This blog is looking at measuring the costs and benefits of three different vendors of switching hardware to provide a recommendation on the differences.
Three switches purchased for this comparison and the associated cost of purchase at time of purchase are below. All three are Gigabit-Ethernet Switches with at list two ports available for MIBs (multi-purpose swappable physical connections) and all support Power-over-Ethernet.
During the comparison we will look at the physical and software-based features of each switch, the support model and (where possible) performance data.
The first physical difference between the switches is the power supplies. Both the Dell and Cisco switch come with the standard “C13” style power supply, the HP comes with the “C15” power supply which would require consideration when purchasing a new switch. These power cables (C14 to C15) are inexpensive.
Connectivity-wise both the Cisco and HP switches come with 4 ports available for MIBs (or SFP’s) whereas the Dell comes with 2 dedicated HDMI ports for stacking functionality and 2 MIB ports. The other 2 switches are not capable of stacking although the HP has “Virtual Stacking” technology.
All switches support PoE but have different limitations, the Cisco switch supports all 48 ports at 15.4W with the option of up to 24 ports running at 30W. The HP supports up to 30W per port, but has a maximum PoE power usage of 382W (max 12 x 30W ports). The Dell only supports 24 ports running at 15.4W unless an optional extra power supply is purchased, which would bring it up to 48 ports at 15.4W. It should be noted that the maximum power draw per port we currently use for PoE devices at Zeta House is 15.4W for the wireless access points.
I have compiled a table of comparison specifications using information available on the manufacturer’s websites, please find this below:
|Make||Model||Ports||Uplinks||Available PoE Power||Stacking||PoE Ports|
|Cisco||2960S-48FPS-L||48||4 SFP||24 up to 30W48 up to 15.4W Total 740W||Optional (No)||48|
|HP||2530-48G-PoE+ (J9772A)||48||4 SFP||Up to 30W per portTotal 382W||No (virtual stacking)||48|
|Dell||PowerConnect 5548P||48||2 SFP||15.4W on 24 ports, 15.4W on 48 ports with optional extra power supply||Yes 2 x HDMI||24 (48 with power supply)|
|Make||Model||Advertised Switching Capacity||Flash Memory||RAM||Throughput (forwarding)||Operating Temp Range|
|Cisco||2960S-48FPS-L||176Gbps||64MB||128MB||77.4 mpps||-5 – 45oC|
|HP||2530-48G-PoE+ (J9772A)||104Gbps||128MB||256MB||77.3 mpps||0 – 45oC|
|Dell||PowerConnect 5548P||176Gbps||16MB||1GB||100.2 mpps||0 – 40oC|
|Make||Model||Operating Humidity Range (noncondensing)||MAC Address Table Size||Max Power Consumption (theoretical)||Price||Mean Time Between Failures|
|Cisco||2960S-48FPS-L||10 – 95%||8000||870W||Expensive £££||189,242 hours|
|HP||2530-48G-PoE+ (J9772A)||15 – 90%||16000||476W||Low Cost£||Unknown (not advertised)|
|Dell||PowerConnect 5548P||10 – 90%||16000||542W||Midrange££||Unknown (not advertised)|
Software and Functionality Features
The first thing to note regarding the 3 switches is that all three switches provide access via http to a GUI. However, in terms of options and configuration settings inside the GUI the Dell switch offers the most, the HP the second most and the Cisco the least. Both the Dell and HP also offer the ability to update the firmware using the GUI, whilst the Cisco does not.
When configuring the switches via the CLI the Dell switch uses a very similar command structure to the well-known Cisco IOS software running on the Cisco, with a slight difference in the way corrections are made which is a mild annoyance in use (also seen in the Cisco Small Business range of switches). The HP uses its own command structure.
All three of the switches appear to support all of the functionality we currently use on Access Layer switches within the business except for one part missing for the HP. I have prepared a table showing most of the supported functionality of each of the switches, with the functions we have used or are used within the business are highlighted in green. This information is again gathered from the manufacturer’s websites and as not all of the information is easy to find there may be some features missing here.
