How to Properly Implement and Manage Network Switches

How to Properly Implement and Manage Network Switches

We cover the basic principles and best practices on how to implement and manage your network switches according to Auvik Networks.

Network switches are a critical yet often misunderstood part of any business network. Switches allow your devices to connect and share data on a network, providing a point-of-access by which your hardware can receive information from other devices and users. They allow for multiple simultaneous wired connections at one time and are essential in letting devices communicate with other devices connected to the network. For corporate networks, switches enable users to distribute and send data within the organization, creating a system for efficient collaboration in your enterprise.

Despite the importance of network switches, it’s easy for IT and network professionals to disregard these pieces of hardware as mere Ethernet port hubs or just another stepping stone for network traffic. The reality is that network switches are a vital part of any network and require just as much attention as any router or access point. In the No Sweat Guide to Managing Network Switches, Auvik Networks covers everything you need to know about correctly implementing and managing switches to provide the best network service possible.

Properly designing and managing your network switch infrastructure is one of the keys to ensuring smooth network performance for employees and end-users — a crucial task considering how important maintaining high user satisfaction is. Below, we touch on the important aspects of managing network switches according to Auvik Networks.

Physical Design

Onboarding a network switch shouldn’t just involve placing the device in any position, hooking it up, and letting it be. Managing the physical elements of your switches is just as important as proper configuration. Your company needs to determine the best places to install switches and configure connections not just because you need to design an efficient network, but also because you don’t want to create issues with physical device maintenance.

Physical Location

It may seem insignificant at first, but the physical location of your network switches is a critical consideration when installing switches. You need to place your switches in areas that have enough airflow to keep the device out of danger of overheating. Switches also shouldn’t be placed in locations that will be inconvenient for engineers to reach, especially if they’re confined to areas that gather a lot of dust which require periodic cleaning.

Uplink Design

When determining how to connect your network switches to the rest of your network backend, Auvik recommends avoiding single-link systems and instead opting for dual-link to set up redundancy. This provides your IT team with an assurance that network connectivity can continue if one link happens to fail.

The Risks of 10Gbps Ethernet

10Gbps Ethernet might seem like an appealing prospect for businesses, and upper management especially might try to push for it. However, as Auvik cautions, 10Gbps Ethernet might not be the best fit for your network. Network switches can handle a noteworthy amount of oversubscription thanks to the unsynchronized burst nature of network traffic. That means that 10Gbps Ethernet speeds aren’t always required to reach the levels of traffic required for business operations, unless your company has a large number of users who distribute a lot of data across the network.

Physical Ports and Path Diversity

To help protect against network downtime, IT and network engineers need to pay attention to the physical connections and ports that comprise your network. Connecting multiple physical pathways for network traffic is crucial so that service won’t be lost if one physical link is destroyed, damaged, or otherwise knocked out of service. Taking proper physical care of your links is crucial, but so is having diverse pathways to ensure redundancy.

Switch Stacks

To increase density without creating a complex system to manage, switch stacks and chassis are a popular choice for networking. When combined with dual uplinks that come from different supervisors, network engineers can breathe easy knowing that their network is resilient and less prone to total failure. One concern, however, is that switch software updates will require the switch — and therefore, the portion of the network it services — to be disconnected.

Configuration

Once the physical network has been designed and installed, the next step is properly configuring each of your switches to ensure they have the tightest performance and security possible. Improperly configured network hardware can be the source of many headaches, and properly managing switches requires that you set up your hardware correctly. By examining how to correctly configure a closet switch, Auvik explains how to optimize your switch’s functionality.

Spanning Tree Configuration

One scenario you want to avoid is the closet switch turning into the network’s root bridge, which might block incoming traffic. With the rapid spanning tree deployment introduced in 802.1w, switches can quickly converge into new topologies when it is determined that something is happening on the network, such as a downed link or power failure.

Routing Configuration

For closet switches, acting as a transit router isn’t the ideal objective. By configuring your network switches as stub routers instead, they can properly distribute traffic to vLAN connections without the core network pestering them for information on areas of the network they aren’t connected to. Closet switches also only need to know one default route rather than the whole core routing table, as it’s the only traffic link they’ll need to use.

Quality of Service Considerations

Quality of Service ensures that high-priority or high-density traffic always has the resources necessary to transmit. For closet switches, those without any connections that operate a large amount of traffic at one time probably don’t need any major QoS functionality. Heavy use of voice and video traffic, however, will require you to establish QoS for that portion of your network.

Security and Monitoring

For security, you need to ensure that your network switch can be reconfigured by unauthorized parties. Changing default usernames and passwords and disabling unencrypted management protocols are necessary tasks to ensure your network switches don’t become a vector for attacks. Coupling this with a network monitoring software, such as Auvik’s own platform, allows you to ensure that switches and other hardware are performing at the level expected of them.

For more information, check out Auvik’s No Sweat Guide to Managing Network Switches.


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Daniel Hein