Expanding the Home Lab – Network

homelab-networkHere we are again with another installment of the Home Lab series, this time with an upgrade to the network. My basic setup can be found here with an additional post covering storage found here. With storage now covered it was time to set my sights on a network upgrade. For years I have used nothing but off-the-shelf unmanaged switches but it was time to step up to something that could handle LAGs and VLANs so I could experiment and learn in the comforts of home. Without these two key elements it is tough to reproduce a production environment and equally as difficult to learn the most of what vSphere has to offer.

Requirements

These are the items I took into consideration when deciding on which model to choose:

  • 16-24 Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Link Aggregation support
  • VLAN support
  • Layer 3 static routing
  • Low noise/no noise
  • Low cost

The Contenders

Two switches jumped out at me after a bit of research – the Cisco SG300-20 and the HP 1910-24G. Both seem to have a happy following and both have been around for a while. The spec sheets are extremely similar with both covering all my technical requirements. Cost was within $15 of each other with both coming in slightly under the $300 mark. I’ve had a bit of experience with both HP and Cisco switches with no issues so the names on the box didn’t mean much to me.

The Winner

So it had come down to one list item – noise.  I’m not 100% sure I am correct on this but it appeared as though the HP had a fan and the Cisco did not. Considering the switch would sit within a few feet of my desk…I went with the Cisco.

The Setup

Once I had the switch unpacked and wired up, I was a bit surprised with the actual feature set – very robust. I’m not afraid to say I had to reference the manual a few times to get everything configured correctly. Configuring LAGs for my Synology was a breeze. VLANs took a bit more work but were setup without too much hassle.

For those that may not be network engineers, here’s a few tips on what you need to get up and running.

  1. Connect the switch to your network and let it grab an IP address via DHCP (for now)
  2. First thing I like to do with any gear is check for updates, so grab the latest firmware and boot loader from Cisco. The download package from Cisco will have both files. The firmware can be uploaded via http/https but the boot loader must be transferred via TFTP or SCP.
    1. Administration > File Management > Upgrade/Backup Firmware/Language
  3. Once we are up to date, the next step is to switch the operating mode from Layer 2 to Layer 3.  It seems older versions of the firmware required you to do this via the CLI but the latest version will allow you to do this via the web interface. Take notice that changing modes will wipe the config, one of the reasons we are doing so before making any config changes.
    1. Administration > System Settings
  4. If not forced (again), be sure to change the password for the ‘cisco’ user
    1. Administration > User Accounts
  5. Update hostname
    1. Administration > System Settings
  6. Set static IP address
    1. IP Configuration > IPv4 Management and Interfaces > IPv4 Interface
  7. Create default route
    1. IP Configuration > IPv4 Management and Interfaces > IPv4 Routes
  8. Configure DNS
    1. IP Configuration > Domain Name System > DNS Settings
  9. Configure syslog
    1. Administration > System Log > Remote Log Servers
  10. Enable SSH (optional)
    1. Security > TCP/UDP Services
  11. Configure LAGs (optional)
    1. Port Management > Link Aggregation > LAG Management
  12. Configure VLANs (optional)
    1. VLAN Management > VLAN Settings

That should be enough to get most people going though there is a plethora of other configurable items.

The Save

If you have ever worked with a Cisco device before you are probably aware of the startup config vs running config scenario. When you make changes (either via the CLI or the web interface) these changes are only saved to the running config. The running config is just that – the config that is currently running the device. An extra step is needed to save the running config to the startup config and therefore be there after you reboot the device. This also means it is a good idea to make small changes and commit the config prior to moving on – if you make a mistake configuring VLANs and lock yourself out, for example, you can simply reboot the device, no need to reset the entire device to defaults. If you forget to commit your changes to the startup config, you’ll be a bit surprised the next time you reboot! There is a blinking ‘Save’ icon that will blink in the top right hand corner of the web interface informing you that there have been changes made to the running config that need to be committed to the startup config. To do so, simply click on the icon or navigate to Administration > File Management > Copy/Save Configuration and click Apply.

Conclusion

So far I have only had the device for a couple of days but am very happy in that I have been able to easily setup everything I had set out to do. The price was a bit hard to swallow for home but I expect to get a few years (easily) out of the device and the added functionality brings me one step closer to a production(like) environment. The next steps for me (hopefully) will be adding an additional host…we’ll see.

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