Managed Switches

The last piece of equipment I need to complete my DevOps server setup is a business class switch. I wanted a gigabit switch that would support 802.3ad link aggregation, 802.1Q VLANs, and SNMP. I expect that I will have to segment my VMs by VLAN in my final setup. Also, though I understand TCP/IP well I am not a networking specialist; so this switch will be an opportunity to learn more about networking.

Checking prices it was clear I would also have to buy the switches used on ebay. I wanted to buy a Cisco model so I could learn IOS, but even used, gigabit Cisco switches were too expensive. I did find a Dell switch that met my requirements. It is the Dell PowerConnect 5324. It’s a 24 port, managed gigabit switch.

When the switches arrived (I bought two), the first thing I wanted to do was to upgrade the firmware. I couldn’t SSH into them nor use their built-in web server. So, I had to connect 1990s style via a serial cable. I don’t even own a computer with a serial port any more! I did find a USB to serial cable at Radio Shack along with a gender changer and a null modem adapter. I connected all the cables, powered up the first switch, ran Putty, and I was in.

The manuals for the 5324 are well written. Good quality documentation is one of the best things about commercial products. Open source applications have a long way to go in this area. Anyway, I followed the manual, and reset the switches to their factory defaults and then configured the passwords for SSH and web access.

Once I had the basics working, I downloaded the latest firmware which, like the HP Proliant servers, was a few years old. Installing the new firmware was a bit tricky. It has to be done in a specific order: boot then software. First I had to setup a TFTP server and then copy the new firmware files to it. Then I did a simple copy from the TFTP server to the switch. The latest versions (as best as I can tell) are:

  • Software:
  • Boot:

The command line in a switch is not like a Unix command line. The switch has these “modes” that you go into and out of to configure different settings. It takes some getting used to but is very powerful. As a test I setup link aggregation for one of my existing servers (a Synology NAS) and it worked fine. I will do the same for each of the HPs.

As my DevOps experiment progresses I hope to configure and manage the switch in the same way as the servers. I hope it will simply be a matter of copying the config file to the switch via SSH. Guess I will see.

Categories: Hardware

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