Evaluate the pros and cons of Cisco's new Express 500 Series switches

Sometimes, a new product can seem to offer everything you need—until you start getting into the nitty-gritty details. While contemplating the new line of Cisco Catalyst Express 500 Series switches, the need for due diligence became apparent when David Davis uncovered some unexpected details about this switch. Learn more in this Cisco Routers and Switches article.

Deciding whether to purchase new switches can be somewhat of a challenge, and many factors can come into play. And when new products debut, it can be rather tempting to turn to the latest, greatest models—especially if they have an affordable price tag.

However, before making such an important purchasing decision, it's vital that you do your research. Sometimes, a new product can seem to offer everything you need—until you start getting into the nitty-gritty details. In fact, the organization where I work recently encountered just that.

My company is planning a new remote site for its network. This remote site will have up to 24 Ethernet devices and up to 24 VoIP phones. We're currently using Cisco 2950 switches with power injectors to add the power over the Ethernet cables for the VoIP phones. Specifically, we use 3Com's Power over Ethernet Multiport Midspan Solution.

So far, this solution has worked very well for our needs. However, it would be more efficient to have a single switch that has built-in power over Ethernet (PoE) connections. Such a switch would eliminate the need for the mid-span injector.

Of course, there's a catch: These PoE switches are expensive. A Cisco 24-port 2950 switch currently runs about $600. The mid-span power injector costs another $800. That gives us a total of 24 PoE ports for about $1,400. A comparable Cisco 3560 24-port POE switch runs about $2,800, which would require spending another $1,400 for an integrated solution. So far, this solution has been too expensive to justify the additional cost.

Recently, we asked our Cisco reseller for another quote on Cisco PoE solutions. He introduced us to the new line of Cisco Catalyst Express 500 Series switches. Launched in late 2005, this line offers a low-cost switch solution for small businesses.

The Catalyst Express 500 Series of switches features four models (see the data sheet for more information):

  • Cisco Catalyst Express 500-24TT (WS-CE500-24TT): 24 10/100 ports and two 10/100/1000BASE-T ports
  • Cisco Catalyst Express 500-24LC (WS-CE500-24LC): 20 10/100 ports, four 10/100 PoE ports, and two 10/100/1000BASE-T or Small Form-Factor Pluggable (SFP) ports
  • Cisco Catalyst Express 500-24PC (WS-CE500-24PC): 24 10/100 PoE ports and two 10/100/1000BASE-T or SFP ports
  • Cisco Catalyst Express 500G-12TC (WS-CE500G-12TC): Eight 10/100/1000BASE-T and four 10/100/1000BASE-T or SFP ports

Cisco stresses that these switches sport attractive pricing, a limited lifetime warranty, and remote management capabilities. The reseller quoted us a price of $2,000 for the 24-port PoE switch, which was truly impressive. And for only $600 more, we could get an integrated PoE 24-port solution.

However, there's a reason you should always do your homework before making such a large purchase. I turned to the Web to further investigate and research the Express 500 Series of switches, and I began to get an idea why small businesses are the target market.

In my research, I found that, in order to cut costs, Cisco removed the Cisco IOS command-line interface from this line of switches—a distressing omission to most regular Cisco users. As a matter of fact, I read, at length, on Cisco's Web site about these switches and never saw anything about the removal of the command-line interface.

And I suspect most purchasers familiar with Cisco switches would assume that the Express 500 Series includes the IOS command-line interface with these switches, and the fact that it doesn't could make a difference in their purchasing decisions. I know it did for my organization—we opted to go another route.

So, I can see why Cisco has tailored this line of switches to the needs of small businesses. These same small companies may currently use NetGear or Linksys switches, which don't offer a command-line interface either.

Of course, this isn't the first line of Cisco switches to exclude the command-line interface; for example, Cisco Catalyst switches, such as the Catalyst 1900 series (without the enterprise edition software), didn't include the IOS interface. But in my opinion, without the interface, this switch really didn't deserve to sport the Cisco name.

Are you familiar with the Cisco Express 500 line of switches? How do you feel about the lack of command-line interface? What experience have you had trying to find affordable PoE switches? Post your comments 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.