Ubiquiti UniFi Switch AggregationSaturday, Aug 7, 2021 · 900 words · approx 4 mins to read
I’ve recently built a new NAS, and one of the design goals was to allow fast network transfers between it and my Mac Pro, which has built in 10G Ethernet. The storage subsystem of the NAS was built to allow that, with a NVMe-based cache in front of the hard disks, and also some NVMe-based scratch storage which certain things are served from. It’s also got a 10G Ethernet port like the Mac Pro.
So with 10G on each side and the means to make use of it, and potentially at line rate which is quite exciting, connecting the two devices was next. 10G networking is a mature technology now, even in the prosumer space, but switches are still dominated by a high cost per-port, especially if you want RJ45 natively on the switch
I have a UniFi Wi-Fi setup, and Ubiquiti sell a number of 10G-capable switches, so while there are undoubtedly cheaper options for all of their offerings, the ability to integrate it and manage it in the same way as I’m used to for their Wi-Fi was a big factor in choosing something from their line-up. Their 16-port US-16-XG was the leading contender for a while. Expensive at $599, but 12 of the 16 ports are already RJ45 which is most useful to me. However, it recently hasn’t been available in the UK or Europe (or seemingly worldwide) new.
The recently released 4-port USW-Flex-XG is interesting, but at $299 for only 4 ports it limits the amount of 10G-based expansion I can do on the network to just one more device (the switch needs 1 port to connect back to the rest of my LAN). That left me looking back up their range towards those with a higher port count. That’s when the $269 8-port USW-Aggregation switch caught my eye. As the name sort if hints at, it’s designed to sit in the core of a network and provide high speed connectivity to other switches, but it functions just fine as a regular layer 2 switch with nothing but regular clients connected to it too.
You need SFP+ media adaptors in order to get RJ45 ports, which I need because the Mac Pro and NAS ports both sport RJ45, which turns the cheap-on-the-face-of-it $269 into something quite a bit more expensive, but you can add those for $65 per port for the 10G-capable UF-RJ45-10G, or $19.50 for the 1G-capable UF-RJ45-1G, at the time of writing. Decking it out fully with 8 UF-RJ45-10Gs therefore adds another $520 to the cost, but that’s likely not anything I’ll need. Even if it turns out I do, that’s a cost that doesn’t have to be absorbed up front.
So I ordered one yesterday! It turned up earlier today and I’ve been impressed with everything from unboxing, through to commissioning it up here in my home office where both the Mac Pro and NAS live. One thing did trip me up initially: with a 10G RJ45 module installed, a port will only sync with 10G devices on the other end of the cable unless you configure them forcefully to a lower speed, if those devices aren’t made by Ubiquiti. That meant despite being plugged into the 1G switch that brings my LAN from downstairs where it starts at my router, up here into my office, it wouldn’t talk to that switch, and without talking to that switch it wouldn’t talk to the UniFi controller to allow me to adopt and configure it.
I had to SSH in and configure that port to sync at 1G manually with the following commands, from one of the Mac Pro’s 10G ports:
cli conf interface TenGigabitEthernet \<port number\> duplex full speed 1000
exit out a couple of times to allow the interface to restart. It’ll then do the normal things you expect and (hopefully) get an IP and start to adopt in your UniFi controller, assuming you have that same issue.
Apart from that adoption and configuration hurdle I’m very happy so far. The Apple-like unboxing experience was a little spoiled by the vendor only shipping it with an EU plug on the power cable, but it’s not proprietary so that was easily rectified. The compact chassis (standard 19" rack width, but not that deep) has an integrated PSU and no fan, so it runs silently unlike some of Ubiquiti’s other high-end switches that tend to need to be modified with quieter fans for home office use.
Not the cheapest way to have 10G RJ45 connectivity up here in my office, but it gives me future expansion, a manageable cost per-port over time, quiet operation, and most importantly it was available at the time I wanted to buy something unlike the US-16-XG. That switch was probably the better choice on balance despite its own $599 cost, but the USW-Aggregation switch is a fine substitute if the port count and SFP+ is something you can deal with. Don’t be put off by the name, it works fine as a normal switch with client devices and doesn’t have to be connected only to other switches.