The switch is one of the most important devices on a network. Your good choice will allow this network to have the expected performance, and, of course, users will be the main beneficiaries. This detailed guide will discuss the essential differences between the two types of switches that exist: the manageable (or also known as manageable) and the non-manageable (or also known as unmanageable). Which one suits me best? Is a manageable switch always worthwhile instead of an unmanageable one? These and other questions will be answered so you can make the best decision.
It never hurts to refresh the concept of switch and why you need it. The switch has the ability to connect multiple devices on a local area network. Consequently, they will be able to communicate with each other to have access to the different system resources. Also, they will be able to share resources such as documents, software and even other network peripherals such as printers. The switches have ports that make it possible to connect the devices and therefore manage to communicate with each other and share resources.
We can find 5-port, 8-port, 24-port, 48-port or more switches. Of course, this is only one of the variables that determines its cost. It is possible to realize that, depending on the number of devices that we need that are part of a network, we will choose a switch with a greater or lesser number of ports. There are also PoE switches that will allow us to power Wi-Fi access points or IP cameras with PoE, in this way, through the Ethernet network cable itself, we can power the devices.
However, there is a much more important variable that will determine the good performance of your network. There are both manageable and unmanageable switches . In principle, it could be said that an unmanageable switch is the most convenient if you do not need advanced configuration options, and you only need to have many ports to intercommunicate different equipment, especially since the non-manageable switches do not need any previous configuration, simply connect and ready.
Switches not manageable
An unmanageable switch fulfills the basic function of the switch itself, which means that it is a plug-and-play device, you connect it to the power supply, connect the different equipment via cable, and automatically communicate with each other and transfer data.
Now, is an unmanageable switch a hub? No, and this is very important. Despite the fact that the devices are connected without previously adjusting anything in the configuration, a switch of this type already has features and default configurations that the user cannot modify. Normally the switches use a Store-and-forwarding architecture, the frames do not collide within the device itself, and the CSMA / CD protocol does not exist in this type of devices, since we have dedicated links.
Unmanaged switches are used for smaller networks, or if temporary workgroups need to be added to a large network, such as several corporate networks. Some devices will have higher priority in terms of connectivity or will have higher or lower transmission rates. The default configuration offered by an unmanageable switch was created so that your network, in general, works in the most adequate way and that typical network problems are avoided.
A manageable switch provides all the advanced functions and configuration options to configure the network in detail at the L2 layer level. These types of switches have the characteristic of being able to customize the configuration according to the need of your network. In addition, it is possible to monitor the performance of your network with a higher level of detail. This brings as a main advantage, greater control of what is happening with all connected devices.
Another detail to take into account about the manageable switches is that the level of customization reaches the point of being able to configure each port according to what is needed. Why would we need such granular control? Large networks such as several of the corporate ones could, for example, be divided into several VLANs (Virtual local area networks) since not all the collaborators need access to the same resources or such high / low data transmission rates. Later, we will refer in a little more detail about what a VLAN is and its usefulness in networks.
There may be a need for an IT support or IT security specialist to need to remotely access the switch to make adjustments either because of an identified need or a problem. A manageable switch, thanks to the possibility of adjusting the configuration, will allow us to activate remote access by console and / or web interface. Remote access is beneficial as it will not be necessary to go to the office itself to make adjustments.
Other Managed Switch Features
In this article we are going to explain some functions that widely distinguish manageable from unmanageable switches. However, this does not assume that what is best is a manageable one, simply, we will give more context about what a manageable switch does so that we can better understand what it can do and that, finally, you make the best decision. Below, you can see the seven functions that we will explain in detail what they consist of, and how they could be applied to a network environment.
In Spanish it is known as link aggregation . It consists of the union of two or more physical connections of a switch. The main purpose is that, at a logical level, it becomes a single link with a higher data transmission speed.
Consider the following example: You have an 8-port switch. One of the ports corresponds to a firewall that is in charge of filtering the traffic that comes from the Internet. That link between the firewall and the switch is 1 Gbps. So far, it works quite well and does not appear to have problems. However, it is likely that at some point there will be a bottleneck and problems will start. The solution would be to improve the equipment so that the links are faster, for example, Multigigabit speeds of 2.5G or 5G, and even reach wired 10G connections. But, the costs would be very high and it is not always worth the financial effort.
Another alternative that could be very useful is to occupy more switch ports for the firewall and thus increase the capacity of the link. At first glance, we have already increased its capacity, but the link itself is not redundant, so if there are problems we have to make adjustments so that the additional ports work considering that the “main” port has dropped. That is not convenient.
