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Aggregation switches help switched networks scale

As part of last autumn’s significant expansion of our cloud-managed switching portfolio, we introduced a pair of aggregation layer switches to complement our hugely successful access layer lineup. This special category of switches delivers 3 primary benefits:

  • Network scaling

  • Performance with High Availability

  • Application visibility for the access switches they aggregate

Network Scaling

Traditional switch architecture breaks down into layers. The access (sometimes referred to as ‘edge’) layer provides direct connectivity to user devices like desktop computers, or Power-over-Ethernet devices like wireless APs and IP phones. Core routers (or routing switches) typically act as the demarcation point between a LAN and the outside world, connecting to the Internet or to private WAN circuits via a security appliance.

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In a small network, the core router may provide sufficient connectivity on its own for directly connecting the access layer switches. However, as an organization grows it may run into issues with port capacity, particularly if using structured fiber to interconnect wiring closets. In other words, there may simply not be enough fiber ports on the core router to terminate all the incoming connections.

Enter the aggregation layer switch (sometimes referred to as a distribution layer switch). Meraki aggregation switches are equipped with either 24 or 48 SFP+ fiber interface ports, enabling networks to scale significantly. Using their Layer 3 capabilities it’s also possible to implement large networks using multiple subnets to avoid creating overly large broadcast domains.

Performance with High Availability

Unsurprisingly, concentrating the data from as many as 48 access layer switches through an aggregation switch demands plentiful resources. The Meraki 420 series switches deliver, capable of almost 1Tbps of throughput, and as with all Meraki switches up to 4 ports can be aggregated to provide 40Gb/s of connectivity between any pair.

This level of performance takes the Meraki 420 series into data center territory, and the SFP+ switch ports can accept a range of interface types, including ‘Direct Attach’, a short reach copper interface which runs at up to 10Gb/s. The dashboard will show the interface type connected to each port, together with its raw performance potential which is useful information for remote management. Here’s an example:

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Whether used for network aggregation or data center, such a mission critical switch demands high availability features. The 420 series supports the Rapid Spanning Tree protocol for loop prevention, and is equipped for redundant, hot swappable power supplies and fans (also covered in the comprehensive warranty included in the product license). Speaking of power supplies, we recently enhanced the dashboard switch summary screen to include details of power supply status:

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Further High Availability enhancements are in the works as we continue to enhance the product, so stay tuned to the blog for more updates.

Application visibility and control for all connected access switches

As with all networking equipment in our portfolio, the aggregation switches include Meraki’s legendary application visibility and control (AVC). Not every organization is able to start afresh with a network built entirely on our technology, so where there is an existing estate of non-Meraki access layer switches passing traffic to the aggregation layer, standards interoperability enables our switches to provide AVC for the connected clients.

When writing this post, we decided to ask one of our customers how the MS420 aggregation switch is working-out for them. Vector Media is based out of New York City, with offices around the US and Canada specializing in ‘out-of-home’ media advertising. They added the 420 to their Cisco Meraki network soon after their launch and here’s what their CTO had to say about them:

“The MS420 is a beast!  As a growing company, scaling is very important to us.  The MS420’s raw switching power has allowed us to expand our network at a rate far faster then I ever imagined.  It removed a massive bottleneck in our network – with lots of room to spare!”

Here’s Vector Media’s 420, working hard in their wiring closet (at the top in this photo, together with a Meraki Security Appliance and a couple of 48 port access layer switches):


If your network is ready for an aggregation layer, don’t forget we offer free trials of all our equipment, including shipping and support, so there’s no reason not to take one of these powerful switches for a spin.