How to Configure Cisco Switches?

by Lavanya Rath - Last Updated: September 5, 2021

How to Configure Cisco Switches

Switches are an integral part of every network as they connect devices and enable them to communicate.

There are two kinds of switches, namely unmanaged and managed. Unmanaged switches are plug-and-play devices that require no configuration. At the same time, they are suited only for basic connectivity, often in home networks or in places that require only a limited number of ports, such as a conference room.

Managed switches, on the other hand, provide higher security, and they come with advanced features. Also, these switches can be configured to meet your specific requirements, which works well for large organizations where security and quality of service are key metrics.

One of the most popular switches available today is Cisco switches, as they come in many types to suit different needs and environments. They also offer many open, programmable, secure, and intelligent deployment options to give you the right networking tools for next-gen networks.

That said, Cisco switches are complex to configure and require in-depth knowledge in this field. This is why we will show you how to configure them step-by-step.

Step #1: Check your Hardware

As a first step, check your Cisco switch and make a note of its model and ensure that it’s in working condition if it’s an old one. Also, check the cables and the devices to which it will connect to ensure they are all working correctly.

This step can make it easy to identify the cause of a problem and identify the malfunctioning device.

Step #2: Connect the Switch to a Console

Next, connect your switch to a console, typically a terminal emulation tool like PuTTY. As soon as you connect, you will get a prompt with the words “Switch>”. This is proof that your switch is now connected to a console.

To start accessing the switch, type “enable” followed by ENTER. If you’re logging in for the first time, you get the privilege EXEC mode by default, and no passwords are required either. However, you can configure the switch later to have a password for logging into this mode.

Step #3: Create a hostname

Once you’re in the EXEC mode, move to the Global Configuration Mode with this command.

Switch# configure terminal

With this command, you’re all set to configure the switch to meet your specific requirements.

As the first step in configuration, create a hostname for your switch to identify it within your network uniquely. To do this,

Switch(config)# hostname switch

Switch(config)#

Note that the hostname is expected to be something professional in a working setup, and also, it must be easy to remember. Therefore, follow the prevailing naming standards and conventions to choose your name. Check if your company has any preset policies in this regard.

Step #4: Set up Passwords

After the hostname, the next step is to create a password to give access to EXEC privilege. For this password, use the following command.

Switch(config)# enable secret strongpassword

Remember this password, as you’d need to enter this to log into the EXEC mode.

Similarly, configure a password for both telnet and console for added protection.

The command for configuring a password in telnet is,

Switch1(config)# line vty 0 12

Switch(config-line)# password strongtelnetpassword

Switch(config)#

Similarly, the command for setting up a password in the console is,

Switch1(config)# line console 0

Switch(config-line)# password strongconsolepassword

Switch(config)#

Step #5: Configure the Default Gateway

Use the following command to configure the default gateway.

Switch(config)# ip default-gateway IP-address

Switch# show ip route

You can also determine the IP addresses that can access the switch through telnet. To do this,

Switch(config)# ip access-list standard TELNET-ACCESS

Switch(config-std-nacl)# permit 8.8.8.8

Switch(config-std-nacl)# permit 8.8.8.8

Switch(config-std-nacl)# exit

In the above step, you have laid down the IP addresses that are permitted. Next, associate this list with your telnet line. The command for that is,

Switch(config)# line vty 0 12

Switch(config-line)# access-class TELNET-ACCESS in

Switch(config-line)# exit

Switch(config)#

With this, you have configured your default IP addresses and determined the IP addresses allowed through telnet.

Step #6: Configure the Static Route

A static route comes in handy to route packages when no routes are present in the routing table. The advantage of configuring this is that the switch can send all packets through this route, especially when the dynamic routing table is not present or doesn’t have specific routes.

The command for configuring the static route is,

Switch(config)# ip route destination_IP_address mask

Switch# show running-config

Step #7: Disable Ports

Next, disable the ports that you think are not needed. While this is not necessary, it can add an extra layer of security.

In this example, let’s assume we have a 96-port switch and don’t want to use port numbers 75 to 90. The command to disable them is:

Switch(config)# interface range fa 0/75-90

Switch(config-if-range)# shutdown

Switch(config-if-range)# exit

Switch(config)#

Step #8: Configure the Interface Description

The command to configure the interface description is:

Switch(config)#interface interface_name 0/1

Switch(config-if)#description brief_description

Step #9: Set the Duplex Mode

Duplex mode allows the switch to send and receive data, making your switches more efficient in the entire data transfer process.

You can set this mode with the following command.

Switch(config-if)#duplex full

Step #10: Save the Configuration

Once you’ve set up the configuration, it’s time to save them and exit from this mode.

Switch(config)# exit

Switch(config)#

With this, your configuration is complete.

As you may have realized, setting up this configuration is complex. Also, it is not well-suited for all kinds of users as it requires advanced technical skills to pull off.

This is why you’re better off using third-party tools that come with a simple interface. Many of the mandatory processes are handled automatically while the interface takes inputs for user-defined values.

