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A Strange Network Issue


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When is a dumb switch smarter that a smart switch?


This issue cost me two weekends in trouble shooting and, surprisingly, had nothing to do with my WHS 2011 server despite it being the only device showing symptoms. The problem displayed as an intermittent connection of the clients to the server not unlike many here have observed. Browsing server shares and client backups would initially work and then for no apparent reason fail to find the server.


My network is pretty simple; a Uverse router connected to a Cisco SLM2008 8 port managed switch feeding multiple Cisco SD2008 8 port unmanaged switches. The server connects directly to the managed switch and the clients all connect through their own 8 port unmanaged switches to the central managed switch.


I initially suspected some sort of DNS issue and hard coded the server and client IPs and names into every systems host file to no avail. Internet access through the router was always fine as were pings to all devices. It was as through something was blocking just the network discovery and browser protocols.


After eliminating everything I could think of, which included enabling a WINS server on my WHS, I swapped out the Cisco SLM2008 8 port managed switch for a Cisco SD2008 8 port unmanaged switch and magically everything started to work and, after 2 weeks, has continued to work flawlessly.


The funny part is that I was not even using any of the managed switch features; I only used it because I could power the SLM2008 remotely with POE with the power injector plugged into my UPS. So much for enhanced reliability! I confirmed I was running the latest Cisco SLM2008 firmware with default settings, which presumably mimic an unmanaged switch, but that fancy switch was very bad news for my network.


It does make me wonder if any of these network issues others have experienced might be switch related.

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It's certainly true that switches have been getting more and more sophisticated/complicated over the past few years. This will inevitably lead to more problems as well. As the old adage says, it's usually best to keep things simple.

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