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Fully managed networks

Computer networks are the arteries of most businesses these days. Along with the computer, a network makes many things possible. Like anything computer related though, if it isn’t managed carefully, a network can quickly grow out of control, become unstable and cause errors. One way to prevent this is for the network to be fully managed.

A fully managed network is created when all the network switches on the network are manageable. Usually these devices come with dedicated management software that can manage multiple switches at once, as well as a web interface, SSH access etc… These switches can include some features that used to belong in routers, as well as offering VLAN support, MAC address lockdown, traffic management, Quality of Service etc…

A standard switch offers none of this, it simply provides a connection and some other low level technical features that you cannot do anything about.

Managed switches are still far more expensive than their unmanaged siblings, but the price in the long term is worth it. Happily, the price of managed switches have come down in the last couple of years, as well as increasing their features and power.

I’ve noticed that there are many brands of switch out there. Some manufacturers try to convince people that they have managed switches by calling them WebSmart or whatever, but in reality those are only semi managed. Just because a switch has a web interface doesn’t mean it is fully managed.

Our network at my job has just become fully managed. I don’t know how many schools around Cape Town have this in place, but it would be interesting to know. With the exception of one 5 and 8 port mini switches, the entire network is built on HP ProCurve switches. The main switch is the 2900-24G, while the rest is mainly 2610-24’s along with two 2610-48’s and two 2524’s. These devices replaced a number of unmanaged Dlink and Cnet switches.

Although not directly related to this, during the course of last year we also cleaned up the cabling in the various switch cabinets around the school building. My colleague and I terminated the floor cables into patch panels, added brush panels and put new fly leads in. Rewiring the classrooms and other venues is an ongoing process however, as a lot of work is still needed there.

As a result of this upgrade and the server migration that happened last year, the network is at its fastest and most stable level ever. The removal of extra protocols helped one way, while the fact that the fiber backbone is now running at 1Gbps to all switches plays a large role as well.

The next goal I have is to learn how to use ProCurve Manager correctly. I’m not too fond of the program, it is mainly written in Java and is a bit of pain to run on Windows Vista/7. However, it offers the best way to manage our network, offering features in GUI format that would have had me scratching in each switches’ command line environment.

In summary, when any organization goes past a certain point in their network size, it pays to move to a fully managed network. Although expensive, the end results are well worth it. In the hands of a skilled network administrator, a fully managed network is a powerful asset.

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