Matt Brunk
Matt Brunk has worked in past roles as director of IT for a multisite health care firm; president of Telecomworx,...
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Matt Brunk | September 30, 2016 |


Right Buying: Matching Network Gear to Your Needs

Right Buying: Matching Network Gear to Your Needs After all this time and experience with VoIP, some companies still question the value of enterprise-class vs. retail switches.

After all this time and experience with VoIP, some companies still question the value of enterprise-class vs. retail switches.

Switching, routing, firewall and any other appliance/device that sits at a customer site is CPE, but are these devices really the same?

For VoIP, this sort of question dates back to the early 2000s, when some network administrators rejected the idea of using all managed switches in a network and thought replacing all hubs made no difference for VoIP traffic. At that time, I enlisted the help of network assessment software to show two key differences in managed switches vs. hubs. Latency and jitter were substantially higher with hubs than they were for switches, and yet mean opinion scores (MOS) appeared the same -- at least until the network experienced traffic loads. Once network traffic increased, voice quality and user experience declined.

Ethernet Switch Specs

Pulled from L-com Global Connectivity, below is a breakdown for retail, commercial, and industrial Ethernet switches.

Retail Ethernet Switches:

  • Operating temperature ranges from 50 ℉ to 95 ℉
  • Designed for desk or rack mounting
  • 110 to 240V AC powered

Commercial Ethernet Switches:

  • Operating temperature ranges from 50 ℉ to 95 ℉
  • Single point of failure utilization of fans and redundant power supplies
  • Designed for desk or rack mounting
  • 110 to 240V AC powered

Industrial Ethernet Switches:

  • Operating temperature ranges from -40 ℃ to 75 ℃
  • DIN rail mounting and small form factor
  • Safety - extra low voltage accept 24V DC power
  • Ingress protection rating resists dirt and dust
  • After all this time and experience with VoIP, some companies still question the value of enterprise-class vs. retail switches, for example.

    AT&T U-verse and Verizon Fios are delivering fiber to more campuses, small businesses and home offices, yet users doesn't always benefit from improved performance. This is because firewalls can't always process that kind of bandwidth, especially when intrusion protection/gateway protection services and other security features are enabled. Carriers then spend time demonstrating that the customer must upgrade its premises gear because it isn't capable of handling the bandwidth and performance that fiber offers.

    I reached out to Bobby Patton, CEO of Patton Electronics, which is a company all about connections. It offers VoIP, Ethernet extension, and wireless router technologies in carrier, enterprise and industrial networks worldwide. Patton, which specializes in interconnecting legacy TDM and serial systems with new-generation IP-based voice, data and multimedia technologies, operates training and support centers in Switzerland, Hungary, Lebanon, India, Australia, and the U.S. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

    What are the differences among retail, commercial, and industrial Ethernet switches?
    Patton: The core technologies will be the same -- from the same root. But, most notably, there are different packaging and compliance requirements. Retail products tend to be targeted to a particular use case, must be simple to operate, are installed on a desktop or a shelf, and are intended for use in controlled environments -- temperature and humidity are not usually considerations. Enterprise, or commercial, products generally need more flexibility -- IT managers want to implement their corporate policies, install the units in a rack, and monitor the products within their network management infrastructure. Industrial products have a wide scope of temperature, humidity, vibration, and many other adverse environmental conditions under which the products should continue to operate. These devices may be mounted within another machine, on a wall or in a vehicle, and connect with different power systems than an AC outlet.

    How do they differ in performance measures such as speed, bandwidth, compression, reliability, security, and so on?
    Patton: Generally, speeds for consumer products are higher; the uses of the bandwidth are asymmetric. Consumers download lots of entertainment content -- movies, pictures, and social media. Consumers upload too, but real time is not a factor on their uploads. Commercial and industrial products generally need more symmetric bandwidth -- with actual speeds determined by the number of simultaneous users. Compression is really a function of bandwidth optimization -- with the penalty on real time. Industrial applications often need real-time data, to enable controls -- often life or death controls (for example, a switch on a railroad track) or high-value controls like stock trades.

    Security is important for all, but the regimes may be different. Generally, consumers need to worry about their data at rest since most consumer attacks take place through viruses that seek out personal information. Commercial and Industrial users need to be worried about targeted attacks -- the higher the profile the more likely bad actors are taking aim at their data, even in transit, or attempting to take control of their systems.

    Reliability is important for everyone too, but here the commercial and industrial entities have much more at risk. The level of assurance required is much higher.

    Operationally, as I said, commercial and industrial users will want more control, management and information about the health of their networked devices.

    What are the differentiators, if any, outside of technical performance or durability?
    Patton: Besides technical performance, environmental robustness and durability, commercial and industrial products must be highly interoperable with a wide variety of attached products and systems. This requires flexibility in configuration of the units and much more testing. Product lifecycles are also critical. Consumer products tend to be here today and gone in two years. Enterprise products often have a life of three to five years. Industrial products are expected to be available for seven to 10 years. It is critical to support industrial product lifecycles as the integrations are more specific, interoperability issues can be life or death, and upgrades and substitutes are usually not options. Form, fit, function, interoperability and compatibility must be retained. This can narrow the selection of components -- processors, memory, etc., for a manufacturer.

    How and why is any of this important for small to medium-sized business enterprises?
    Patton: They don't want to pay for functionality they don't need, and they expect to upgrade their networks.

    Large distributed enterprises?
    Patton: Their systems need to retain similarity from site to site for maintenance and management reasons.

    Global enterprises?
    Patton: Equipment costs are not as significant as the costs to change the way they operate and manage the equipment. They need a stable, reliable environment to keep everything running efficiently.

    Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications?
    Patton: Real-time communications and environmental ruggedness are key attributes. Often M2M applications are going into critical infrastructure that must be maintained over a long period of time.

    WLAN/Wi-Fi "actionable data?"
    Patton: In the M2M and large enterprise spaces, dealing with WLAN reliability, throughput and radio spectrum issues can be a challenge without appropriate tests, measures, debug modes and deep-packet inspection capabilities. This kind of data helps the network engineer tune the network for optimal performance.

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