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How to Choose Between a Managed and Unmanaged Network Switch

Author: Rich Tull
by Rich Tull
Posted: Jan 15, 2021
network switches

A Local Area Network (LAN) is one of the least complex and the most popular network types known to most of us. Having said that, it doesn’t mean there are fewer devices connected. There may be hundreds of computers, printers, and other devices connected to a network. A typical LAN utilizes several devices for connections. A network switch is one such device that forms the core of any LAN. These switches help connect these hundreds of devices in a network. They help forward and redirect data from a sender to a recipient. These switches come in different configurations and ports. They are generally distinguished into two categories – managed switches and unmanaged switches. Many times, you may also find switches named according to their underlying technologies such as PoE switches or the number of ports such as 8-port or 16-port switches, or the data speeds they support. Going deeper, they would be still considered as part of any of these categories. In this article, you would be introduced to their capabilities, which will help you figure out their utility in your application.

Network Switches: Managed and Unmanaged Defined Briefly

The following pointers will help you gain a basic understanding of the two switch types.

  • Managed Network Switches: Going by the name, it can be easily understood that these switches are manageable. They offer you great control over your network and help you improve the efficiency of your network.
  • Unmanaged Network Switches: These switches are plug and play type, and they have a basic interface. These switches require no input from you and also demand no prior experience.

Managed Network Switches and Their Functions Analyzed in Detail

A managed network switch equipped with features that support the following:

  • Traffic Optimization: You can rely on an expert or an engineer in-house to take advantage of these features. By doing so you can control the data frames in your network. These switches are available in various port configurations, which you can easily adjust to any setting needed. You can also configure and monitor the network in various ways. It allows you to monitor the data and lend access to the right people.

Many advanced network switches also allow you to configure the data as trunks. This means the data frames can be easily tagged with a particular VLAN ID. The specific IDs enable better grouping of traffic even if it is passing the same switch. Users can also combine multiple ports virtually to create multiple links to increase the data transmission speed up to 8 times the regular single link.

  • IGMP Snooping: The Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP) snooping is a feature in a few managed network switches that helps limit the flooding of IPv4 traffic from multicasts on VLAN. This feature listens to the traffic of the data and forwards it to the ports that may want to receive the data rather than directing it to other ports.
  • Improved Security: The features like Power over Ethernet (PoE) and Port-Based Network Access Control (PNAC) help improve the security of data exchange. You can limit access to the switch using ports. Some advanced switches also allow users to create Access Control Lists (ACL) through which you can easily control the network traffic using "deny" and "allow" statements.
  • Improved Cyber Security: The Security of data is one of the biggest concerns for Internet users. The managed switches assure better cybersecurity compared to unmanaged switches by limiting the traffic and only allowing necessary data to pass through. Many advanced switches also ensure secured SSH and HTTPS connections and account privilege capabilities. Utilizing the account privilege, users can set up different levels of access, thereby restraining certain users to access confidential information.
  • Scalability: Managed switches assure better scalability than their unmanaged counterparts. Any network expansions and change can be easily managed using industrial managed network switches.
  • Redundancy: This is the feature that enables users to duplicate the functions and critical data. Owing to this, data can be easily retrieved in case of a device or network failure.
  • Rate Limiting: Some managed network switches enable users to set maximum permissible bandwidth to each port. This further prevents unnecessary information from flooding the devices.

Unmanaged Switches and Their Features Discussed

An unmanaged switch may not have several advanced features compared to managed switches, still, they are preferred in several applications. They are equipped with certain features that support:

  • Traffic Routing: These switches use auto negotiated ports to analyze parameters such as a full-duplex or half-duplex mode and data rates.
  • Security: There are no manageable security features, still, these switches offer some level of security. They come with basic security features such as a port cover that restricts access to the switch. Although this security may not be of much use, still, it will at least help prevent physical tampering of the device.
  • Media Access Control: These switches maintain a media access control table, which keeps the track of MAC addresses dynamically learned and their corresponding port. The MAC is an abbreviation of media access control, which suggests that these switches also follow certain mechanisms to avoid flooding and collision of data on ports.
  • One Port Concept: These switches cannot create virtual networks or VLANs and all devices are assigned to the same broadcast domain.

A Few Basic Considerations for Managed and Unmanaged Network Switches

The following are a few basic considerations that you can make if you are confused about the two types of switches.

  • You can choose an unmanaged network switch if you want to build a simple LAN with a limited number of devices. These network switches offer default configurations, which you can utilize to your advantage.
  • This type of switch is also ideal if you are working on a shoestring budget. In this type of switch, following the manufacturer’s specifications is the only choice.
  • An unmanaged network switch may not be the right choice if you wish to expand the network in the future.
  • A managed network switch is the right choice if you desire scalability and are looking for cybersecurity, minimal downtimes, redundancy, and so on. It is designed for high data speed transmissions, heavy workloads, and installations that demand custom configurations.
  • They are equipped with a wide range of features and tools that allow you to manage the network better.

Conclusion

Managed network switches and unmanaged network switches are integral to all types of LAN and each offers different benefits. The choice will be fuelled by different apparent factors. You must address these factors before making the final decision. For instance, most managed and unmanaged network switch manufacturers tend to organize their switches in three-speed categories – Fast Ethernet Switches that support 10/100 Mbps; Gigabit Ethernet Switches that support 10/100/1000 Mbps; and Ten-Gigabit Network Switches that support 10/100/1000/10000 Mbps. You need to identify the data speeds required and decide accordingly. Along with these considerations, it is also important that you source these switches from trusted and experienced manufacturers. Perhaps, they would understand your application requirements and even guide you to better choices.

About the Author

R.W. Tull is the President of VERSITRON. He interfaces daily with current and potential end-users. R.W. works closely with clients to review layout diagrams and drawings in order to ensure that the best fiber optic solution is achieved.

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Author: Rich Tull

Rich Tull

Member since: Nov 11, 2020
Published articles: 5

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