|Name||Standards and Compliance||Cisco||HP||Dell|
|Traffic Prioritization (CoS/QoS)||802.1p||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Port-based Network Access Control||802.1X||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Link Aggregation (LACP)||802.3ad||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Energy Efficient Ethernet||802.3az||Yes||Yes|
|IP Multicast and IGMP||RFC 1112||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|SNMP v1||RFC 1157||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|IP Addresses||RFC 1166||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ICMP Router Discovery||RFC 1256||Yes|
|Bridge MIB||RFC 1493||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|BOOTP extensions||RFC 1542||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Ethernet Interface MIB||RFC 1643||Yes||Yes|
|SNMP v2C||RFC 1901||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|SNMP v2||RFC 1902-1907||Yes||Yes|
|MTU Path Discovery IPv6||RFC 1981||Yes||Yes|
|IF MIB v3||RFC 2233||Yes||Yes|
|IPv6 Aggregatable Addrs||RFC 2373||Yes|
|IPv6 Neighbor Discovery||RFC 2461||Yes||Yes|
|IPv6 Autoconfiguration||RFC 2462||Yes||Yes|
|ICMP IPv6||RFC 2463||Yes||Yes|
|DiffServ Precedence||RFC 2474||Yes|
|Assured Forwarding||RFC 2597||Yes||Yes|
|Expedited Forwarding||RFC 2598||Yes||Yes|
|SNMP Management||RFC 2571||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|DHCP Relay Agent Information Option||RFC 3046||Yes||Yes|
|IGMP v3||RFC 3376||Yes||Yes||Yes|
As you can see the only missing functionality is the DHCP Relay Agent option on the HP switch. From the documentation online it would appear that we need at least the 2600 range of HP switches to have this feature.
The Support Model
All three of the switches offer a version of a Lifetime Limited Hardware Warranty although the HP goes further and includes Lifetime NBD Hardware Replacement (with proof of purchase) and 3 years of 24×7 Technical Support as standard with this switch as well as support for all Software/OS Releases for as long as owned. This applies to all switches purchased after August 1st, 2013.
Cisco’s warranty covers the device as long as it’s owned (with NBD replacement where possible) with these exceptions; 1) Fan and Power supply warranty is limited to 5 years and 2) if the product is discontinued its warranty is limited to 5 years after discontinuation.
Dell’s warranty is similar to the HP warranty but without the Technical Support, therefore it is a better warranty than the Cisco. It is the only company which offers Firmware Maintenance Updates for the life of the product, not just for the length of ownership.
All 3 vendor’s also offer upgrades to the warranty which can be purchased such as Cisco’s SMARTNet. It should be noted that the Dell Technical Support costs are almost negligible when purchased with the switch, they are far greater (around £1000 for 3 years) if purchased after the switch.
Of the 3 switch vendors Cisco is the vendor most team members in IT have used before, simply because it is the current vendor we use.
Some of the members of the team have also had experience managing HP switches before and although there are no qualifications in the team related to this there is a sufficient number of staff that have at least used them. There is a question regarding this particular switch in that it does not appear to have all of the GUI functionality as the Procurve range of HP switches that have mostly been used in the team.
No one has previously supported or managed the Dell switches, although with the highly configurable GUI and the Cisco IOS-like CLI this is not likely to be as much of a problem as it could be.
Performance and Reliability
It is not currently possible to test the performance of the switches and receive accurate stress testing results without dedicated testing hardware and/or software. This would incur extra costs and so no performance data has been retrieved.
In order to find reliability I am again forced to use the manufacturer’s information and statistics but only Cisco advertises the MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) for its hardware which was 189,242 hours. Although they were asked I got no response from Dell or HP regarding this.
External Manufacturer Report
Gartner have compiled a report of the majority of Switching vendors here which measures “Completeness of Vision” against “Ability to Execute”. In this report both Cisco and HP are described as “Leaders” (the best in the field) whilst Dell is described as a “Challenger”.
Gartner also list the strengths and weaknesses of each company as follows:
Cisco continues to be the largest vendor and market share leader in the enterprise wired and wireless infrastructure market. The acquisition of Meraki, the release of the Catalyst 3850 and the modularity of the AP3600 series continue to put a wind into the sails of Cisco’s One Policy, One Management and One Network messaging. A strong channel combined with a global presence means that Cisco continues to be on the shortlist for all access layer opportunities.
Cisco’s Prime Infrastructure and Identity Services Engine (ISE) applications provide management, security and policy network service application functionality for both wired and wireless. Additionally, the vendor has enabled location-based services as part of its Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX), which enables new applications based on network analytics to create business relevance in targeted vertical markets. Cisco focuses on the public sector, healthcare, education, and retail markets, including hospitality. Cisco should be considered for any large enterprise or midmarket opportunity.
The modularity of the AP3600 series provides Cisco with the ability to deliver 802.11n now, and provides an 802.11ac module for upgraded performance.
The new Catalyst 3850 is Cisco’s first IOS-based wireless controller, providing a switching architecture that integrates wireless functionality. The 3850 comes at no incremental cost, compared with the equivalent 3750-X, with an increase in stacking speed and wireless resiliency.
