Review: 10Gig Ethernet access switch shootout

See how Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Dell, D-Link, Extreme, Foundry and HP fared in our testing.

10 GBE access switch review highlights

Network World Lab Alliance member David Newman has just wrapped up four months of testing 10 GBE access switches from seven vendors, putting each switch through its paces in 10 categories. For a detailed methodology on how we tested features such as L2 and L3 IPv4 unicast and multicast performance, L2 multicast group capacity, 802.1X support, storm control, management and usability and power consumption, go here (Link to come on Friday). Flip through this slide deck to find out which switches came out on top and why.

Unicast throughput is almost a non-issue

Once upon a time, Layer-2 unicast performance tests would have produced by far the most important results, but that's changed. Measuring unicast throughput on all ports, once considered the acid test for access switches, is no longer a major differentiator. Even in the most stressful test case -- with a Spirent TestCenter traffic generator blasting minimum-length 64-byte frames at all switch ports -- throughput was at or very close to line rate for all switches except D-Link's 3650.

Catalyst 3750E-48PD-EF Series Switch

Score: 4.49 out of 5

Price as tested: $33,980*

Pros: Very extensive feature set, strong multicast scalability and performance

Cons: Forwarded unauthenticated data in one 802.1X case

*Price for switch with at least 48 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports; 2 10-gigabit Ethernet ports; 2 10GBase-SR transceivers; and all necessary software for IPv4 and IPv6 unicast and multicast traffic handling

Multicast is a big switch differentiator

In our group capacity tests -- run to determine how a switch could scale to support IGMPv3 multicast groups -- results varied from a high of 1,500 multi-cast groups for HP's ProCurve to less than 70 for Dell's PowerConnect box. The chart show multicast latency numbers. A large delta between average and maximum latency measurements may indicate an issue with jitter, which can have an adverse effect on delay-sensitive apps like voice and video. The HP and Alcatel-Lucent switches exhibit the greatest between average and maximum multicast latency, with spreads of hundreds or thousands of microseconds. In contrast, all other switches held up traffic at most 1-4 microsec

Product: HP ProCurve Switch 3500yl

Score: 4.46 out of 5

Price as tested: $16,096*

Pros: Strong unicast and multicast throughput and latency; highest Layer-2 multicast scalability

Cons: Limited Layer-3 multicast and IPv6 support in version tested

*Price for switch with at least 48 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports; 2 10-gigabit Ethernet ports; 2 10GBase-SR transceivers; and all necessary software for IPv4 and IPv6 unicast and multicast traffic handling.

Putting a spotlight on 802.1X authentication

Many switches today support 802.1X authentication, a basic building block in network access control (NAC). The key question is what kind of access authenticated users can expect. In the six test scenarios we developed for this project, we uncovered major differences among products in terms of the conditions under which they'll grant access, as well as what sort of access they'll permit.

Product: Extreme Summit X450a-48t

Score: 4.35 out of 5

Price as tested: $14,480*

Pros: Strong unicast and multicast throughput and latency; passed all 802.1X test cases; extensive feature list

Cons: Limited multicast scalability; factory reset left some personally identifiable information

*Price for switch with at least 48 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports; 2 10-gigabit Ethernet ports; 2 10GBase-SR transceivers; and all necessary software for IPv4 and IPv6 unicast and multicast traffic handling.

How green can you go?

In our continuing effort to track the "green" element of all the networking gear we test, we measured power consumption for both an idle and fully loaded instance of each switch tested. Alcatel-Lucent's OmniSwitch 6850 was the most energy efficient when idle while Extreme's Summit X450 was the greenest when fully loaded.

Product: Foundry FastIron Edge X Series 448+2XG-PREM

Score: 4.23out of 5

Price as tested: $15,985*

Pros: Strong multicast performance; passed all 802.1X test cases; extensive feature list

Cons: Higher power consumption, larger form factor compared with other switches

*Price for switch with at least 48 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports; 2 10-gigabit Ethernet ports; 2 10GBase-SR transceivers; and all necessary software for IPv4 and IPv6 unicast and multicast traffic handling.

Product: Alcatel-Lucent OmniSwitch 6850 Model OS6850-48X

Score: 4.05 out of 5

Price as tested: $13,685*

Pros: Strong unicast performance; lowest power consumption

Cons: Limited multicast scalability; verbose CLI; factory reset left some personally identifiable information

*Price for switch with at least 48 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports; 2 10-gigabit Ethernet ports; 2 10GBase-SR transceivers; and all necessary software for IPv4 and IPv6 unicast and multicast traffic handling.

Product: Dell PowerConnect 6248P

Score: 3.58 out of 5

Price as tested: $5,779 *

Pros: Strong unicast and multicast throughput and latency

Cons: Limited multicast scalability; limited 802.1X support; forwarded unauthenticated data in one 802.1X case; no management over IPv6

*Price for switch with at least 48 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports; 2 10-gigabit Ethernet ports; 2 10GBase-SR transceivers; and all necessary software for IPv4 and IPv6 unicast and multicast traffic handling.

Product: D-Link DGS-3650

Score: 3.55 out of 5

Price as tested: $8,841*

Pros: Strong multicast throughput and latency

Cons: Much lower unicast throughput and latency than other switches; limited 802.1X support; limited storm-control granularity

*Price for switch with at least 48 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports; 2 10-gigabit Ethernet ports; 2 10GBase-SR transceivers; and all necessary software for IPv4 and IPv6 unicast and multicast traffic handling.

David Newman

David Newman, who has been involved with testing network gear for over 15 years, is president of Network Test , an independent test lab in Westlake Village, Calif. He can be reached at dnewman@networktest.com .

We want to hear from you!

Have we tested the right features of these access switches? What else should we include in future switch reviews? Do you have any questions about our results? Let us know.