HP boosts flexibility with enterprise-level switches

HP boosts flexibility with enterprise-level switches

Buying an enterprise-level switch for your network can be like buying a car: if you make the wrong decision, you may have to live with it for years. If only we could change our minds about some decisions. However, two new switches from Hewlett-Packard give you the luxury to change your mind after your initial purchase. Both the ProCurve Switch 1600M and the ProCurve Switch 8000M support different Ethernet topologies via plug-in modules. I found these switches not only flexible, but affordable, easy to configure, and a snap to manage.

Their configurations are flexible, so both can fit into a number of locations in the network. The single-slot 1600M is a good fit for aggregating high-speed servers or workstations, and the small-chassis 8000M is suitable as a high-density edge switch or as a decent small-enterprise backbone switch.

Both of these boxes offer Layer 3 switching, which reduces the need for a router by reducing broadcasts and multicasts and uses a store-and-forward method with a bus speed in excess of 3Gbps to shorten packet latency.

Although these switches offer a plethora of configuration choices, they still face competition from 3Com and Cisco devices. The SuperStack II 3300, from 3Com, offers a lower price per port, but it lacks the flexibility of the HP 1600M. The Cisco Catalyst 5505, however, gives the 8000M a run for its money. Nonetheless, the 8000M has a lower price per port.

Bolstered by HP's support and reputation, these two switches are a solid buy. Both have a small, single chassis that provides high port density; there's also a lifetime warranty from HP.

HP has a useful management scheme for these switches. I set up both through a standard console to enable the in-band Web-based manager. The process was straightforward; I didn't even have to glance at the manual.

I configured each switch with an IP address and subnet mask, rebooted them, and started using the slick, albeit somewhat slow, manager application. The Web-based manager gave me quite a bit of information on each switch - including, for example, port utilisation, with a display of some types of packet traffic and percentages of errors at each port. Below the port utilisation view was the alert log, which gave me information on alert conditions, including a broadcast storm.

In addition to the Web-based interface, both switches have support for Management Information Base (MIB) and four-group RMON, and they work with HP OpenView. Beginning in September, HP will package with both switches its TopTools for Hubs and Switches, a GUI-based SNMP management and traffic-monitoring tool.

Both of these switches support four modules: 10/100Base-TX with eight ports, 100Base-FX with four ports, 10Base-FL with four ports, and a single 1000Base-SX port. All of these modules are hot-swappable. The 1600M has 16 integrated Ethernet/Fast Ethernet ports in addition to a single-module slot. In the configuration I tested, the box had a single 1000Base-SX module.

The 8000M can support as many as 10 modules. The configuration I tested had three modules: 10/100, 10Base-FL, and 1000Base-SX. The 8000M has a slot for a redundant power supply.

I was impressed with the front panel of both switches. In addition to the standard console port, reset/clear switch, and status LEDs, there is a button that allowed me to toggle the port lights to display activity, full or half duplex, or Ethernet/Fast Ethernet status. This capability gave me lots of information without taking up a lot of real estate.

Some of the most enticing capabilities include support for Automatic Broadcast Control (which offers a reduction in broadcast traffic to each port), 802.1q VLAN (virtual LAN) support, port trunking using Cisco's Fast EtherChannel, and Internet Group Management Protocol support, which reduces multicast traffic on the switches.

One of the unique features that I didn't have a chance to test is the capability for switch meshing. This is the ability to use from three to 12 HP switches as a single logical switch at Layer 2. Each switch uses the best path between source and destination to shorten packet latency and increase redundancy. This creates a virtual backplane between the switches.

If you're looking for switches that can grow with your network, and are strongly supported by HP, then I'd recommend both the ProCurve Switch 1600M and 8000M.

The Bottom Line

HP ProCurve Switch 8000M

The highly customisable ProCurve 8000M, a chassis-based switch, suits enterprise environments well and can be easily upgraded for future growth.

Pros: Extremely flexible; easy to configure; extensive management capabilities; well-respected brand name; good supportCons: Slow Java-based consolePlatforms: IndependentPrice: varies according to configurationThe Bottom LineHP ProCurve Switch 1600MHP's ProCurve 1600M is an easy-to-manage 10/100Mbps switch for aggregating high-speed servers or workstations.

Pros: Semi-flexible configuration with single plug-in module; strong management tools and support structure; well-respected brand nameCons: Slow Java-based consolePlatforms: IndependentPrice: varies according to configuration. Contact HP for detailsHewlett-PackardTel 13 1347(

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