Sometimes it is necessary to add a few network ports in a room, on a table, or even in an office cube. We know that our network admins hate those little five port mini switches that we all pick up at BestBuy and plug-in behind the printer, but the two jacks they put in our cube just won’t cut it. How else are we supposed to connect our desktop, laptop, printer, and NAS to the network?
Adding a mini switch to someone’s cube, office, or bedroom is more cost effective than running four new drops. The mini switch solution wouldn’t be a problem for network admins if they were managed and could be integrated into the rest of the network instead of being stand-alone troublemakers that don’t respect the in-place topology, monitoring, and controls. Switch manufactures are beginning to capitalize on this market segment.
Ubiquiti has jumped on the small managed switch bandwagon with the Flex Mini. I picked one up at our local electronics store a few weeks ago for $30.00. Seriously, thirty bucks for a name brand, five port, gigabit, layer 2, managed switch. I got it to replace the no name standalone switch that was in my kid’s room. When I took it out of the box I was immediately impressed by how small it was.
The Flex Mini also offers dual power choices. It can run off of USB-C (adapter included), or PoE. This flexibility means you can put the switch where it needs to be instead of being forced to locate it next to a wall plug and drag the network cables to it. I happen to have PoE running to the location where the switch needs to go. This allowed me to remove an extension cable and power supply from the mess of cables in the room, which is always nice. Locating the switch next to the equipment also let me swap out several long network cables that ran around the edges of the room for short direct ones.
Assuming that you already have a Unifi controller up and running, set up is a breeze. Connect the switch to your network and it will get a DHCP address. The controller will automatically adopt it and provision it with a default profile in which nearly everything is set to automatic.
After the adoption is complete, you can customize the switch to fit your topology using the controller. Tag ports for VLANs, enable jumbo frames, set up mirroring, and turn on loop protection. The only thing that I’ve found missing is spanning tree. To get STP on Unifi switches you’ll need to jump up to an eight port model.
Overall I’ve been impressed with the Flex Mini. If you are not already using Unifi equipment, setting up a controller for five ports is probably overkill. Luckily, they also sell them in three and five packs.