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Choosing The Right Switch - Learn How

By Chris Bricker  posted November 29th, 2011 at 4:30PM EST

One of the things you might criticize Cisco for is the confusing proliferation of switches. Not only are there obscurely named switch models that sound similar but are quite different, but Cisco's new 'integration' direction means that switching capabilities can be added to many (most) routers, and many of Cisco's integrated devices (like the Cisco UC 500 Series) have switching built-in.

On top of that, many of Cisco's older model switches are perfectly good for many functions, buy create even additional confusion because of their naming. What's a buyer to do?!? Unless you want to take up model comparison as an avocation, you might consider asking someone who knows (like us)!

Cisco Switches Explained (briefly)

Buying on the basis of expertise may save you from really bad buying decision consequences. That aside, here are some basic naming features of switches that will at least give you a head start:

  • First of all, the current higher end Cisco switches are the Catalyst 3560 Series and Catalyst 3750 Series (similar except the 3750s are stackable). These nearly all have mini-uplink ports (1gig or 10gig), plus FE or GigE main ports. If you see a "G" after the model (like 3560G) it means that all the ports are gigabit, while if you see an "E" (as in the Cisco 3560 E Series or Cisco 3750 E Series) it means they are gigabit and the uplink ports are 10gig.

  • Those without G or E have all FE ports plus gigabit uplinks. If you see an "X" the switch has FE ports and configurable power and uplink ports. These switches can also vary in their PoE support (power over ethernet), power supply types, and management level (2 or 3) - also with special designations in the model number (check with us for details)

  • For Small Business - Cisco's Catalyst 2960 Series is a more economical line, with the same rules as above, while the Catalyst Express 500 Series and Catalyst Express 520 Series (CE-5XX) versions are designed for small businesses and are web-configurable only.

  • Cisco's Catalyst 3750 Metro Series (ME) are designed to connect to enduser termination points to deliver voice, video, and data.

  • Cisco's new ESW 500 Small Business Series is designed for small business, and can work intelligently in tandem with other small business devices (like the Cisco UC 500 Series)

  • Cisco Nexus NX series switches are designed to connect optical fabric networks at gigabit and 10gigabit speeds.

  • Older, more economical gigabit models include the 2970G (WS-C2970G-24T-E or WS-C2970G-24TS-E) and one specific version of the 3750G.

  • Older, economical 10/100 switches include the Catalyst 2950 Series and Catalyst 3550 Series, which also have gigabit uplink versions, as well as limited PoE support.

We'd like to say this is the 'full picture' but it's not. It's a brief overview of a complex topic, but hopefully enough to get you started. As always, we are here to help.