Network Switch Life Expectancy?

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Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:36 am

We have a bunch of 3Com 3870 48-port gigabit stackable switches. We're looking to replace them with some of HP's chassis-based modular units, and are trying to justify replacement of the 3Com's.

Does anybody know the reasonable lifetime of decent-quality network switches? I would expect 5-7 years before you start to see fan failures, port failures, etc. The MTBF on the datasheet is something crazy like 21 years, which is useless to me. Maybe they mean before ALL components have failed!

Anyway, what guidelines do you use to determine the useful life expectancy of switches?

Thanks!
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Re: Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 7:32 am

Well, we've got an HP rackmount switch at work and it is still going strong after 5 years.

Actually, the entire *server* that the switch was bought with is still going strong as well. The only thing that has failed on it is the DVD drive, which we don't really need anyway (the fact that we haven't bothered to replace it in 4 years says a lot). Even the tape drive (which is used nightly for backups) has been flawless. HP's enterprise-class stuff seems to be pretty solid.
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Re: Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 8:03 am

I've had places pull out switches in full working order that are over 10 years old. Usually it isn't so much the life expectancy of the switch as the maintenance cost of support programs that get companies to switch. Many modern switch vendors offer a limited lifetime warranty on stackable type switches which can be a really good selling point to management. Any particular reason you're looking to move to a chassis style switch? A lot of stackables have large bandwidth stacking ports (10gig or more) making them useful as cores in smaller company networks while avoiding maintenance costs by utilizing the lifetime warranties.

Another selling point could be future proofing. Look for adding in PoE for VoIP. Or you could go the FUD route and point out that 3com was purchased by HP and support on your old switches may be questionable.

What's the real reason you want to replace them anyway? Sometimes the best answer is the easiest one.
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Re: Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:49 pm

redeye wrote:What's the real reason you want to replace them anyway? Sometimes the best answer is the easiest one.


Good question, and certainly a valid one. Hence why we're justifying replacement.

Our current performance is fine. We are an all gigabit network with 10gig connections between the switch closets. We've never *really* stressed our switches that I know of, and I'll frequently get full wire-speed between systems.

BUT

1. We're looking to replace our aging phone system with a VoIP system (internal or hosted), and we want to use PoE, which our current switches do not support (and it's not an option).

2. We're looking into virtual desktops (moving to 100% virtualized), so we expect our bandwidth needs to increase.

3. The stacking model of these mid-tier switches leave a lot to be desired. If the "primary" switch fails in a stack, you have lots of problems. Or, if the switch with the connection to the other closets fails, you have more problems.

4. Have you ever tried to replace a fully populated 48 port switch in a fairly dense rack? Yeah, it's doable, but it's a pain and take a lot of time. You sometimes even have to take the rack mount brackets off just to slide the switch out of the rack. Yes, we could possibly optimize our rack layouts, but it's hard to find a home for full-height PDUs. :-)

5. There's no redundancy. Dual power supplies was an option (which we did not purchase at the time), but otherwise nothing else is fault tolerant. The HP switches we're looking at are fully redundant (management modules, switching fabric, power, etc).

6. We already have a few failed ports, and we expect more in the future. (Don't get me wrong, the 3Coms have been great switches! Our needs are changing and I'd like to build it out for 10+ years of use).

7. Unlike everything else around here, we actually don't have support on the switches anymore. Not sure why. But, it's nice to have the option of support if we need it.

8. We want to implement NAC (on the switches, not in 3rd party software), and these seem to have a nice implementation.

9. The 3Coms are not secure. Our security auditor can take them down/DoS them in a few minutes. The HP's have protection against that, and also have basic virus protection for the endpoints (monitoring activity on all ports).


Like I said, the documentation says MTBF is 21 years or so, but who are they kidding? I'd like to know real-world lifetime expectation of this equipment before you start to have more and more problems that start causing downtime. We have about 5+ years on our switches (maybe more for a few of them), and they've been solid, but I don't want to have to start to worry about them and spend time fixing.
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Re: Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 1:50 pm

Dieter wrote:2. We're looking into virtual desktops (moving to 100% virtualized), so we expect our bandwidth needs to increase.


