Networking

Buying the best switch: Linksys vs. Cisco

You may think of Linksys as the consumer-grade switch vendor, but the company boasts a line of Business Series switches as well. How do they stack up against Cisco switches? David Davis offers a point-by-point comparison.

When it comes to routers and switches, most IT pros associate Cisco with professional-grade quality and Linksys with low-end, consumer-grade routers and wireless equipment. While there's nothing wrong with this distinction—Linksys (a division of Cisco) addresses the consumer market very well—the comparison may be a bit basic.

Would you buy an access-layer switch for your organization's wiring closet from Linksys? This is a somewhat controversial question. In this article, I'll offer my take, and you can chime in with your opinion in the article's discussion. Let's find out how Linksys switches stack up to their Cisco counterparts.

Did you know that Linksys makes "business" switches? I'll be honest—I didn't know that Linksys made any products targeted toward businesses. And I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one.

One reason for this is the general perception of Linksys products: Most expect Linksys to offer a good integrated router/switch/firewall/wireless AP that you buy at your local electronics store for about $40. But when you need a switch for a new remote office that has 35 PCs and printers and that needs Gb Ethernet uplinks, QoS, VLAN, 802.1x RADIUS, and a Web-based management interface, most people aren't going to think Linksys will be in the running. Most likely, you'll think of Cisco, Nortel, or HP ProCurve—but not Linksys.

However, Linksys offers a switch that can do all of these things for you—for about 75 percent less than what you'll spend on a comparable Cisco switch (even with discounts). Let's find out how two similar switches from the same parent company with drastically different costs stack up.

Before I begin the comparison, a disclaimer: I'm not trying to sell anyone on Linksys business switches; I'm not even saying I would personally choose a Linksys business switch over a Cisco switch. But it's never a bad idea to know your various options, and you never know when you'll be in a situation where cost is the defining factor.

For this comparison, I'm using one of the highest level switches in the Linksys Business Series lineup with the new Cisco Catalyst 2960. (The 2960 recently replaced the 2950 line of switches.)

Linksys switch

Part number SRW248G4, this is a 48-port Ethernet switch that will run you about $300 to $350.

Specifications:

  • 48 10/100 Mb Ethernet ports and four 10/100/1000 Gb uplinks
  • 2 shared mini-GBIC ports for optical or copper interconnect (not on Cisco)
  • 17.6-Gb switching capacity

Pros:

  • QoS with 802.1p, diffserv, or ToS
  • Web browser interface
  • SSH remote management with menu-driven text console (not the Cisco IOS)
  • VLAN support with 802.1q
  • 802.1x authentication and MAC address filtering
  • Supports up to 256 VLANs
  • SNMP management
  • Firmware upgradeable through TFTP or Web interface
  • Port mirroring
  • SNTP for time synchronization
  • Syslog
  • ACLs are configurable in menu and Web interface
  • IGMP snooping for multicast
  • Dynamic VLAN registration with GVRP
  • Link aggregation (LACP) (Similar to EtherChannel in the Cisco IOS world, this is a different protocol.)
  • Rack mountable
  • Five-year warranty

Cons:

  • No Cisco IOS
  • Not as many advanced features as Cisco IOS
  • Not as much grass-roots support
  • Supported by different technical support than the well-known Cisco TAC

Cisco switch

Part number WS-C2960-48TT-L, the Cisco Catalyst 2960 is also a 48-port Ethernet switch, but this switch will set you back about $1,250 to $1,500.

Specifications:

  • 48 10/100 Mb Ethernet ports and two 10/100/1000 Gb uplinks
  • 16-Gbps switching fabric
  • 10.1-Mpps forwarding rate for 64-byte packet

Pros:

  • For the most part, the Cisco switch offers the same software features as the Linksys switch.
  • The Cisco IOS command line includes many advanced features, including Advanced QoS, classic Cisco IOS ACLs, Smartports macros, Network Admissions Control, and a time-domain reflectometer (TDR) to diagnose and resolve cabling problems on copper ports.
  • Incredible grass-roots support, including how-to resources, books, forums, and videos
  • Cisco Network Assistant (CNA)
  • CiscoWorks support
  • Optional redundant power supply (RPS) connector
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • Cost

Still confused? Here's another way to look at it: Ford Motor Co. owns Land Rover and Jaguar. So if you buy a Jaguar or a Land Rover, are you really getting a Ford? If you buy a Ford, are you really getting a Jaguar? While the money flow may all go back to same company, the end product just isn't the same, is it?

In my opinion, the same concept applies when deciding between a Linksys and a Cisco switch. The Linksys is definitely a better value and offers most of the same features as the Cisco version. However, the Cisco is much better quality with a much higher degree of advanced features.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. And if you want luxury features, you must be willing to pay significantly for them.

What grade of switches does your organization buy? From which vendors? What do you think about Linksys Business Series switches? Share your thoughts in this article's discussion.

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David Davis has worked in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.

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