Adtran, Netgear Clash over New Enterprise SwitchesBy Frank Ohlhorst | Posted 2008-10-08 Email Print
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Enterprise Ethernet switches are normally the domain of giants like Cisco, HP and Juniper. But Netgear and Adtran are aiming to upset the apple cart with their latest offerings for the Ethernet switch market. Can either of these newcomers seize market share from the giants?
The oft-overlooked Ethernet switch is one of the most important pieces of hardware in the network today. After all, the lowly switch must handle all of the TCP/IP traffic efficiently and without fuss or muss; otherwise, connectivity issues will abound. The funny thing about switches is that no one gives them much consideration after a purchase is complete.
When it comes to purchasing a switch, many of a company’s needs go beyond the technical capabilities, becoming little more than corporate management considerations. Buying a switch quickly turns into a compromise, where CFOs want to see low costs, while CIOs want to see expanded feature sets, and administrators want to see units that are easy to manage and deploy. Add to that a channel element where solution providers want to see units that are easy to sell, and a situation is created that proves to be contradictory at best, unsolvable at worst.
Entrenched vendors--such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks--have been able to overcome most objections and built successful channels that serve the corporate ideology, while still bringing profit to partners. But, what if a vendor could meet all of those contradictory needs? Would that vendor be able to wrest market share from the big players? Both Adtran and Netgear are betting that they can.
Adtran started shipping its NetVanta series of Layer 2 switches, hoping that the product line can become a viable alternative for solution providers and resellers looking for a new player. Netgear is looking to follow a similar path with its newest Layer 2 switches, the ProSafe series.
While direct comparisons of Adtran’s NetVanta switches to Netgear’s ProSafe switches is difficult, both companies have a common goal in mind: to garner market share previously reserved for enterprise switch vendors. Both companies offer entry-level managed Layer 2 switches, with Adtran offering the $1,931 NetVanta 1534 and Netgear offering the $575 ProSafe GS724AT.
For most enterprises, the NetVanta and the ProSafe product lines can be thought of as different flavors of switches meant to service different needs. But the units do share a lot in common when it comes to tackling the enterprise market. Both are manageable and feature at least 24 10/100/1,000M-bps Ethernet ports.
Adtran is positioning the NetVanta 1534 as a full-featured business-class switch that is ideal for bringing Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop. The 1534 uses Layer 2 switching and delivers maximum non-blocking switching capacity of 52G bps. Expansion is handled by two SFP modules for optical connections, while a CompactFlash slot can be used for installing new firmware and copying configuration files.
Administrators will find management straightforward with the unit, thanks to n-Command, a GUI-based management application that offers an intuitive view into the settings of the switch. Management tools that are simple to use are becoming ever more important for today’s administrators, especially when it comes to enabling features such as VLANs, Class of Service and so on. N-Command can be used to manage single or several switches and offers the ability to manage firmware revisions, backups, configuration restorations and security policies. Administrators can think of n-Command as a poor man’s change management application for Adtran’s family of products.
Administrators can also manage the 1534 by using a browser-based GUI, which covers all of the basics quite well. The GUI works over an Ethernet connection and can be configured for remote access if need be. Most of the primary features of the switch are available from the browser-based GUI, and administrators can quickly find statistics about the switch for diagnostic or load calculation purposes.
For those who prefer a command-line interface, the unit also offers that option, where administrators can access the unit using terminal software via a serial cable. CLI still proves to be important today, simply because it can be used to create management templates for third-party network management software platforms.
Those new to network switch management will appreciate the included documentation and tutorial guides. The company has even created Flash-based tutorial videos, which should speed installation and setup. Those looking to define VLANs, optimize VOIP (voice over IP) traffic and prioritize packets will find the 1534 an excellent ally for taming the network.
The 1534 is far from the least expensive managed switch on the market, but the unit does offer features that are only found on some more expensive products. What’s more, a lifetime warranty gives an indication of the quality of the product.
At a price just shy of $600, one has to wonder how Netgear was able to pack management features into a 24-port Gigabit switch. That wonderment doesn’t end with management capabilities; Netgear was able to include in a browser-based management GUI, four built-in shared SFP Gigabit Ethernet fiber ports and a few other features for such a low price.
To become the price leader in managed switches, Netgear did have to cut some corners; but those corners are pretty hard to identify. The more one delves into the product, the more features are found. This switch is equipped with features such as Access Control Lists, 802.1x port authentication, enhanced QOS, Auto-Voice VLAN, rate limiting and IGMP snooping. What’s more, Netgear backs up the device with a limited lifetime warranty.
But let’s be honest here, as company Netgear is not known for its support or for enterprise-quality products, it’s hard to image Netgear competing with the likes of Cisco for enterprise market share. That said, the company is off to a good start at changing perceptions, as evidenced by the features, warranty and price of the company’s ProSafe line of products. The GS724AT is small as enterprise switches go, measuring just 1.69 by 17.32 by 8.07 inches and weighing in at a svelte 7 pounds.
Although smaller than most switches, the device is still rack-mountable and includes mounting brackets for a 1U rack slot. Although small in size, the unit is large in sound--the GS724AT’s cooling fan runs constantly at a high speed, making quite a bit of noise. It's probably not a problem in the data center, but it could quickly become an irritation in other environments.
Short of the noise problem, there are very few nits to pick when it comes to the GS724AT. The product does everything that it is supposed to, offers expansion capabilities and comes with easy-to-use management utilities. Perhaps the only technical downfall of the unit is the lack of support from third-party management utilities, but with time, that is a situation that is bound to change also.