I wrote about how to build a Wireless LAN (WLAN) for your SMB earlier this year, addressing topics such as the management of multiple Wi-Fi access points (APs) and debunking some common misconceptions about Wi-Fi. Through my conversations with Wi-Fi vendors such as Xirrus and my own research, it quickly became obvious that a deployment with multiple APs would benefit greatly from a Power over Ethernet (PoE) infrastructure.
For the uninitiated, PoE technology ensures the delivery of power over standard Ethernet cabling safely and without interfering with underlying data transmissions. LAN equipment that incorporates support for PoE - which may include IP cameras, IP phones and, of course, Wi-Fi APs - can hence be deployed at out-of-the-way locations without the additional planning and costs that power runs and outlets will add to the equation.
The search for a good network switch for APs was what led me to the HP 2915-8G-PoE Switch, which is an 8-port 10/100/1000 switch with layer 3 routing and PoE support. Two dual-personality ports bump the total Ethernet port count to 10 and can be upgraded with SFP modules for optional fiber connectivity. HP was kind enough to send me a unit for review and I found the device to be ideal for SMBs or branch office deployments with an eye towards security, PoE support and performance.
I highlight some key capabilities that make it ideal for SMBs below, but you can also check out the full feature list here.
Power over Ethernet
The HP 2915 is IEEE 802.3af-compliant for up to 15.4W per port, and offers flexibility for PoE to be disabled on a per-port basis. My experience with three different PoE-compliant APs reveals its PoE support to be a fuss-free experience with no need for manual adjustments. Where desired though, maximum power budgets can also be defined in 1W increments on a per-port basis, while support for LLDP-MED allows for more efficient energy savings in power allocation. Do note that the two dual-personality ports are not PoE-enabled.
This is an area where the HP 2915 truly shines and one of the key reasons why an SMB would opt for it over other non-managed gigabit switches. Various protective mechanisms help to guard against snooping tricks such as ARP broadcasts and protection against rogue DHCP servers. In the event of suspicious activities, the HP 2915 can be configured to silently generate an SNMP trap or respond by disabling the associated network port. Other security touches include restricting SNMP to the use of the secure SNMPv3 only, and concurrent monitoring of multiple ports.
The only possible downside here is that while basic features such as port and MAC address protection can be configured via the Web interface, many of the more advanced security capabilities can only be accessed via the command line interface. As such, SMBs without access to a network administrator may face some challenges in realizing its full potential.
When I wrote about the deployment of Network Attached Storage (NAS) for SMBs earlier this month, I talked about how link aggregation using multiple gigabit links is a far cheaper option of bolstering network performance compared to the cost of 10GbE deployment. Well, the HP 2915 supports Link Aggregation Protocol for use with NAS such as the Synology 1511+ and other networked devices with IEEE 802.3ad support. This also opens the door to SMBs looking to set up a cost-efficient virtual server deployment without having to resort to higher-end SAN hardware.
In addition, support for port trunking and stacking offers leeway to upgrade the HP 2915 with additional units while maintaining similar levels of performance and a single point of management. Finally, the switch has an extensive array of Quality of Service (QoS) settings, such as the ability to enforce sophisticated Layer 4 prioritization based on TCP/UDP port numbers, device addresses and VLANs. When used in conjunction with APs with multiple-SSID and VLAN support, this makes it possible to offer better QoS for the internal SSID used by employees and a lower one for the SSID offered to visitors or vendors, for instance.
The HP 2915 was obviously created with an eye towards flexible deployment scenarios and can be racked in a standard 19-inch rack, wall mounted or simply placed a desk or table. The appropriate hardware for racking or wall mounting is included, and a Kensington slot allows administrators to deter casual theft when deployed in branch offices. Finally, as you would expect of a managed switch of this caliber, the HP 2915 incorporates dual-flash images for testing out new firmware upgrades and supports the creation of multiple configuration files.
The HP 2915-8G-PoE offers a unique blend of enhanced security capabilities, support for PoE and high-performance gigabit connectivity with ability for expansion. In my opinion, this makes the network switch ideally suited for branch office deployment of security-conscious SMBs interested in properly locking down their remote networks.
And while I don't believe HP positions the device as such, the HP 2915 when paired with lower-end L2 switches may be suited in certain scenarios as a core network switch for growing SMBs not contended with a completely unmanaged network environment. And, of course, small- and mid-sized businesses that are planning to deploy a pervasive WLAN with multiple, high-performance APs will certainly benefit from it.