In computing terms, a switch is a hardware device that connects multiple devices together over a Local Area Network (LAN). They are used when you have more devices to connect to the network than you have ports on your router.
In an office environment, devices connect to the switch via Ethernet cables. The switch then acts as a control centre for the network that has been created as a result.
It is important to remember that switches are limited in how many devices can be connected to them. Also, one port will be used in order to connect it to the rest of the network. You can daisy-chain network switches to create a larger network. This ensures that you have a port available for every device you wish to connect.
What is a Managed Switch?
As the name suggests, a managed switch allows you to take control of the functionality of the network. Managed switches allow network administrators to manage a wider variety of settings. The functionality of managed switches varies between brands and price levels.
There are many benefits to Managed Switches, including:
- Easier to manage the entire network
- Improves security
- Easy to troubleshoot problems
- Reduces downtime
The following list outlines the main features you can expect from a managed switch:
Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs)
These allow administrators to batch devices so that they may use a single port for more than one device. This is useful if you have a large number of devices that are not frequently used but still need a network connection. If you are unsure of the limitations of your network, then it is worth sticking to the “one device for one port” rule.
If you have ever configured a powerful firewall solution, you’ll understand rate limiting. Rate limiting allows the network administrator to set limits to individual ports on the switch. So, if one device requires an intensive data flow that stops other devices from operating correctly, you can limit its resources and ensure that the whole network runs efficiently.
Quality of Service (QoS)
QoS is designed to help network administrators to prioritise traffic on the network. For example, when computers and telephones are operating over the same network, which often reduces call quality. Engineers will typically prioritise Voice over IP (VoIP), so users get clearer phone calls and can still access the network.
Port control comes down to two features: port security and port mirroring. These allow you to control the behaviour of devices or groups of devices in batches.
Port security settings allow you to define which devices can access the network and places restrictions on device capabilities. Once these are set for individual ports, you can then copy these to other ports for further modifications across your network.
This is an inbuilt feature that helps protect your data when a single device in the network breaks. Essentially, small packets of information are duplicated across the network. This means that should something happen your system is ready with the data to ensure you can continue as usual.
Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)
The most widely accepted protocol for network administration and management is called Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). SNMP allows you to quickly determine the status of the network and its performance. It is intended to remove the need to physically touch the switch as part of maintenance and configuration.
What is an Unmanaged Switch?
An unmanaged switch will simply connect a handful of desktop computers using ethernet cables. It will not provide you with any additional control options.
- The benefits of unmanaged switches are:
- Reduced pricing
- Simple installation
- Easier to physically maintain
For smaller systems that do not need a high degree of control, an unmanaged switch will allow you to get set up quickly and cheaply. We recommend that you choose a leading manufacturer rather than selecting one on price alone. A good quality switch will perform consistently without needing lots of tech support.
What is the Difference Between a Managed and Unmanaged Switch?
As we’ve seen, Managed Switches have much more functionality than unmanaged switches. Your network set up will help you decide which one you need.
Unmanaged Switches are better for a small, simple network of computers that only need to access file storage and the internet.
For more complicated setups, it is worth considering a managed device. This way, your administrator can use to take control of your network and ensure that it runs to full capacities.