It may be an over-worked cliché, but companies everywhere really are feeling the pain of the economic climate. This is particularly true in the datacentre, where budget constraints mean having to upgrade rather than replace servers to cope with the, seemingly insatiable, demands of applications deemed critical to business success. But beefing up servers by itself may not be enough, at least not unless the supporting network is also brought up to scratch.

At The Interface

Problems can start at the very point where servers and network meet, especially where older servers, equipped with only one or two of network interfaces, are concerned. A common configuration even on relatively new hardware, is one or two Network Interface Controllers (NICs). These may be sufficient for a single workload, but in a modern virtualised environment – where servers can be hosting tens, if not hundreds, of virtual machines – you need as many as you can get.

Fortunately, throwing extra bandwidth at a server is relatively straightforward – simply plug in extra adapters or, if there are no free expansion slots – as on ultra-thin 1U rack servers, for example – upgrade to NICs with more ports.

Dual and quad-port Gigabit adapters are a good choice here. Alternatively, consider swapping to 10GbE as this delivers a lot more bandwidth while, at the same time, eliminating cable sprawl Likewise, if you have 10GbE already, consider 40/100GbE with products to support this even faster technology becoming available.

Better Switches

Of course there’s little point increasing the number and bandwidth of your server interfaces if you don’t have the switches to plug them into. More than that, they need to be the right switches to cope with the extra throughput and, depending on your mix of applications, to route and prioritise traffic.

In a small organisation a simple network made up of un-managed Layer 2 switches may be all that’s required. Just attach whatever you want – servers, routers, user desktops, network cameras and so on – and away you go. That said, there are exceptions where additional functionality beyond basic Layer 2 packet switching will be needed.

For example, when you want to load balance traffic across multiple connections to the same server or divide the network into distinct segments for security and/or performance reasons. Likewise, you may want to make sure that packets associated with voice calls, IP surveillance or your business-critical applications get prioritised ahead of other non-essential traffic. The best way of delivering all this without breaking the bank or having to call in expert help is by upgrading to “Smart” switches.

Smarter Switches

The next step up from basic fit-and-forget products, Smart switches are so-called because they offer support for technologies usually only found on more complex and expensive managed products. Options like VLAN (Virtual LAN) segmentation of the network and QoS (Quality of Service) prioritisation of traffic flows are available.

Functionality traditionally found only on more expensive managed switches, with Smart switches also much simpler to manage via a user-friendly Web interface rather than an arcane command line or SMTP management console.

Smart Switches offer a range of advanced features including automatic VLAN configuration, for example, to guarantee bandwidth for IP surveillance and/or VoIP (Voice over IP) traffic without the need for a separate network. Here too you will find switches with full PoE (Power over Ethernet) capabilities, enabling wireless access points, IP surveillance cameras and other devices to be deployed without the need for dedicated mains power points.

Easy to configure and simple to manage, Smart switches are an ideal solution for fast growing mid-size companies. They can also be used in larger organisations, although for a truly scalable infrastructure most companies will want more capable managed switches, with a choice here between stackable and chassis-based solutions.

Enterprise Choices

Stackable switches are self-contained devices in their own right which can be cabled together to increase the number of supported ports and yet still be managed as a single entity. This makes for simple network expansion.

Physical and logical stacking also make it possible to deliver additional functionality as and where required. For example, to provide targeted support for fibre optic as well as copper UTP cabling; Gigabit and 10GbE connectivity and Power over Ethernet capabilities.

And lastly, consider chassis switches to support high port densities through plug-in interface cards along with redundant power and backup controllers to build highly available multi-layer networks suitable for enterprise and metropolitan area deployment. Whatever the requirements, there are switches for any business looking for a network capable of maximising their server investment.