To address the midmarket Cisco has expanded its solution portfolio and acquired Meraki. Cisco Meraki’s cloud-based architecture provides industry-leading device profiling as well as subscription-based cloud applications that include traffic shaping, WAN optimization and content filtering. This solution should be considered for any location that is appropriate for cloud-based management.
Cisco’s CMX allows venues to detect, connect, engage and offer contextual location-based services to their mobile users. CMX provides better location accuracy through the Qualcomm/Cisco relationship, and a dashboard that delivers flow analytics (from the ThinkSmart Technologies acquisition), as well as URL, device and user analytics.
Cisco Prime offers wired and wireless management with integrated user application experience, but execution and delivery on the road map for additional upgrades for a single access layer experience are needed for Prime to remain competitive.
Updates for ISE have been announced in version 1.2, but are not yet shipping. Clients should ensure that necessary functionality is available in the released feature bundles. The lack of packaging flexibility and the initial price tag provide a barrier to reaching SMBs.
Clients should look to Cisco to make progress simplifying and streamlining its combined offerings of Meraki software and hardware solution with Cisco’s existing unified access layer portfolio. Meraki’s device profiling and user interface are often mentioned by Gartner clients as points of differentiation.
Dell defines the edge of the network with the PowerConnect product family, which leverages its internal switching components along with its W-series wireless LAN, delivered through its direct and indirect channels.
The resale of Aruba’s ClearPass under the Dell PowerConnect brand still continues to offer a robust wired and wireless, multivendor client onboarding, security and guest access suite of applications. Combining PowerConnect with Instant wireless LAN allows Dell to be a one-stop shop that has the ability to deliver in any access layer opportunity.
Dell targets enterprises from SMB to large enterprises in over 100 countries. Their campus networking solutions focus on verticals include higher education, healthcare, financial services, public sector and government. Dell should be considered for any global access layer solution for SMBs to large enterprises, and especially where managed services are needed.
Dell maintains one of the largest catalogs of access layer components, in terms of access points and switches appealing to nearly all network design types and price points.
SonicWALL Global Management System is an application or virtual appliance that provides enterprises with a firewall, anti-spam and backup solution to centralize and monitor security policies for remote access or WAN connectivity. The solution provides enhanced security monitoring capabilities for enterprises with a high-risk profile.
OpenManage Network Manager provides a unified network management console for all PowerConnect wired and wireless products.
Dell’s managed services allow enterprises to deploy access layer technology in large corporate installations or many remote facilities without have to bring dedicated IT resources to manage new and often complex technologies.
Dell does not control the development direction of Aruba’s wireless hardware or software products and, therefore, is limited in its ability to address enterprise wireless issues that may arise during the implementation.
Dell does not add any differentiating value to the Aruba ClearPass or AirWave network service applications that would not allow enterprises to separate the Dell components from Aruba during the evaluation or purchasing process.
HP Networking has established itself as a global access layer vendor with its unified wired and wireless FlexCampus solution. HP’s integrated security, policy enforcement and network management application provides a comprehensive solution across wired and wireless components. Its Intelligent Management Center (IMC) also has the ability to provide a single pane of glass for wired and wireless solutions.
HP Networking has a large global sales force that focuses on the education, hospitality and government markets, but should be considered for all opportunities in which the entire access layer (wired and wireless connectivity) is being replaced. Every organization should at least consider and competitively include HP in all network evaluations of any size; we mainly see HP considered for SMB opportunities.
HP provides multivendor wired and wireless management of over 6,000 devices from over 220 third-party vendors, which provides end-to-end access layer management from a single managed application.
HP’s sales channel, as well as its service/support, provides global reach and access to opportunities that only a few vendors can match.
HP provides a breadth of services, including managed network services, application services, security services and cloud services.
The lifetime warranty offered on many of the HP access points and switches is an important element when calculating the overall TCO of any access layer solution.
While the IMC application brings benefits as single-pane-of-glass management, training is recommended to take full advantage of it. There is extensive documentation, but HP should improve accessibility to find the appropriate functionality, especially for the SMB market.
Training continues to be an area of improvement for HP’s WLAN solution, especially in its North America channel, where HP’s access layer solution has been misquoted or not proposed.
Clients looking for a unified wired and wireless switching solution should consider the HP 830 Unified Wired-WLAN Switch, but also need to determine whether this platform will meet their enterprise access layer needs.
As there is a considerable amount of information in this comparison I have created the following table to summarize and quantify the information above.
Credit goes to Scott Rooney for this great comparison.