Monday, July 16, 2007

Network Switching (Part IV)

Why Upgrade to Switches?

As an administrator, you may not realize when it is time to convert your company to a switched network and implement VLANs. You may also not be aware of the benefits that can occur from replacing your Layer 2 hubs and bridges with switches, or how the addition of some modules in your switches to implement routing and filtering ability can help improve your network’s performance.When your flat topology network starts to slow down due to traffic, collisions, and other bottlenecks, you may want to investigate the problems. Your first reaction is to find out what types of data are flowing through your network. If you are in command of the network sniffer or other such device, you may begin to find over−utilization errors on the sniffer occurring when the Ethernet network utilization reaches above only 40 percent.Why would this happen at such a low utilization percentage on the network? Peak efficiency on a flat topology Ethernet network is about 40 percent utilization. Sustained utilization above this level is a strong indicator that you may want to upgrade the physical network into a switched environment. When you start to notice that your state−of−the−art Pentiums are performing poorly, many network administrators don’t realize the situation may be due to the hundreds of other computers on their flat hub and bridged networks. To resolve the issue, your network administrator may even upgrade your PC to a faster CPU or more RAM. This allows your PC to generate more input/output (I/O), increasing the saturation on the network. In this type of environment, every data packet is sent to every machine, and each station has to process every frame on the network.The processors in the PCs handle this task, taking away from the processing power needed for other tasks. Every day, I visit users and networks with this problem. When I upgrade them to a switched network, it is typically a weekend job. The users leave on Friday with their high−powered Pentiums stacked with RAM acting like 486s. When they come back Monday morning, we hear that their computers boot up quickly and run faster, and that Internet pages come up instantly.In many cases, slow Internet access times were blamed on the users’ WAN connections. The whole time, the problem wasn’t their WAN connections—it was their LAN saturated to a grinding halt with frames from every interface on the network.When network performance gets this bad, it’s time to call in a Cisco consultant or learn how to implement switching. Either way, you are reading this book because you are very interested in switching or in becoming Cisco certified. Consider yourself a network hero of this generation in training.To fix the immediate problems on your 10BaseT network with Category 3 or Category 4 cabling, you might need to upgrade to Category 5 cabling and implement a Fast Ethernet network. Then you need to ask yourself, is this only a temporary solution for my network? What types of new technologies are we considering? Are we going to upgrade to Windows 2000? Will we be using Web services or implementing Voice Over IP? Do we have any requirements for using multicast, unicast, video conferencing, or CAD applications? The list of questions goes on. Primarily, you need to ask yourself if this is a temporary solution or one that will stand the test of time.

Unshielded Twisted−Pair Cable

Category 3 unshielded twisted−pair (UTP) is cable certified for bandwidths of up to 10Mbps with signaling rates of up to 16MHz. Category 4 UTP cable is cable certified for bandwidths of up to 16Mbps with signaling rates up to 20MHz. Category 4 cable is classified as voice and data grade cabling. Category 5 cabling is cable certified for bandwidths of up to 100Mbps and signaling rates of up to 100MHz. New cabling standards for Category 5e and Category 6 cable support bandwidths of up to 1Gbps.

In many cases, network administrators don’t realize that implementing a switched network will allow your network to run at almost wire speed. Upgrading the backbone (not the wiring), eliminating the data collisions, making the network segments smaller, and getting those users off hubs and bridges is the answer. In terms of per−port costs, this is usually a much cheaper solution. It’s also a solution you can grow with. Of course, a 100Mbps network never hurts; but even a switched 10BaseT network that has been correctly implemented can have almost the same effect of providing your network with increased performance.Network performance is usually measured by throughput. Throughput is the overall amount of data traffic that can be carried by the physical lines through the network. It is measured by the maximum amount of data that can pass through any point in your network without suffering packet loss or collisions.Packet loss is the total number of packets transmitted at the speed of the physical wire minus the number that arrive correctly at their destination. When you have a large percentage of packet losses, your network is functioning less efficiently than it would if the multiple collisions of the transmitted data were eliminated. The forwarding rate is another consideration in network throughput. The forwarding rate is the number of packets per second that can be transmitted on the physical wire. For example, if you are sending 64−byte packets on a 10BaseT Ethernet network, you can transmit a maximum of about 14,880 packets per second. Poorly designed and implemented switched networks can have awful effects. Let’s take a look at the effects of a flat area topology and how we can design, modify, and upgrade Ethernet networks to perform as efficiently as possible.

Properly Switched Networks

Properly switched networks use the Cisco hierarchical switching model to place switches in the proper location in the network and apply the most efficient functions to each. In the model you will find switches in three layers:

  • Access layer
  • Distribution layer
  • Core layer

The Access layer’s primary function is to connect to the end−user’s interface. It routes traffic between ports and broadcasts collision domain traffic to its membership broadcast domain. It is the access point into the network for the end users. It can utilize lower−end switches such as the Catalyst 1900, 2800, 2900, 3500, 4000, and 5000 series switches.The Access layer switch blocks meet at the Distribution layer. It uses medium−end switches with a little more processing power and stronger ASICs. The function of this layer is to apply filters, queuing, security, and routing in some networks. It is the main processor of frames and packets flowing through the network. Switches found at this layer belong to the 5500, 6000, and 6500 series. The Core layer’s only function is to route data between segments and switch blocks as quickly as possible. No filtering or queuing functions hould be applied at this layer. The highest−end Cisco Catalyst switches are typically found at this layer, such as the 500, 6500, 8500, 8600 GSR, and 12000 GSR series switches.How you configure your broadcast and collision domains—whether in a switched network or a flat network topology—can have quite an impact on the efficiency of your network. Let’s take a look at how utilization is measured and the different effects bandwidth can have on different media types and networks.

Network Utilization

Network administrators vary on the utilization percentage values for normal usage of the network. Table 1.1 shows the average utilization that should be seen on the physical wire. Going above these averages of network utilization on the physical wire is a sign that a problem exists in the network, that you need to make changes to the network configuration, or that you need to upgrade the network.

Table 1.1: The average limits in terms of physical wire utilization. Exceeding these values indicates a network problem.

You can use a network monitor such as a sniffer to monitor your utilization and the type of traffic flowing through your network. Devices such as WAN probes let you monitor the traffic on the WAN.


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