|NETGEAR XS708E ProSafe Plus 10GbE Switch|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Network|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Monday, 29 April 2013|
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Closer Look: NETGEAR XS708E
The ProSAFE Plus product line is at least one layer removed from the consumer line of NETGEAR's network devices, and its form, fit, and function are all consistent with its intended purpose. A grey suit in the business world imparts a certain gravitas to the wearer, and the same trick works for networking equipment. There are a total of eight 10GbE ports lined up in two groups of four on the front panel. All use the common RJ-45 spec connector, with dual LEDs on the upper corners. When used to support 10GbE, these type of ports are known as 10GBASE-T. The last port is a dual-purpose arrangement, with a Small Form-factor Pluggable (SFP+) Port wired in parallel. This greatly increases the versatility of this switch, since some devices are only outfitted with SFP+ connections, and it's not easy or cost-effective to convert 10GBASE-T to SFP+, or vice-versa. We'll explore the SFP+ ports in more detail later, but the important thing to know is that they are primarily intended for interfacing with fiber optic cables, and they have a potential transmission range of 10 km. The overall package is slim and sturdy, with an all metal case. Some people like to have the ports on the front, with integrated status lights, as the XS708E has. Other folks like to have the ports on the back, with separate status lights on the front panel. I'm always plugging things in and taking them out, or trying to figure what's plugged into what, so I like having the ports on the front. In a typical home environment though, I can understand wanting the ports in the back, to avoid cable clutter.
The eight RJ-45 connectors on the front of the XS708E are auto-sensing and auto-negotiating ports that support 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T, and 10GBASE-T. When the green LED indicator on the upper left of a port is lit, that indicates the presence of a valid 10Gb/s link. If the amber LED indicator on the upper right of a port is lit, that indicates the presence of a valid 100Mb/s or 1000Mb/s link. The indicators blink when packets are transmitted and/or received on that port. These 10GBASE-T ports can drive Cat5e cables out to 55 meters, Cat6 (or 6a) is required if you want to go the full supported distance of 100m. Thousands of miles of Cat5 and Cat6 cable are already in place in data centers throughout the world, and this switch makes it easy to upgrade your network with the infrastructure that's already wired into place.
The SFP port indicators are similar in operation, but the LEDs sits just above the port instead of being integrated into the connector body. The SFP+ port has support for 10GBASE-SR, 10GBASE-LX, 10GBASE-LRM, 1000BASE-SX, 1000BASE-LX, 1000BASE-LHA, and 1000BASE-LHB. All of these standards require the use of connector modules which slide into the standardized SFP+ interface. There is also an option to use "Direct Attach Copper" cables, with a 10 meter limitation. These Direct Attach cables are much less expensive than the combination of two connector modules and a fiber optic cable assembly, of any type or length. Fiber connections have a potential range that's 1,000 times longer though, up to 10km. Plus, the optical cables are completely immune to RFI interference and data snooping.
At the far left, the power LED indicator flashes yellow while the switch is booting up and green when it's ready for normal operations. Also during boot up, all the LED indicators on the individual ports flash once, just to test their function. Below the power indicator is a warning LED that signals if there is a fan failure. I don't know if it is monitoring the fan(s) directly, or is triggered from a thermal sensor. One reset button is provided, which can be accessed through a small hole in the front panel, directly below the LED status indicators. It's marked "Factory Defaults", and it resets everything, including the password, VLAN settings, and individual port configurations. I never had the need to use the reset button, as the switch didn't need to be rebooted during my testing, which spanned several months. I was always able to connect to it, and use the ProSAFE Plus Utility software to make any configuration changes. With fewer configuration choices available, I never managed to lock myself out. Either the switches are getting smarter, or I am...
The bottom is almost completely unadorned, with markings for four small rubber feet that come packaged in the box. They can be applied by the user, if needed. There are also rack mount ears included in the accessory kit, along with the necessary mounting screws. The default MAC address and default password for accessing the switch is printed on the S/N label here, and on the back. This is a welcome aid, as I usually have to go back to the product manual to find this information. This usually means more paper, stuffed in a drawer somewhere, taking up space. The rear of the XS708E is also very plain, with just the necessary features. The IEC power receptacle is on the far right and accepts the normal 3-pin AC power cord, as supplied in the accessory kit. Power input is pretty universal: 100-240VAC 50-60Hz, 2.2A Max. Towards the center is a hole for a Kensington lock. Since one possible use case for this switch, with its long-haul fiber optic port, is remote deployment, the lock hole might prove useful. This is just the sort of device that would be useful in a room full of video editing workstations, with seven ports for users in the room and a fiber link back to the main LAN room. If deployed inside the LAN room or data center, the K-Lock is not needed.
The NETGEAR XS708E is actively cooled, with two 40mm fans on the left side pulling cool air into the enclosure from holes on the opposite side of the case. They are heavily modulated by a temperature controller within the switch. At startup, they make a powerful noise as they initially get full voltage before the controller comes online. In use, they spin at a much lower RPM, unless the switch is fully utilized and it's operating in a very warm room. In my testing, they were very effective, and produced a noise level that was noticeable in a quiet room, but would be completely swamped by a typical server rack. Data centers are loud places; if you spend a significant amount of time in them, you are required by law to wear hearing protection. During the time I used it, it never got beyond "warm" on the outside surfaces, and the air exiting the case was not hot, just warm. We'll take a look later at the internal components and device packaging, and see what kind of heat sinking is required for chips that can pump 160 Gigabits/second around on a continual basis.
The right side of the XS708E has most of the surface covered by vents letting in fresh air. There are no other vents in the case, all the air moves through the enclosure from right to left. In a simple square box like this, there's no better way to make sure all the componennts are getting their fair share of cool air.
Now that we've seen the external features of the NETGEAR XS708E, let's break out the tools and see what's under the hood.