher.

Predictable performance, the ability to respond rapidly to any kind of power or technology failure, virtualisation capability and unified network services are all on the network manager’s wish-list – and switches are the meeting point for delivery.

“Network managers should consider acquiring a network that simplifies network architecture and automates configuration and management tasks, while providing enterprise-grade flexibility, security, and scalability for wired and wireless access,” says Samer Ismair, MENA-Systems Engineer, at network solutions specialist Brocade.

“It is very important to avoid the trap of over-engineered, over-priced, and hard-to-manage campus networks. And it has to meet the requirements of the most demanding applications with a network that keeps running, no matter what.”

“The Middle East switch market is very active with many green field projects,” explains Vittorio Brini, regional technical consultants manager at IT solutions specialist Gulf Business Machines (GBM).

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