Here is our list of five third-party tools that can take care of configuring Cisco switches:

  1. SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager – FREE TRIAL This tool handles your configurations, regularly monitors them for changes or misconfigurations and informs you in real-time, so you can take the necessary action just when needed.
  2. ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager An automated network configuration tool that gives complete control over the entire lifecycle of device configuration management.
  3. Cisco Configuration Assistant A configuration tool from Cisco that automates the configuration process, improves network security and reduces deployment time.
  4. Device42 Configuration Management This comprehensive configuration management comes with end-to-end capabilities to manage configurations across environments.
  5. WeConfig A network configuration tool that simplifies and manages network configuration.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these tools.

1. SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager – FREE TRIAL

SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager

The SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager is an automated tool for handling all your network configurations, including network switches. It reduces costs, saves time, and at the same time, gives the right configuration for your organization.

Features

The features of the SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager are:

  • Its automated configuration settings ensure high levels of network uptime and reliability
  • Backs up and monitors router and switch configurations
  • SImplifies the entire configuration process to save time and effort
  • Manages switch configurations for greater productivity
  • Continuously monitors changes to identify misconfigurations
  • Identifies and resolves configuration drifts within your organization
  • Compares the configuration among switches to identify changes
  • Makes it easy to track device configuration changes
  • Stays up-to-date on inventory changes
  • Works well across different vendors, and various types of switches with the same vendor
  • Reduces network change management time and errors
  • Uses automation to manage compliance
  • Scales well across hundreds and even thousands of switches
  • Optimizes the performance of your network infrastructure
  • Scans and identifies vulnerabilities
  • Leverages configuration templates to ease the workload
  • Provides real-time alerting in case of any changes
  • Troubleshoots configurations as needed
  • Automatically handles updates to Cisco OS changes
  • Supports VLAN configuration and troubleshooting

Pricing: SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager starts at $1,687 – see https://www.solarwinds.com/network-configuration-manager/registration

Download: You can try SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager for a fully functional 30-day free trial.

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2. ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager

ManageEngine NCM

ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager is an automated tool designed for switches, routers, firewalls, and other network devices, and it handles not just configuration but also change management and compliance.

Features

The features of Network Configuration Manager are:

  • Automatically backs up configuration when a change is detected
  • Comes with a built-in database backup and disaster recovery system
  • Routinely backs up all configuration files
  • Sets the optimal configuration settings
  • Uses incremental versioning that can help with comparison and analysis
  • Secures all configuration files in an encrypted centralized repository
  • Implements role-based access control for enhanced security
  • Improves visibility to configuration changes
  • Sends alerts in case of suspected behavior, especially when an unauthorized user makes configuration changes
  • Comes with a rollback mechanism to ensure that your configurations are stable at all times
  • Provides an approval mechanism
  • Automates repetitive operations and applies them to all the devices as configured
  • Stays compliant with industry standards such as PCI, HIPAA, and more
  • Generates descriptive reports that help with compliance and capacity planning
  • Records user activity to enhance accountability

Pricing: Click here for an online quote.

Download: Click here to get a free download.

3. Cisco Configuration Assistant

Cisco Configuration Assistant

Cisco Configuration Agent (CCA) is a free wizard from Cisco that handles all your configurations and their changes.

Features

The features of CCA are:

  • Simplifies the task of deploying, administering, and configuring all Cisco devices
  • Provides support for the Cisco Smart Business Communication Systems
  • Sets up your configurations using wizards
  • Offers multiple network views
  • Simplifies reporting and analytics
  • Provides the option to upgrade with an intuitive drag and drop editor
  • Handles troubleshooting as needed
  • Substantially reduces deployment and configuration time
  • Improves network security and performance
  • Comes with a well-designed GUI

Pricing: 100% FREE

Download: Click here to download the Cisco Configuration Assistant.

4. Device42 Configuration Management

Device42 Configuration Management is an advanced tool that can configure and manage different devices and environments, including Cisco switches.

Features

Here’s a look at some of the salient features of Device42 Configuration Management.

  • Easy to deploy
  • Audit and compliance-ready
  • Provides native support for many platforms
  • Highly flexible
  • Stays on top of configuration changes
  • Granular and integrates with other applications when required
  • Spreadsheet-based imports are available

Pricing: Click here to get a custom quote.

Download: Click here to try it for free

5. WeConfig

WeConfig is a network configuration and maintenance tool that is simple and reliable and works well across different platforms and devices.

Features

Some of the features of WeConfig are:

  • Saves a ton of time in the initial installation as well as in ongoing maintenance of Cisco switch configuration
  • Automates the configuration process
  • Allows configurations to be deployed in bulk
  • Minimizes the risk of configuration errors and, through it, brings down the risk of downtime
  • Optimizes security by making appropriate suggestions
  • Sends alerts when unauthorized users made any changes to the configuration

Pricing: Click here to reach out to an agent.

Download: No free trials or downloads are available at the time of writing this piece.

Conclusion

In all, Cisco switches are an integral part of most networks today because of their versatility. However, configuring them manually is time-consuming and requires advanced technical skills, not to mention the possibility of errors that can occur at any time.

The good news is many tools can automatically handle this configuration and can even stay on top of their access and maintenance, thereby saving you a ton of time, effort, and resources. Also, these tools can provide granular access to switches and can even send real-time alerts when accessed by the wrong personnel.

These tools reduce the possibility of errors and misconfigurations, and resultant downtimes. They help with compliance as well.

While many tools are available in the market, the tools mentioned earlier are well-known and used extensively for configurations.