The gear I use in my test lab: A look at three Trident+ switches

We put Dell, Cisco and Supermicro head to head

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Sysadmin blog Buying new infrastructure does matter. Even small business need a basic set of features and equipment that meets industry standards, not just some proprietary vendor ones. But most businesses simply don't need the bleeding edge. Let's look at an upcoming switch replacement as an example.

This customer is going to need to move to 10 GbE switching for at least some ports. They will likely need at least 32 ports of 10GbE and at least another 90(ish) ports of 1GbE. It would be super neat-o if any 1GbE switches could connect up to the 10GbE switch at 10GbE speeds instead of having to waste a bunch of 10GbE ports on trunking together 1GbE links. So what's out there?

Talk to my Cisco-certified colleagues is a bit like conversing with a breakfast cereal. All I hear is "snap crackle pop" as they talk about how I should really be getting a Cisco Nexus 7000-series chassis and filling it with switching cards so everything is just one big switch. The costs they casually throw around are mind-numbing.

One amongst the Cisco types eventually came up with a good suggestion and said I would investigate the Cisco Nexus 3064-T. It is one of Cisco's merchant silicon switches, priced around $15k, if you know where to look. It is a 48 port 10GbE with 4 port 40GbE and apparently comes in a cheaper model as the 3064-32T, which only has 32 10GbE ports enabled and you turn the rest on with licensing.

My experiences with my Dell PowerConnect 8132F have been phenomenal, so I looked at what they have in this range. The Dell N4064 is a 48 port 10GbE switch that can have up to four 40GbE ports and can be had for $12,500 if I work at it.

Last but by no means least is my personal favourite, the Supermicro SSE-X3348T. This is a 48 port 10GbE with four-port 40GbE, just like the Cisco Nexus 3064-T. I personally have one of these for my work test lab and it is has won my affection. It is a glorious, gorgeous tank of a switch, but that isn't to say the others aren't too. After all, even D-Link can build a switch that lasts 15 years.

The basics

The Cisco switch is going to be the most feature packed. I can also probably expect that new features will be added to the Cisco NX-OS operating system that powers this switch over the supported life of the device. Cisco has a decent track record here.

This isn't to say the Dell or the Supermicro are slouches. Both vendors support their switches with bug, security and compatibility fixes. Unfortunately, neither vendor has a good reputation providing new features or new protocol support.

Dell does provide new features to its Powerconnect switches, however, they tend to come all in one lump with a major firmware update and tend to lag Cisco's deployment of those same features. Supermicro does add new features to its switches, but these additions are something of a rarity. With Supermicro, unless a feature addition is heavily requested, you'll get what you bought and they'll make sure it can talk to switches from other vendors for the life of the model.

Fortunately, this probably does matter. Both Dell and Supermicro switches come with more features than I would ever use and certainly enough for today's SMBs. They support industry standards and so should be relatively futureproof, and I don't need to buy a license to enable to unlock different features.

All three vendors sell 48-port 1GbE switches with at least a pair of 10GbE ports. Trunking between the 1GbE and the 10GbE switches should be possible. I could combine multiple 10GbE ports form the small switches into a single link connected to a 40GbE ports on the large switch using a breakout cable.

Unfortunately, stacking the smaller and larger switches (treating all switches and allowing them to be administered with a single user interface) doesn't seem possible with any vendor. They really only seem to like stacking models of similar generations.


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