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How to Choose a Right Data Center Switch

August 30, 2021


Regardless of your reasons for choosing a data center switch, you always want to invest in the right product that will serve your needs the best. For most enterprises, the decision to replace the traditional LAN/SAN Ethernet switches with the most modern switches is a significant investment. To avoid poor choices and bad buys, we've compiled a list of factors you should consider when making the upgrade.

What You Should Look For in a Data Center Switch

Before deciding to upgrade your network infrastructure, there are those limitations you are trying to overcome. Maybe it's the increase in east-west traffic or the need for higher port speeds. Either way that should be the main, but not the only factor to consider. Here are the other things to keep in mind.

Network Design

There are two main network designs in the market, the ToR (Top of Rack) and the EoR (End of Row) design. If you plan on installing a new data center network, you may want to consider the major differences or the pros and cons of the two network designs. However, if you already have an existing network and cabling system in place, it only makes sense to invest in the same network design to avoid extra costs.

Size, Number of Ports, and Data Rate

Data center switches come in varying sizes. Choosing the right size for your business will depend on the current and future data flow. A large switch requires more resources to install and will serve your current and future needs. A smaller switch is economical, but you'll have to install it in a top-of-rack manner to prevent bottlenecks.

The size of fiber connections that you'll need should also be well considered. It's advisable to make up your mind early enough on the connectivity that you will be using. Fiber interconnectivity varies from 10 Gbps, 25 Gbps to 40Gbps, and even more.

Data center switches also have varying port types and numbers, so you should know what you need now and make a reasonable estimate on what you'll need in the future.

Your Vendor

Having a great support network from your vendor is critical. When choosing a vendor, go through the user testimonials and reviews to find one with a good reputation. Evaluate them by their services, i.e., software advancements and configurations, hardware spare and replacements, and troubleshooting support. Having a reachable vendor that can provide such services at a competitive price is a great deal.

Reliability

Reliability is another critical factor you should consider when purchasing a data center switch. Here, paying higher prices doesn't necessarily mean you are buying a reliable product. That means going for a brand name isn't always the solution. Instead, you want to compare your needs to the vendor's offerings. Critical aspects such as the data center switch uptime, lifespan, warranty, and technical support can tell a lot about the product's reliability.

Additionally, you want a switch with enough RAM and a content addressable memory (CAM) table. A reliable switch should have the capability to automate as well as support newer protocols such as EVPN and VXLAN. That said, the switching capacity and latency will also affect the switch's reliability to a greater extent, so you should keep them in mind.

Cooling and Airflow

Before buying a switch, you should know that the way you install and connect the switches will affect the quality of airflow and cooling. If the cables block the airflow, that could mean a reduced lifetime due to overheating, which could cause premature failure.

Similarly, the airflow direction of the switches influences the data center cooling. For instance, if the connections are located in the front of the servers, you should choose front-to-back cooling. However, if the connections are located on the back of the servers, you should go for back-to-front cooling.

A small disruption for a couple of hours or days may not cause serious harm inside the data center. However, a design problem that's overlooked for months and even years could mean frequent downtimes and even costly repairs and upgrades.

Picking the Right Data Center Switch

Another thing to keep in mind is the data center redundancy that will provide backup in case of downtimes. Here, you should talk with your IT team and choose the right configuration before making any hard choices. The redundancy level you'll need often depends on factors such as your IT environment, your budget, reliability needs, and your business goals.

Now that you know what to look for in a switch, what's left is to narrow down your options to that one type. Before picking a switch, remember that your choice should first serve your most essential needs.

When picking a data center switch from the flooded market, a rule of thumb is to seek professional advice, i.e., if you aren't an expert in the field. Where possible, have one of your IT guys around. A professional will better understand some technical terms such as buffer size, latency, and even port speeds, helping you avoid confusion so you can pick the right product.

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