Dell's PowerConnect 6024

Dell hits the price/performance mark with new Gigabit Ethernet switch.

With the outstanding performance numbers and extensive feature set offered by its new PowerConnect 6024 Layer 3 switch, it's getting easier to hear the words "Dell" and "Gigabit Ethernet switch" in the same sentence.

The 24-port PowerConnect 6024 switch hit the streets last month and is targeted for data center server connectivity, wiring closet aggregation and as a core switch for smaller networks or branch offices. It features serious routing protocol support, physical redundancy, quality of service (QoS ) and access control lists (ACL), all for about $3,500. Our only complaint is that it lacks a high-bandwidth stacking backplane that would improve its overall bandwidth scalability.


How we did it

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The switch comprises a 19-inch box with all 24 10/100/1000 ports positioned on the front of the unit. For administrative access, it has a serial port, but it also offers a 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet port as an optional console port. This alternate interface is much faster than the serial port for issuing command-line instructions and means you don't have to dedicate another Gigabit port if a separate administrative network is mandated for security  purposes.

The PowerConnect 6024 offers a typical bundle of Layer 2 features including 802.1Q virtual LAN (VLAN) support, 802.1ad link aggregation support, and standard and Rapid Spanning Tree capabilities. At Layer 3, the switch supports Routing Information Protocol (RIP), Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) and Virtual Redundant Routing Protocol (VRRP ) specs. QoS is implemented with eight egress queues that can be configured with strict priority or Weighted Round Robin (WRR) queue servicing algorithms.

Both Layer 2 and Layer 3 throughput tests showed near wire-speed performance (See How we did it ). The switch hit 99.3% maximum throughput. At 7 microsec for 64-byte packets and 70 microsec for 1,518-byte packets, latency is low enough to support most enterprise applications.

In our test of the routing features, the PowerConnect 6024 handled a maximum of 2,050 RIP routes and 4,095 OSPF routes, very good numbers for a switch of this class. Route convergence for RIP and OSPF was stable and adjusted to large changes in routing information with ease.

The switch can implement ACLs based on Ethernet media access control address, IP address and TCP/User Datagram Protocol (UDP ) port number. As many as 1,024 ACLs can be configured within the switch and 1,024 entries can be added to each ACL. We didn't verify the switch's ability to configure 1,024 ACLs with 1,024 entries each - doing so would only test memory constraints. But we did configure a single ACL with 1,024 entries, assign that ACL to each physical interface, and run Layer 3 throughput and latency tests. Under these conditions, the PowerConnect 6024 only reduced its throughput to 97.7% for 64-byte packets. Latency did not change significantly.

In terms of QoS, the PowerConnect 6024 prioritizes packets based on 802.1p priority values or differentiated services code point (DSCP ) values. The queue-servicing algorithm can be configured as strict priority, WRR or a combination of both. We tested 802.1p and DSCP queuing features and found that the queuing algorithms operated properly for both strict priority and WRR.

Management

Dell offers three management  interfaces: a Cisco-like command-line interface (CLI) accessible via the serial port or via Telnet; its own Web-based OpenManage Switch Administrator; and the Dell Network Manager.

The Dell OpenManage Switch Administrator is accessed through a Web browser via the administrative Ethernet port or a configured administrative VLAN. The Web interface was responsive and easy to use. Configuring and viewing large ACL tables was easier using the CLI.

Dell OpenManage Network Manager application - some of which was beta code - was resource-intensive and slow, but gives a lot of functionality if you need to manage multiple PowerConnect switches.

A standard edition of this application can be downloaded for free from Dell's Web site, but the company offers an advanced edition that features configuration wizards to ease the setup of complex features such as QoS - for about $5,000.

The PowerConnect 6024 has three configuration files: a running configuration file, a start-up configuration file and a back-up configuration file. All configuration changes must be copied to the start-up configuration to be in effect after a reboot. If there are problems at reboot, a back-up configuration can be used to back out of a network change. These configuration files can be moved in and out of the switch through Trivial FTP. The files are in text format and can be manipulated with a text editor outside the switch.

The PowerConnect 6024 can hold two software image files. While we only had one image to work with, assuming this feature works, backing out of botched software upgrades should be fairly easy.

PowerConnect 6024 OVERALL RATING
4.5
Company: Dell, (800) 999-3355 Cost: $3,500. Pros: Great Layer 2 and Layer 3 feature sets; excellent management capabilities; nearly perfect performance. Con: No stacking features.
The breakdown    

Performance 40% 

4.5
Configuration and management 30%  5
Scalability and redundancy 20%  4
Installation and documentation 10%  4
TOTAL SCORE  4.5
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Consistently subpar

The reboot time for the switch is 45 seconds, which should not greatly affect network operations.

The PowerConnect 6024 includes two built-in, redundant load-balancing power supplies and two redundant system fans. The power supplies and system fans are hot-swappable.

It also has link aggregation features (802.1ad) with the ability to configure a maximum of seven groups with seven links per group. To offer redundant routing features, the PowerConnect 6024 has VRRP functionality. We couldn't test 802.1ad and VRRP capabilities with only one switch.

The PowerConnect 6024 doesn't have a stackable backplane to give a cluster of switches the ability to scale its bandwidth. Given the abundance of enterprise-class switch features in the PowerConnect 6024, it appears that high-speed stackability should be the next frontier for the Dell switch product line.

Overall, considering the PowerConnect 6024's performance, feature set and management capabilities, this new Dell switch should be capable of supporting typical enterprise-class applications .

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Bass is a senior technical staff member at North Carolina State University's Centennial Networking Labs in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at john_bass@ncsu.edu. Chintan Desai and Reza Manavi of CNL assisted with the testing.

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Bass is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry, each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.nwfusion.com/alliance.

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