What’s the Best Choice for Your Access Layer?

September 10, 2018 Support

Access LayerCore, Distribution and Access layer. We all know about Cisco’s hierarchical, three-layer model for networking. Each layer has its own role and its own set of expectations, as set by you, the Network Guy. But how do you decide what to replace the equipment in each layer with? In this blog, we’ll focus on the Access Layer. All those data closets, all that cabling, and all those Cisco 3750 switch stacks that are full of dust, running on fumes, might be screaming to be replaced with something shinier. Also, are they reaching End-of-Life End-of-Support? It happens to the best of them.

Back to the original question – how do you decide what direction to go in next? What about PoE, uplinks or stacking? Manufacturers offer several options for you to choose from. In my typical fashion, let’s break down the stats. A “Tale of the Tape”, if you will…height, weight, reach, TKO’s, etc.

Cisco 2960-X/XR Catalyst Switch

This is your lightweight contender, in terms of cost. But don’t be fooled. This model definitely packs a punch and has shown to last a full 12 rounds.  You have the option of 24 or 48 Gigabit Ethernet ports, and either four fixed 1Gb Ethernet SFP uplinks or 2 fixed 10Gb Ethernet SFP+ uplinks. For WiFi and security cameras, it also offers PoE+, a full 740W of power. You can stack up to eight 2960X switches together and even leverage some Layer 3 features (XR model only). All that, and the console port is in the front! Perhaps the most popular switch, you could call the 2960-X the “People’s Champ”.

Cisco 3650 Catalyst Switch

In this corner, weighing in at a slightly heavier price tag is the 3650 series. Again, there are 24 or 48 ports of Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. However, with the uplink modules, you have choices. Two 10 GB, four 10 GB, and you can even do 40 GB with QSFP+ ports. Let’s talk power. Dual redundant power supplies are available as well as full 802.3at (PoE+), which means 30W of power per port. You’ll need that when you upgrade to 802.11ac WiFi. The 3650 also provides full routing capability in the event you do layer 3 in your access layer, but if not, it’s still an option. Finally, for those data closets disguised as shallow wall-mounted cabinets, the 3650 has a reduced depth and lower noise to fit right in. Given these features, the 3650 really packs a punch.

Cisco 3850 Catalyst Switch

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee….If you have the money to flex this switch in your closets, get ready for full power, speed and efficiency. Unlike the other contenders, the 3850 offers 2.5/5/10Gb options for host connectivity. It also offers a variety of uplink modules similar to the 3650. Redundant power supplies are available here as well, but more importantly, the 3850 offers StackPower. This means if you lose power to a portion of your switch stack, switches themselves still stay powered on. You can also stack up to nine here as well, with 480Gbps of stack throughput. In terms of PoE, 30W is standard with an option for 60W. Don’t get caught on the ropes with this model.

Whatever model you decide to go with, you’ll be getting great features and upgrading the network experience at your Access Layer. The decision becomes one of budget and future requirements. Security, reliability, redundancy and ease of management are all factors you should consider when you review the tape on these three.



Bobby Grewal  is a Networking Engineer rockstar with years of networking know-how under his belt!