Your network will always grow, and due to the laws of entropy, left to itself,
it’ll grow messier. Here are some things to consider while it’s still small and
Naming and documenting things
Use a simple switch naming scheme that you can live with and that scales. It’s
perfectly OK to call your switches
sw002 etc, even if it feels
a bit un-personal. I’ve tried adding descriptive bits to my switch names (like
sw002-project), but in the end, simpler turned out to be
preferable, especially when i had to get a bigger switch somewhere and relocate
the smaller switch somewhere which didn’t correspond to its name.
Use one or even two leading zeroes so that the switches alphabetise nicely. If
you need more than two leading zeroes, you’re either way ahead of me (and you
don’t really need this text), or way ahead of yourself.
Label your switches. The only thing you really need on the switch is the
switch’s name. Other useful things to label on the switch are its IP address,
but we’ll get to that, and what the switch does. Remember that you’ll most need
the label when you least want it (ie in an emergency), so make it large enough,
in a standard place and with a big enough font. If you don’t have a label
printer yet, get one. A cheap and portable one is good enough to go.
Document which switch is which. Document which cable goes where. Label each
friggin' cable or cable bunch (we’ll get into trunks and aggregates in a while)
with some kind of label or identifier on each end of the cable, and on each
place it might be helpful, like half way through a cable draw. I’ve found white
plastic tape and sharpie to be excellent tools for this (since my printed
labels won’t nicely stick to the cables). My favourite thing to put on the
label are the names of the two switches the cable bunches are going to.
Document your VLANs. Draw pretty pictures. Use them as a tool for communication.
Document for the future you who might be on vacation when the network is down
and you’d like your network-savvy colleague to be able to figure things out
with a minimum of your consultance.
Get your gear
Don’t skimp on the switches. I’ve bought somewhat-commandline-configurable
switches (HP OfficeConnect series), used them, cursed them, taken them out of
production and will not have another of them on my network. While i was able
to do some of the configuration over the command line, the syntax was quite
different from the “proper” HP switches, and it wasn’t possible to take
config backups over scp.
Having managed switches everywhere will pay off.
Also, don’t overdo it. Ten gig switches would be nice, but they currently cost
nearly tenfold compared to one gig switches. Have data to show whether you
truly need faster switches.
Don’t buy switches that don’t go to one gig.
Get a head light and store it in the server/network room (closet). Once your
switches and servers are taken over by cables, it can be really difficult to see
whether that cable is in port 11 or 13, and you’ll need both of your hands.
Buy switches that you can configure over the command line, using a console
cable. You’ll need this functionality one day. Have several console cables.
Buy cables that are long enough that you can have one end connected to the
switch and the other side connected to your laptop, which you’ll eventually will
need to leave on the floor for a while. You’ll curse your choice of cable length
if it’s inadequate at this time.
Learn to love the command line.
Stick to the same kind of switches. I like the HP 2530 series, but that’s me.
I’ve used Cisco switches too, but turned out to require a paid yearly license to
get firmware updates (i don’t know if this is still the case) so i turned away
from them. Also, Cisco switches use the exact opposite logic for configuring
them, compared to HP switches, so having a Cisco-HP mixture would probably drive
Always use the same kind of screws to install your gear into a rack. This means
you’ll need just one tool to detach them. I prefer the ones with the hexagonal
hole. Also, have one or two extra tools of the right make (Allen wrenches?)
stored in strategic places.
Keep things neat
Have a management VLAN. Do all your management only through this VLAN and the
console. If you have a switch that you’ll leave out in the wild, don’t leave the
management VLAN on any open switch port.
Give IP addresses only to your management VLAN interface, the other interfaces
can go without addresses. Use DHCP reservations. Have the last octet of the IP
address to be the same as the switch’s asset number (so
sw042 gets the IP
10.0.0.42, for example … if you have over 240 switches, these
tips probably don’t apply to you). Once in a while, you’ll need to give IP
addresses to other VLANs as well for debugging purposes. You may need to give it
a static address if you can’t get the switch to talk to the DHCP server. If so,
give an address which is out of the DHCP range (i usually leave the last few
addresses, say .241-254, out of the DHCP pool). Remember to clean up afterwards
or you will get surprised by address overlaps one day.
Use different coloured cables for different purposes. Be consistent. If you use
blue for management and orange for link aggregates (or whatever), then don’t
use a green cable because that one’s the only thing you can find at an arm’s
length when you need another one.
Buy enough of patching cables, of different colours and lengths. At the patching
panel, the ones that actually bend are nicer than the ones that are shielded and
Use velcro tape to bundle cables that belong together, and to the sides of your
rack. I like to build a little contraption of velcro tape and those metallic
strings that cables come wired in to have my cables along the server rack wall;
the metallic string is easy to bend through the holes of the rack bits and the
velcro tape is held neatly by the metal wire. Buy a whole roll, the kind you can
rip, if you can find it. Use long enough strips of velcro tape, since you’ll
inevitably add more cables to that bundle.
Use your switch ports in a consistent way. Have the trunk/aggregate ports to one
end of the switch. Assign an even number of ports for a purpose, so that your
block of ports always start at the same side side of the switch. If you can,
leave one or two ports
Vulcans invented velcro tape. They can’t be wrong. That would be illogical.
Try to use cables that are just the right length, or at least try to have
cables that are the right length when they are by your switch or patch panel.
Really try to keep your patch panel and switch face tidy. Yeah, i know it’s
Have your switches configured in a similar fashion, so you don’t have to wonder
why you can’t ssh into this one switch when it otherwise seems to be working
Use unique passwords. It’s really painless if you use a password manager.
gopass (which is the evolved version
pass) is really good, especially as you want to share the network passwords
with your admin peers.
Use Link aggregates and VLAN trunking
to connect your switches together. Having more than one cable connecting the
switches together is a Good Thing, as is not having to wonder which cable
connects to which VLAN.
Name your link aggregates according to which switch they connect to. If you
have an aggregate between sw012 and sw027, call them
Trk27 on switch
sw027 (substituting for local dialect).
Security and elegance
Switch off non-secure management protocols like telnet, tftp and http, as well
as the ability to have the switch configured over DHCP (unless you really,
really need it). In all likelyhood, this is overkill, but one fine day, it might
not, and then you’re a happier person. ssh is your friend, and if your switch
doesn’t know ssh, it might be time to find a better friend.
Keep your switches updated and at the same firmware version. Updating switches
is not fun and will create network outages, but at least you’ll have the same
capabilities on all switches. For example, NTP came to HP switches fairly
recently, and before that, it’s been SNTP or TIMEP. I’d rather have just one
time keeping protocol to worry about than three.
Take backups of your switch configurations before you make that next config
change (and after you got it to run). scp and git are your friends (as is
Have a baseline configuration you can just copy-paste into a new switch. I
wrote about some nice HP switch settings
before. Good Laziness is another good value of an admin (Larry Wall has written
about the Three Great Virtues of
a programmer; laziness, impatience and hubris).