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Can I use Mikrotik vs. Cisco switches in a data center?

I'm purchasing rack-level access switches for an enterprise data center, and weighing Cisco vs. Mikrotik, which is less expensive.

Are Mikrotik switches up to the task of data center networking, even though they cost a tenth of the price for comparable Cisco switches?

Mikrotik's CRS226-24G-2S+RM switch meets all of the data center rack-level access switch requirements, with small form-factor pluggable LC fiber uplinks, Link Aggregation Control Protocol bonding, virtual local area network tagging, storm control and bandwidth controls. It also costs less than $250 on Amazon.com for a 24-port model, which means 48 ports would cost less than $500. If you're comparing Mikrotik vs. Cisco, a similar Cisco switch with 48 ports, Cisco WS-C4948 models, costs between $3,734 and $4,535 on the same site. The real question here is what are the risks in adopting a Mikrotik switch versus its Cisco equivalent?

Can you reliably deploy these Mikrotik switches as rack access switches in an enterprise data center? The answer depends on how mission-critical the applications running on the back-end servers are. In an online forum discussion about Cisco vs. Mikrotik, actual Mikrotik users indicated that the switches are stable for mundane tasks, and pretty reliable with only a few failures at 75 sites that use multiple Mikrotik switches. But data center managers still choose proven switches from a major vendor for substantially higher prices if the downtime risk is too great to justify leaving Cisco. Mission-critical applications that fall under this mandate typically include enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and supply chain management categories.

Less-critical operations could justify using lower-cost, less-well-known switches from Mikrotik. Consider a management switch for the enterprise's virtual private network, an access switch to back-end email systems or an edge switch between two LANs or to link between public and private clouds.

I would likely choose Mikrotik routers over Cisco because they appear reliable with the performance characteristics needed to serve as rack access switches at a tremendously lower price. Use them in test mode first before scaling up the production data center. Your choice will depend on how much risk you're willing to accept.

Network switch purchasers are divided, as the forum referenced above shows. Some network pros see Mikrotik switches as "hobbyist switches," not necessarily suited for the data center, even though the performance characteristics look very competitive. Actual Mikrotik users claim "good stability with mundane tasks" for specific non-mission-critical applications such as customer premise equipment and maximum transmission unit deployments, as well as VPN access points. Several Mikrotik users point to the switches' firmware update quality as substandard for mission-critical computing.

You might not choose Mikrotik or Cisco switches at all -- explore alternatives from other reputable enterprise-class vendors. Start with the level of access reliability you require for the application's back-end servers. Then factor in performance and features, cost, vendor support and any other requirements.

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