Although it’s easy to think of D-Link as a maker of cheap-and-cheerful SME equipment, this type of stuff is merely one string to the company’s bow, and it makes larger equipment.

The DWS-3024 is a case in point - a layer 2/3 "wireless switch" with 24 UTP Gigabit ports that can be used to power and manage up to 24 802.11a/b/g wireless access points. It has a further four modular SFP sockets in case you need to connect to fibre-based links. The DWL-8500AP is the 802.11a/b/g wireless access point which it can manage.

Wireless switches have been around for a few years, initially from specialist suppliers, such as Aruba, and also Trapeze Networks, whose 8-port 10/100 product D-Link previously re-sold, under the badge AirPremier. This is a bigger device, with 24 Gigabit ports; the D-Link version is also intended to be cheaper than the equivalent from a specialist supplier

We’ll only talk briefly about the access point, since there’s not really a great deal to say – it does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a grey box with a pair of screw-on antennae and a bracket that lets you wall-mount it if you wish. The back panel has the obligatory RJ-45 for the incoming LAN connection. Although the network port is PoE-capable (and the DWS is happy to supply the power) you get a power socket too. The front panel has a handful of flashing lights that show you all the obvious stuff – which of the two radios (802.11a or 802.11b/g) is/are active, LAN status, unit status and power.

The DWL is a fairly noisy 1U box with the aforementioned LAN ports on the front panel, alongside a nine-pin RS-232 console port. The power socket is on the back, alongside a slot into which an optional redundant PSU can be inserted. Management of the unit is via a browser-based GUI interface, though you can use a command line instead via the console port or a SSH terminal connection.

The unit is reasonably easy to get to grips with, management-wise, and you don’t really even need the manual. This is kind of fortunate, as our review unit didn’t actually have a manual in the box! The default IP address of 10.90.90.90 wasn’t particularly guessable, but other D-Link products use this as their default, along with the default management user ID of “admin” with a blank password. Once you’re connected, you get a pretty standard-looking GUI, with the various facilities you can choose down the left and a larger detail pane on the right. There’s also a pretty picture of the device’s front panel at the top of the screen, which shows you basic things like which ports are active; clicking on a port pops up a menu of shortcuts to configuration options relevant to that port to, which saves you having to dig through the menu tree in the left-hand pane.

The DWS is called a “wireless switch” because rather than having a set of stand-alone access points connected to the LAN and managed independently, the access points instead integrate with the switch and are managed through the switch’s GUI. There are two tabs on the left-hand pane of the management GUI; “LAN” is used to manage the cabled network aspects of the system, while “WLAN” looks after the access points. You get an extensive set of management options, from basic stuff like setting the SSID and turning each radio on or off to vast, complex screens that let you dictate power settings, which wireless channels are to be supported, which VLAN each wireless network lives in, RADIUS server information for external authentication, and so on.

The LAN side of the management application is pretty hefty, but necessarily so since there are plenty of things to configure on any layer 2/3 switch. So along with basic configuration (unit IP address, PoE setup, authentication management, DHCP server and basic diagnostics such as Ping) you have a group of layer 2 features (Spanning Tree, VLAN definitions, multi-port trunking and such like) and a set of layer 3 stuff (ARP tables, IP addressing, DHCP relaying, routing details and the like). Then you’re into QoS settings (notably IEEE802.1p prioritisation, bandwidth control and Differentiated Services), plus a section for access control lists (for managing who can access what on the network), one for security (which is where you define RADIUS, 802.1x, TACACS, SSL and SSH authentication and connectivity) and finally a section with an absolute shedload of different monitoring and stats information.

The combination of the DWS-3024 and D-Link’s access ports is a useful one, as you get a sensibly integrated LAN/WLAN world with a single point of management. Although I suspect a user manual would be a handy addition if you’re intending to use the beast in anger, we did manage to get everything going without RTFMing, which can’t be a bad thing for a device of this complexity (though the built-in help screens are a bit basic, and could do with a nicer stylesheet and also some more “this is what this section does” content alongside the point-by-point description of the individual options on the screen.

OUR VERDICT

If you’re planning to have more than a trivial wireless setup in your network, then think about integrating it - and this product can be compared with those from Trapeze and others.