PoE: Switch vs. Midspan

By Ethan Ace, Published Mar 12, 2012, 08:00pm EDT

Whether to use PoE switches or midspans is a fundamental decision with strong opinions on both sides. Some insist that midspans are completely unnecessary, given the reliability and lower costs of PoE switches today. Others insist that midspans offer flexibility and reliability that switches do not. To find out what is really selected, we asked 100 integrators what they used as part of our Winter 2012 Integrator Survey.

The Responses

Here is a visual breakdown of their responses:

An overwhelming majority of respondents (86%) preferred PoE switches to midspans. This is not surprising, as past discussions have indicated preferences for PoE switches, as well.

PoE Switches

By far, the most common reasons given for using PoE switches were lower cost and greater simplicity. PoE switch pricing has come down in the past few years, making the combination of a non-PoE switch plus a midspan more expensive, as we discussed in our PoE cost comparisons. Additionally, a midspan takes up another space in the rack, and requires two patch cables instead of one, making PoE switches simpler to install.

  • "No brainer here. Why use two devices when the job can be accomplished by one. Reliability of the power is not a factor. POE switches are cheap. The installation is cleaner with a single switch."
  • "Where ever possible we use quality PoE switches, again fewer components. Keep it simple"
  • "PoE switches where possible. Gives me the possibility to remotely reboot cameras that have lost contact. Injectors only when installing in an existing network with existing non-PoE switches or at low cost installations with outdoor cameras that we power through the housing and need one or two indoor cameras."
  • "Keeps the installation simple and clean. A switch is a required component; adding power to it reduces cost and total number of parts to install."
  • "PoE switch is cheaper than a midpsan plus a regular switch. Some midspans cost more than PoE switch! PoE switches have worked fine for us."
  • "Fewer components, lower cost. We don't get into situation requiring super heavy duty high power POE so off the shelf power is fine for nearly all of our applications."
  • "Less rackspace, less heat, the patch cables. Less is better. Now if it's a couple cameras then we use single port injectors"
  • "Simplicity and cost. If you are providing the switches for a separate network (my preference) then just make the switch POE. All of the IT departments we have dealt with if they are providing the switches go this route as well."
  • "For standard 15W PoE, we find that PoE network switches work best. Many of our municipal clients furnish their own switches or have direct accoutns with HP, Dell, or Cisco and want to purchase them direct. The cost differential between a PoE switch and a non-PoE siwtch is usually less than privding a midspan."

Another feature which received multiple mentions is the ability to remotely monitor and reset power on specific ports:

  • "POE switches give you much more control, the ability to remotely power cycle a port is a big advantage where you have very dispersed installations."
  • "PoE switches where possible. Gives me the possibility to remotely reboot cameras that have lost contact."
  • "Going directly to a switch offers the management capabilities to see power used and reset power to a given port. There are a few midspans that offer such, but many times at a greater cost."

As the last commenter said, these features are available in some midspans, but typically add to cost, making midpans even less cost effective compared to switches.

Midspans

The most common reason given for preferring midspans was that it created a clear delineation of responsibility. Using a midspan also allows IT departments to deploy their typical equipment, often non-PoE switches. 

  • "I prefer injectors, it gives a good point of demarcation between the IT and Security departments. It also gives our technicians the ability to plug a laptop into an IP camera without the connecting the laptop to the corporate network."
  • "We have seen issues with bad ports and faulty ports as well as ghost issues with POE power. We typically spec the switch but don't always offer so it would be best to use injectors to keep the burden off of our solution (responsibility wise)."
  • "Most importantly for us is the midspan provides an excellent boundary between what we are providing and what the owner is responsible for. We dont need to worry about the owner wanting a Cisco, HP, etc. type switch."

Trends

These preferences remained fairly unchanged across all average system sizes. Integrator preference towards analog or IP cameras had no material impact.

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