This is where the Link Aggregation comes in to allow all the ports we need for the link between the firewall and the switch to function as a single link (at the logical level). In addition to the logical link having an increased data transmission capacity, we will achieve the redundancy that is needed to keep the network working even though one of the ports that is part of the Link Aggregation stops responding. That is, if three ports are with LACP, and one stops working, this protocol works in such a way that this problem is not perceived and the connection continues. We will also have load balancing between the different physical links, so that the information flows through the three physical links simultaneously.
QoS (Quality of Service)
This is one of the most important characteristics in networks. If the QoS rules for prioritizing certain types of traffic are correctly configured, the user experience will be excellent. Also, the available bandwidth will be much better used. Although the unmanageable switches have default QoS configurations, they cannot be modified. They were created based on certain standards that will allow, of course, standard performance. Nothing very specific or particular. But if we talk about the manageable switches, we will be able to adjust the configurations as we want, creating and managing all the rules that we can imagine.
A typical use case is to create and configure QoS rules that prioritize one or more devices that transmit data to each other on a frequent basis. Those QoS rules will allow them to receive as much bandwidth as possible since these devices are part of the priority.
SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol)
This protocol is considered as the standard for network management and monitoring. It allows both current status and performance to be monitored without the need to physically access the switch. The advantage of this is that any inconvenience that may arise can be detected or resolved remotely, and we can mount a monitoring system to have everything under control.
VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks)
Multiple devices can be connected to a single switch. The fact of grouping them in small networks will make their management much more practical, and nothing will get out of control. At first glance, you would need additional equipment and wiring. However, VLANs or virtual private networks can help you group multiple devices saving you the purchase of any network accessory.
One of the advantages of these virtual private networks is that you can apply various security measures to each of them. These measurements can vary without turns according to each VLAN. The main situation that a VLAN prevents is the reduction of unnecessary traffic that compromises the good performance of the network.
A typical case of VLANs application is when you have a company that has several areas: A, B, C and D. If you have a manageable switch, you can create four VLANs for each of the areas. Thus, the traffic that occurs in each of the virtual networks will not interfere with the other. The end result is a network that has stable performance and of course, satisfied users. We also have to take security into account, we can apply rules so that there is no communication between these departments.
Port Mirroring is one of the most useful features of manageable switches, as it is very useful for detecting problems with the network. Basically, it consists of the function of capturing traffic from one or more switch ports so that it is later shared with a port of the switch itself that is specially configured for Port Mirroring.
All this captured traffic information can be used by different network traffic analysis programs such as Wireshark . Remember that this and other network traffic analysis tools help us greatly in identifying and solving problems. In addition, in many cases you will avoid the need to leave the network unused or with reduced performance.
Thanks to this functionality, we will be able to detect problems on the network, and capture traffic to be forwarded to this specific port.
What type of switch is more convenient?
There is no universal choice that tells you that a manageable or an unmanageable switch is best for you in any situation. It is important to be able to know and understand what the needs and requirements of our network are. It does not matter if it is a very small or very large network, it is our obligation, as network managers, what it needs or requires in order to function properly. One of the consequences of ignorance or not knowing enough about switches, especially regarding the difference between manageable and unmanageable, is the acquisition of equipment that is not really needed. Therefore, economic resources that could have been used for other purposes are wasted.
Managed switches are characterized by the ability to quite granularly customize the performance of our network. We had mentioned one of the most important features such as VLANs, which allow to group multiple devices at a logical level in smaller groups, in order to prioritize this traffic, and even isolate these devices so that they do not communicate with other equipment connected to the same switch. Of course, all this customization is reflected in the cost of the switches, logically, the manageable switches are in a higher price range compared to the non-manageable ones.
If we talk about switches that are not manageable, it can be said that they are characterized by being extremely practical. We don’t have to worry about virtually any aspect of the setup. However, time is passing and the offer of non-manageable switches is increasingly wide and the features that the default configuration has are getting closer to manageable switches, such as the possibility of QoS or IGMP Snooping. There is no doubt that home networks are growing in terms of the number of connected devices.
Gone are the days when the house only has a computer, another laptop, a cell phone and a television. Today, we can already have more specific devices such as NAS servers , which allow us to efficiently and intelligently manage our files. On the other hand, in the houses it is normal to have wireless access points or repeaters that help us extend coverage throughout the house for a connectivity experience regardless of where in the house you are.
Finally, what is best for me? We must reiterate that there is no absolute decision in this regard. The secret to making a better decision when buying switches is to know in detail the needs of our network, because, after all, in some way or another the investment that we will make will certainly be significant and it will not be a device that we buy every three months or every year.