My initial qualms with Dell PowerConnect switches, the line was launched in 2001, were the same as for any brand-new hardware line: How durable and reliable would they be? Those concerns have been put to rest based on the performance of the PowerConnect 3000-, 5000-, and 6000-series switches that I've now been running in production for years. In fact, a PowerConnect 6024 gigabit L3 switch has been running a significant part of the lab network without complaint for the past six years. One expects that the 8024F will follow in those footsteps, but only time can tell.
The 8024F is probably best suited as a high-end server consolidation switch or perhaps even an L3 core (with a redundant counterpart) for a smaller but throughput-hungry data centre. The 8024F is equipped with 20 SFP+ ports and four dual-media ports that support either SFP+ or 10GBase-T connections. Thus, it's possible to run twinaxial cabling straight into every port on the switch or to leverage 10GBase-T for short uplinks on the last four ports.
In addition to the twinaxial cabling, each of the SFP+ ports can be used with a 10G optic supporting either short-range multimode or long-range multi- and single-mode fibre connections, all with standard LC connectors. These optics are quite cheap, costing as little as $157 for short-range multimode up to $317 for a long-range single-mode optic. Suffice it to say, they won't break the bank.
Benchmarked and spec'd
10G deployments and market penetration being what they are (namely, pricey and slight), I wasn't able to run all 24 10G ports simultaneously, so I cannot speak to Dell's stated 480Gbps backplane and 357.14Mpps throughput. I can attest that I was able to get wire-speed performance out of four ports simultaneously, even working across VLANs. Ideally, that performance scales up to the full complement of ports as Dell claims.
I ran a series of throughput tests with IOMeter, looking for weaknesses at different packet sizes and whatnot. Naturally, performance dipped somewhat with smaller packet sizes, but overall the throughput was where it should have been.
The rest of the raw specs on the 8024F are about what you might figure for a 10G switch: LACP link aggregation of up to eight ports; support for 4,000 VLANs and 32,000 MAC addresses; Auto-MDI/MDIX; port- and flow-based QoS; Layer 2, 3, and 4 flow-based policies with metering; 802.1x; SNMP; OSPF; IGMPv2; VRRP; IPv6; sFlow; LLDP; and the rest of the usual suspects. There's also a feature called iSCSI Optimisation, which purports to boost iSCSI traffic flowing through the switch by assigning iSCSI traffic to a non-default queue for lower latency and higher prioritisation.
It should also be noted that Dell itself gave the 8024F a vote of confidence by shipping it as the reference 10G switch for my review of the Dell EqualLogic PS6010XV 10G iSCSI array.
Managed by web or command line
The management of the 8024F is handled through a web GUI or traditional command-line interface extremely similar, but not quite identical, to that of Cisco IOS in form and function, but not quite the same. This shortens the learning curve for Cisco veterans somewhat, but the slight functional disparities can be frustrating at times. For instance, "conf t" is the traditional command to enter configuration mode on Cisco IOS. On the PowerConnect, "conf" will do the trick, but if you reflexively type "conf t" you get an error.
Also, the configuration is not structured the same way. Interfaces that are left to their defaults do not appear in "show run" output, which just feels strange to an IOS expert. These are minor quibbles, but when you're bustling through a switch configuration trying to find and fix a problem, it can get annoying.
The web interface is likely to be the main configuration point of the 8024F, and it drives fairly well. I've never liked GUI interfaces for routers, switches, or firewalls, but the PowerConnect web GUI isn't bad. It's very Spartan and quick, which is far better than some overly busy web 2.0-style interfaces. Everything you need to do is on a tree in a left-hand frame, and the remainder of the window is given over to whatever element you've selected. Making sweeping changes to large numbers of ports through the GUI can be tedious, but that can be achieved from the command line in a simpler fashion. For individual configuration tasks, the web GUI is more than adequate.
One nice feature of the 8024F is an RJ-45 console port and a true out-of-band Ethernet management port on the rear of the device. Prior PowerConnect switches used DB9 serial ports for console access, but the 8024F can use a standard Cisco console cable. The out-of-band management port is also handy on a switch of this type since it might be used in places where accessing the management UIs via in-band addressing would be problematic.
Overall, the Dell PowerConnect 8024F is a high-powered switch without the high-powered price, relative to others on the market. It offers plenty of enterprise features, but doesn't include the wealth of services found in switches costing two or three times more. However, there are many places where this switch could be an extremely powerful and cost-effective method of bringing 10G into the mix.