We live in a world where anything that computes, connects. Today, seamless and reliableÂ connectivityÂ is non-negotiable. While the end user browses through Google and web pages, the packets from the PC travel overseas to reach google and vice versa, behind the scenes. These packets are routed viaÂ switches and routers. With increasing data consumption and plethora of IoT devices,Â routers and switchesÂ have gained complexity and become difficult to manage.
Within an enterprise, a private network is setup to handle the data. This helps ensure multiple access levels, differentÂ quality of servicesÂ for different subnets, security aspects and a better way of monitoring data access. AÂ network switchÂ plays a key role in this data network.
Here, I will discuss my view on how we can go aboutÂ managing the switchesÂ better.
Network switches can be broadly categorised into two types:
- Unmanaged Switch
Therefore, when users need a few ports in their home or a conference room, anÂ unmanaged switchÂ can be used.
2.Â Managed Switch
In larger sites or venues, where there are aÂ lot of devices connectedÂ over the internet, managed network switches are used.
Generally three types of interfaces are provided to manage a Network switch:
Simple Network Management Protocol:
Also known as SNMP, it is a protocol that facilitates the exchange of management information between network devices.Â SNMPÂ queries can determine the health of a network or the status of a particular device.
Command Line Interface:
AkaÂ CLI, this is an exhaustive set of commands that can be accessed via serial console, Telnet, and Secure Shell.
And finally, the Web Interface:Â
User can monitor and configure the switch from aÂ browser, by entering a URL.
Among all the options, I am a big fan ofÂ Web Interface. The reason is the simplicity of use. Traditionally switches have survived with SNMP & CLI. But now, the era of web interface has begun. Due to high complexity, even for the expert users,Â SNMP & CLIÂ can be confusing. And come on, just because someone is an expert, we donâ€™t have to make it difficult for him. An expert will also not mind, if things are provided to him, in an easy to grasp manner, saving him from thinking over the same things again and again.
At Alethea, we have seen this multiple times, where hard core geeks, once given a simpleÂ web interface, has moved on from CLI to web interface, and never gone back for mundane things. They go back to CLI to handle something complex, which is worth the effort.
Now if we agree thatÂ Web InterfaceÂ is good stuff, then the next problem arises: Web and Switch doesnâ€™t seem to go together. When we talk of web applications, we talk of cloud and big servers and load balancers and lot of fire power. But if a switch has to host it, then itâ€™s a small piece of hardware, already doing a lot. There are embedded constraints onÂ CPU and memory. So in a nutshell, it is tricky to developÂ web interfaceÂ as it requires a web server to run on anÂ ethernet switchÂ which has limited resources.
Good news is that there are frameworks and methods to address this concern and make aÂ lightweight web server, which can work on the switch.
Another important concept thatâ€™s needed for web interface development is toÂ understand the portsÂ of managed switch and what to use when. SNMP & CLI are usually bundled withÂ network switchÂ binary. ToÂ flash binaryÂ on a switch one needsÂ console port. ToÂ run a web serverÂ on switch, one needs to useÂ Management port.
I think it may be confusing, so let me just put important aspects of the ports in tabular format.
|PARAMETER||CONSOLE PORT||MANAGEMENT PORT|
|IP address Assignment||Canâ€™t give IP address to console Port||IP address can be given to a management port|
|Physical Interface||Serial(RJ45, USB)||Ethernet|
|Remote access via Telnet/SSH||No||Yes|
|Use case||Dedicated out-of-band management & local access.Used to flash image/binary file to the switch.||In-band management primarily & remote access.Used to monitor/configure the switch.|
Hope this helps to gain clarity on developing aÂ web application for the network switches. We encourage all such developers, who are doubtful about Web interfaces, to give it a try. You may be surprised with the end user feedback.
So, what has been your experience withÂ network switches? Share your experience and help our readers gain further insights.
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