When virtualization appeared I was like wow, but after working with it for some time I'm not sure you want to have your desktop virtualized. Servers, ok, but desktops, nope. I don't know why, but desktop is annoying as virtualized machine, slow, laggy, even with plenty of RAM and virtualization extensions enabled.
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Re: Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 2:06 pm

Madman wrote:
Dieter wrote:2. We're looking into virtual desktops (moving to 100% virtualized), so we expect our bandwidth needs to increase.


When virtualization appeared I was like wow, but after working with it for some time I'm not sure you want to have your desktop virtualized. Servers, ok, but desktops, nope. I don't know why, but desktop is annoying as virtualized machine, slow, laggy, even with plenty of RAM and virtualization extensions enabled.


Yeah, we're waiting for it to fully mature. We were going to attempt to roll it out in 2011 but we're looking into 2012. However, I've seen plenty of live demos by both VMware & Citrix showing that it's currently production quality, as long as you set certain expectations or make sure you build towards the result/goal that you want. I've worked on a virtual desktop and could not tell the difference between it and a local physical box. But, like server virtualization, as long as you have realistic goals and expectations I think it should work well. For us, we totally overbuilt (over the vendor-recommended config) our virtual (server) environment, and it's been a dream. So, we're sold on virtualization, and are still researching virtual desktops.

Thanks!
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Re: Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 2:21 pm

Madman wrote:
Dieter wrote:2. We're looking into virtual desktops (moving to 100% virtualized), so we expect our bandwidth needs to increase.


When virtualization appeared I was like wow, but after working with it for some time I'm not sure you want to have your desktop virtualized. Servers, ok, but desktops, nope. I don't know why, but desktop is annoying as virtualized machine, slow, laggy, even with plenty of RAM and virtualization extensions enabled.

What VDI platforms were you using? We're looking at moving around 50 of our clients to VDI next year, and wouldn't mind hearing your experience (currently we've got ~25 thin clients that RDP into VMs running on our hosts).

As for how long to expect your switches to last, I say they'll last as long as they offer support for them. With the level of network infrastructure that you're moving to (VoIP, PoE, VDI), your switches are becoming that more important to your business. Because of that, even with redundant switches, you want 24x7, 4 hour on site support. Once you can no longer get a support contract that offers that, or at least one that has a reasonable cost benefit quotient, you'll want to replace them. Check with HP to see what they say.

Technology wise, I'd expect desktops to have 1GigE for about 10 years before another networking technology completely takes them over.

As a last note, beyond having redundant switches/power supplies on the switches, look into putting UPS's on the switches themselves. We did it here, and it's saved us some downtime a few times already in the last year.
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Re: Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:11 pm

emorgoch wrote:As a last note, beyond having redundant switches/power supplies on the switches, look into putting UPS's on the switches themselves. We did it here, and it's saved us some downtime a few times already in the last year.
Especially if you are running VoIP phones off of PoE. When the lights go out a bunch of people will grab the phone, plus you might need to call 911 to come pick up the electrician who just shorted out the power.
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Re: Network Switch Life Expectancy?

Postposted on Tue Nov 09, 2010 4:43 pm

emorgoch wrote:As a last note, beyond having redundant switches/power supplies on the switches, look into putting UPS's on the switches themselves. We did it here, and it's saved us some downtime a few times already in the last year.


Yep, fortunately we're already there. Most switches are on the main UPS (that powers the server room) that has generator backup. For the old building (no generator), we have a fairly large UPS with about 2 hours runtime. We're looking to upgrade it next year as well so it can power all of the phones and networks for at least 2 hours.

As far as support, we looked into upgrading to the 4 hour support, but it was spendy (and an ongoing cost). So, we're looking to purchase a couple of extra modules of each kind so we'll have spares on hand to replace immediately, and then get the failed module replaced next business day. It's not perfect, but the 4 hour support was just too expensive, and in a sense negates some of the advantages over Cisco's solution (annual support agreements).

Thanks!
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