A colleague pointed me the latest firmware update (18.104.22.168) for the DELL PowerConnect 8024F switches. As I was reading the release notes one item in particular caught my attention. The PowerConnect 8024/8024f/M8024-k switches are now stackable. You can put up to 6 switches in one stack using the regular front ports (SFP+). You might remember form a previous blog post on 10Gbps, Introducing 10Gbps With A Dedicated CSV & Live Migration Network (Part 2/4), where I mentioned that we got a great deal on those switches. I also mentioned that the only thing lacking in these switches and what would make this the best 10Gbps switch when comparing value for money is the ability to stack them. I quote myself:
“They could make that 8024F an unbeatable price/quality deal if they would make them stackable.”
I’ve been called visionary before but I won’t go into that that insider joke right now . Now it’s for sure that not just my little blog post that made this update happen but it is a nice New Year’s gift. More features & options with hardware you already own is always nice. So I guess a lot of people have made the same observation, both customers & DELL themselves. You could just “smell” by the available command & configuration that this switch could be made stackable and they did.
Is Ethernet based stacking perfect? No (there is very little perfection in this world). The biggest drawback, if you need that feature, is the fact that you can hot plug the stacking links. But for all other practical purposes it’s a nice deal. Why? Well, now that these switches supports Ethernet based stacking you will be able to choose more types of NIC Teaming to use for your servers. That means those teaming configurations that are dependent on stacking, such as for active-active NIC Teaming across two switches to be more precise. I find this pretty good news.
You all know I’m very enthusiastic to use the NIC Teaming build into Windows 8 and I will use it where and when I can. But there will be for many years to come a lot of Windows 2008 R2 systems to support and install. So it’s always good to see your hardware vendors improving their gear to give you more options. For the pricing I got on the 8024F in the last project and the needs of the solution we could deal with not being able to stack. Stacking via Ethernet using other switches was way more expensive, not even to mention the ones using stacking module ones (real premium pricing). So we got the best deal for our needs.
For 10Gbps switches stacking over Ethernet give you up to 80Gbps with a maximum of 8 uplinks so bandwidth is not as much a concern. With 1Gbps switches it is, which makes stacking modules the only way to go there I think. If you need massive bandwidth and you probably do. The drawback, as with all forms of inter switch links (a LAG for example) is that this method means you’re losing ports for other purposes. But you need to look at your needs and do the math. I think buying with investment protection is good but don’t always buy in preparation for the time you’ll become a fortune 500 company. That takes a while and in the mean while you’ll be very well served anyway.
Another related feature that’s new is Nonstop Forwarding (NSF). NSF allows the forwarding plane of stack units to continue forwarding packets even while the control and management planes restart. This could be a power failure, some hardware of software error or even an upgrade. This feature is common to all stackable switches as far as I know and is needed. Not that ‘m saying the redundant loop in stack is bad or overkill, far from it, but that takes care of other scenarios that NSF is designed to handle.