What Is A Network Switch and what do they do?
A network switch is an invaluable tool in many businesses and homes, but many don't know what a switch actually is, or what it can do for you. Switches are an essential piece of equipment for building a network between devices within a building or office.
What Does A Network Switch Do?
A Network switch essentially lets any connected devices talk together. It allows devices to communicate and share information with one another which is often vital to the running of many businesses. These devices could be computers, printers, routers, servers, wireless access points and more.
Allowing your devices to connect with one another lets devices work together (for example sending documents from your computer to your printer to be printed), and also means that devices can share files and other data easily from one device to another. This sharing of files means that you can access the same files on many different devices if necessary.
Different Types of Switch
Generally speaking, there are three different types of networking switches for you to choose from:
Unmanaged Network Switches
An unmanaged switch is the most basic type of switch, however, that does not mean that it is any less capable. An unmanaged switch is easy to use and effective as it is simply plugged into a device to connect with it, without requiring any configuration.
They are used for basic connectivity and work well for devices that are within close proximity, as well as for smaller networks where only a few ports will be needed to connect all of your devices.
Unmanaged switches do have their disadvantages, but these mainly apply to larger, more complex IT solutions. The fact that the unmanaged switch can't be configured means that you can't adapt your switch to fit your network needs.
On a basic level, this isn't a problem, however with more complex IT systems, configuring your network may be vital. Also, for larger networks, an unmanaged switch may not have the ports or connections to hold all of your devices at once and so other options may be a better choice.
Managed Network Switches
Managed switches are a more advanced option for larger companies or IT systems. They offer the ability to configure your network to fit your needs and so come with a lot more flexibility; this is vital for more complex systems. They also offer greater security than unmanaged switches which is essential for the handling of sensitive data between devices.
A managed switch allows for you to control all traffic that is accessing your network, and also configure each ethernet port to ensure efficiency with data transfer and network usage. They are also the best choice for supporting the transfer of Gigabit standard throughout your network.
Managed switches can be used to create VLANs, or virtual local area networks, allowing greater control over traffic and segmenting your network further. Most managed switches also feature a Spanning Tree Protocol, (STP) that creates a loop-free environment to help provide redundancy and a more reliable system. Managed switches tend to be more expensive than unmanaged, however, the flexibility, control, and protection are essential for many businesses.
Smart Network Switches
Smart, or intelligent, switches, are similar to managed switches in the security, control and features that are offered. However, a smart switch limits what can be configured by the administrator.
They offer more customisation than unmanaged switches, however, they take a lot of the flexibility of configuration away from the administrator and so they aren't the best choice for networks that require unique configuration (usually larger more complex networks).
Generally, smart switches are more affordable than managed switches and easier to use. This makes them a great choice for small to medium office buildings or business networks.
What To Consider When Buying A Network Switch?
When looking into which switch is best for you or your business there are a few things you can think about and look out for that will help make the decision easier:
- Speed: how fast do you need your switch to be? If you have a lot of users transferring data back and forth at a high pace, it is worth investing in a more expensive switch that can meet that demand. If your network is smaller and meaning there won't be as much demand, cheaper switches will do a great job for you.
- Budget: How much are you looking to spend on your network switch? This plays a vital part in getting the best option for you for the right price. Consider buying refurbished switches that are cheaper yet perform as well as new and can often be uniquely designed to meet your needs. Find out more about refurbished networking switches here.
- Power: If you need your switch to power devices as well as provide the network, you need to look for a switch with PoE ports. This may cost more but is often vital for many businesses.
- Stackability: If your business is on the rise and growing in size and demand, stackability is an important feature to consider. Stackable switches allow you to team switches up with one another and configure them to act as a single unit. This helps grow your network without replacing equipment; instead, you can simply expand your IT system.
- Ports: How many ports will you need? This depends on how many devices you are looking to connect to the switch. The more devices, the more ports you will need, so keep this in mind.
- Customisation: Are you wanting an easy switch that doesn't need a lot of maintenance or configuration? Or are you needing a switch that lets you fully design your network and control exactly how it works? These are important questions to ask when deciding on your switch.
Techbuyer Networking Switch Selector
Our network switch selector allows you to design your network switch to meet your business needs, providing switches that are uniquely designed for you and your company. We can do this by swapping in, adding, or removing different components within the device to make sure that all of the features you need are available, and any that you don't are removed. You can access this tool here, or if you are unsure of how this works, feel free to contact us.
If you are unsure of what you need, what a switch can do for you, or where to go next to get your networking solution, our team of experts are happy to help you make an informed choice on the correct device for you. Get in touch with our team here.