A switch is a telecommunication device that joins multiple devices within one Local Area Network (LAN). Choosing the proper Ethernet switch for the right application can be a confusing task as there are many options to be considered such as auto-negotiation features, managed or unmanaged, environment, future proofing, etc. Whether to use managed or unmanaged Ethernet switches for your data center solution is one of the key questions that users frequently put forward. To solve this out, today’s article will cover the difference between managed switch and unmanaged switch, as well as the benefits of using managed switches.
What Does a Switch Do?
Before we come to the differences between managed and unmanaged switch, we should first know exactly what an Ethernet switch is. As noted before, switch is a device mainly found in telecom field to interconnect Ethernet equipment. A switch receives a message from any device connected to it and then transmits the message only to the device for which the message is targeted. Additionally, the Ethernet switch is intelligent and efficient and can determine the target port for each frame. Managed and unmanaged switches are the two common switch types. The following chart shows the major differences between these two switches.
The major difference between them lies in the fact that managed switch can be configured and it can prioritize LAN traffic to make sure the most important information can get through. An unmanaged switch on the other hand behaves like a plug and play device. It cannot be configured and simply allows the devices to communicate with one another. Obviously the fixed configuration of unmanaged switches limits the functionality of a network to that of the Ethernet devices connected. That is the reasons why people would pay for more money to have a managed switch. Next part will go on to provide a clearer illustration to the benefits of using a managed switch.
Why to Use a Managed Switch?
Managed switch give you better control over LAN traffic and offer other advanced features to control the traffic.
It refers to a back up data path to network traffic to safeguard a network in case a connection or cable fails. Managed switches incorporate Spanning Tree Protocol or STP to provide path redundancy in the network. This provides redundant paths but prevents loops that are created by multiple active paths between switches.
- Remote Management
Mission critical networks demand remote configuration, monitoring/traps, reboot, and re-imaging of OS. Managed switch use protocols such as SNMP or Simple Network Management Protocol for monitoring the devices on the network to realize remote management. The SNMP protocol allows you to relay network configuration data to network engineers and allow them to set configuration parameters remotely. This makes wire management and optimization functions to be performed from a central or remote location, which will make network management easier and more straightforward and can reduce troubleshooting time and increase uptime.
- Security and Resilience
Limiting network access to trusted devices prevents users from setting up unauthorized sub-networks. Managed switches enable complete control of data, bandwidth and traffic control over the Ethernet network, allowing you to set IP/port restrictions on actual physical ports. This means you can setup additional firewall rules directly in the switch. In all, managed switches support protocols which allow operators to restrict and control port access, like the 802.1x port based network access control. In addition, managed switches support protocols to limit management plane access via user authentication such as RADIUS, LDAP and others.
- Support Multiple VLAN Configuration
Managed switch can use the VLAN configuration to logically group devices as per the working departments and to isolate traffic between these groups. This segmentation and isolation of network traffic help to reduce unnecessary traffic. For instance, managed switches allow for the creation of multiple VLANs where 8-port switch functionally can become two 4-port switches (where ports 1-4 are VLAN 1 and ports 4-8 are VLAN 2). It’s possible to allow VLANs to talk to the router/NAT, while preventing them from talking to each other. You could lock down the wireless VLAN to only allow port 80/443 or similar so they can browse the web but nothing else.
- QoS (The Quality of Service)
The managed switches are able to prioritize one type of traffic over another allowing more bandwidth to be allocated through the network by assigning a higher priority to the critical traffic. This helps to improve network performance and helps in better transmission of delay-sensitive data such as real-time voice.
When and Where to Use Managed Switches?
Managed switches possess all the above features, which are ideal for network applications with fast response time requirements at companies that need to allowing engineers to reach optimal reliable network performance and maintenance by managing and troubleshooting networks remotely and securely. These switches are robust and appropriate for Industrial Network settings, made to stand up to harsh applications like extreme temperatures (-40 up to +75), vibrations and shocks while contributing to a cost-effective, reliable, and secure network. Managed switches should be used on any network backbone switch so that segments of network traffic can be monitored and controlled such as: security/surveillance, defense/government applications, HVAC, water/waste water, utilities and oil/gas.
Managed switches are usually costlier than unmanaged switches, but it does offer many benefits for network control and configuration. This article has discussed a number of features found on managed switch, and introduce the major distinctions between unmanaged and managed switch. In the end, managed switches are supposed to be used on any network backbone switch so that segments of network traffic can be monitored and controlled, while unmanaged switches are the plug and play devices that are suitable for companies that has no advanced needs and limited budget.