A switch, is a switch, is a switch… Or is it?

Like death and taxes, the commoditisation of products, over time, is a given in our industry. You only have to look to the impact that Intel has had on the server and storage market, as a prime example. Unfortunately for us (uh hem) as resellers, we will feel the pain right alongside vendors when products become commoditised. We can see network switches following the server model of becoming low margin, and therefore dependent on high volume turnover, i.e. commoditised.


In terms of the datacentre switching market, vendors proclaim their technologies as being best of breed, providing enterprise organisations with advantages in scalability, performance, availability and ease of management, which in turn reduces OPEX. However, wading through the differences among vendor offerings can be a challenge, and many enterprises are left pondering the question of whether the humble network switch has become a commodity item?


And it’s no surprise when we weigh up these so-called advantages or points of differentiation between the leading switching vendors:


Let’s look at scalability and port density:

Cisco, Juniper Networks and Arista Networks produce the largest datacentre switches on the market. Cisco’s Nexus 9500 can house up to 2,036 10-Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports or 576 40GbE ports. At one time, this density was unrivalled, but Juniper Network’s QFX10016 can match these numbers and Arista’s 7300 series comes pretty darn close. The Arista 7328 switches offer 25 x 1 GbE and 50 x 1 GbE interfaces, as do Juniper’s QFX5200 switches.



In layman’s terms, measuring datacentre switch performance generally comes down to two factors: port speed and latency. Comparing the same switches as we did above: Both Juniper and Arista boast line card throughputs of around 6 Tbps. Cisco’s line cards support throughputs of just under 4 Tbps.


How long it takes for a packet of data to get from one designated point to another, i.e., network latency, is another key indicator when it comes to measuring network switch performance. That’s where companies like Arista, Extreme and Juniper Networks once seemed to shine:


Extreme’s X770 switch is powered with latency of less than 600 nanoseconds (ns) when combined in a fabric anchored by the vendor’s BlackDiamond x8 core switches, while Arista and its ultra-low latency switches can switch frames and packets at roughly 250 nanoseconds (ns). Juniper’s QFX5100 boasts throughput and capacity up to 2.56 Tbps and 1.44 Bpps, respectively, and can sustain wire-speed switching with low latency and jitter, as well as full Layer 2 and Layer 3 performance.


Enter, Cisco. It didn’t take them long to tap into the lucrative niche market and begin producing its specialty Nexus line of switches fuelled with Algo-Boost technology that now rival Arista’s, Juniper’s and Extreme’s offerings. The end result? It’s like comparing the speed of a Lamborghini to that of a Ferrari. Either one would meet my requirements just fine… thanks.


Reading through the above stats in terms of port density, scalability, performance and latency, I understand why the market is coming around to the notion that “a switch is a switch is a switch”, i.e. a commoditised item. Although various vendors have slightly different offerings and a mass of marketing bluff loudly declaring that they are cutting-edge and best in class, the bottom line is that most network switches, when put in the front line, will simply do their job, and little else.


This being said, we must never forget that the switch is the HEART of your network. And therefore the Achilles Heel of your architecture. You want it to be stable, simple and resilient. You want it to be scalable and robust and to not act as a roadblock as your business grows and rolls out network taxing applications or increases headcount and site locations. When making any infrastructure purchase, you should always choose reliable equipment, components and technologies. But unfortunately, most systems will inevitably fail at some point. That’s why Support is paramount.



So how do we create value?


For us, this is where the importance of support, service and management truly shine. This is what I believe to be the key point of differentiation when it comes to making any critical infrastructure buying decision. You want a partner who will stick by you when times get tough. Furthermore, you need a stellar team in place who can respond quickly to minimise downtime and get issues resolved – pronto. You want a partner who can offer different levels of support based on your needs and the complexity of your network. Above all, you want a partner you can trust.


With ICT Networks, you get all the benefits of working with a large outfit, coupled with the care and attention to detail of a smaller company.
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References: http://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/