In the article below, the discussion will feature a detailed guide to network switches. Below, you will get to learn how network switches work as part of a wired internet or as part of an intranet setup, the various models of Ethernet network switches and their features as well as their individual benefits.
What is a Network Switch?
A network switch is basically a type of wired computer hub device that is commonly used to connect multiple devices and/or users to a particular computer network.
In the commercial, industrial or domestic computer networking and connections, a network switch is usually used to physically link devices to online resources through a single multi-port point of entry or exit. Device users who are connected to one network through a network switch can then access or share some or all of the resources or computer devices that are connected to the network.
FAQs on Network Switches
Are Network Switches Secure?
Certain network switch models usually allow users with administrator privileges to have more control over how network resources are used. Managed network switches tend to be more secure than unmanaged network switches. This is because unmanaged switches generally have ‘open’ Ethernet cable ports that allow anyone with access to the switch to connect any Ethernet-enabled device to plug their devices and instantly gain access to a network’s resources. Managed network switches on the other hand usually have more security as a device user can only gain access to a network’s resources after being approved by a network administrator.
Are All Network Switches Plug-and-Play?
No. Only simple unmanaged Ethernet switches are plug-and-play. This means that a device user can quickly connect and/or disconnect to a network through an unmanaged switch. A plug-and-play switch can is usually beneficial in a setting where network security is not a priority for example in a domestic setting. If you are looking for a LAN switch that offers you more control over connections to a network, consider choosing a managed switch or smart network switch.
Can You Connect Multiple Network Switches?
Yes, you can connect multiple network switches if they are stackable. If you connect multiple stackable switches, they will act as a large single switch with the total number of available Ethernet cable ports being dependent on the number of connected stackable switches.
Can a Network Switch Be Infected With a Virus?
Though it almost never happens, it is technically possible for a network switch to be infected with a virus. There are several factors that dictate whether a network may get infected with a virus such as the firmware that the switch uses, how the firmware is used and how regularly it is updated.
A network switch is basically a bridging accessory in a computer network. This means that though a virus may not infect the switch itself, the switch can pass along a virus to a vulnerable device on the network. For example, if an infected file is shared across the network and opened by an unsuspecting device user, their device will become infected by the virus. Note that if one device on a network is infected by a virus, it cannot infect other devices on the network without some sort of action being performed by another user on the network. For example, if a compromised program is shared through a network switch connection, the end-user has to run the program on their device for the device to become infected.
What is the Lifespan of Network Switches?
In the past, the average lifespan for most networking gear including networking switches was thought to be somewhere in the region of five years. However, most networking gear like network switches being produced today has a longer lifespan. The increased lifespan can be attributed to better engineering, reduced heat generation and lower power consumption. Though there is no specific answer on how long a network switch should last, if your network switch is failing, you should expect to see the diminished performance before it finally gives out.
Are There Wireless Network Switches?
Yes, there are some types of network switches that are wireless. However, these types of switches are not common. If you are using a wireless network switch, you may experience diminished bandwidth and throughput especially if you connect multiple devices to a network simultaneously. If you are looking for more stability and optimal performance in a network, consider using a wired network switch as opposed to a wireless switch.
Is It Possible To Overload a Network Switch?
Yes. Some of the reasons why a network switch may become overloaded include insufficient network bandwidth, outdated hardware, ISP throttling, broadcast storms (unexpected request overload) and the connection of too many devices to a network all at once.
With a managed switch, you will be able to troubleshoot any overloading issues more quickly. However, if you continue to experience constant overloading issues with your LAN switch, you should consider upgrading to a switch that can handle the demand of your network better.
How Does a Network Switch Operate?
In order to gain an in-depth understanding of a LAN switch works, you need to first learn more about the different types of switches available in the market. We will discuss more the different types and models of network switches available in the market later on in this article.
So, how does an Ethernet switch work?
When a network switch is added to a computer network, it usually provides a single entry/exit point for a wired connection that can be accessed by multiple devices and resources. The devices connected to a computer network through an Ethernet switch can share things such as data and online resources. Some models of Ethernet switches usually allow the network administrator to control access to shared resources through software devices.
To simplify things, a network switch is akin to a large USB hub that has been specifically designed to accept connections from Ethernet or RJ45 cables with a view of allowing devices that are connected to a network through these cables to share a single wired internet or data connection.
A standard internet router usually includes at least one in-built Ethernet port but there are some mid-range models that have two or three Ethernet ports. If you are looking to connect more than one device or resource to a standard internet router, you will need to add a network switch in order to create a bigger Local Area Network (LAN).
A network switch is typically usually attached directly to a network server or router. The primary job of a network switch is usually to increase the number of Ethernet cable ports. When buying a network switch, you, therefore, need to gauge the demand for Ethernet ports within your specific setting as well as the scope of the network you will be using.
The number of Ethernet cable ports in a network switch can vary. In the market, you can find network switches that have as few as 3 ports and others that have even up to 50 ports. For example, if you work in a heavy-duty industrial setting, you can find network switches that have up to 100 Ethernet cable ports or even more. It is however worth noting that network switches that have 100 or more Ethernet ports are not that common.
Types of Network Switches
There are many different types of LAN switches available in the market – each best suited for different applications. Some of the most common types of network switches include:
Stackable Network Switches
This is a type of LAN switch that can either be used as a standalone gadget or combined with several other multiple stackable switches to increase the number of Ethernet ports available for device users. When several stackable switches are combined, they usually act as one large complex network switch. The number of Ethernet cable ports available when stackable switches are used in a network usually depend on the number of switches that are connected together.
Unmanaged Network Switches
Also known as a simple LAN switch, this type of network switch offers the simplest way to increase the number of Ethernet cable ports available on a network. Unmanaged switches are also known as ‘Plug and Play’ switches since device users looking to access network resources simply need to plug their devices into a network through an Ethernet cable. Unmanaged network switches are commonly used in small office settings where precise control of resources on a network is not required.
Managed Network Switches
A managed network switch usually offers more advanced control over network resources. This type of LAN switch typically comes with a built-in dashboard or interface that can be accessed by a network administrator usually through a web browser portal. On accessing the control interface, a user who has administrator-level access usually gets access to a suite of tools that they can use to monitor access to different features of a network as well as tweak the configuration of the network as data traffic from different connected devices flows through.
Depending on the network switch model, a network administrator can be able to control different aspects across the network such as the access privileges for different devices, port mirroring and redundancy, data transfer rates for each port and the priority level for each connected device. Managed switches can either function as manual LAN switches or smart LAN switches. A manual managed network switch is more versatile than a smart switch and this makes it ideal for complex networking setups such as server and enterprise-level setups. On the other hand, a smart managed network switch is usually more user-friendly but it usually offers limited options when it comes to network configuration options.
Power Over Ethernet (PoE) Network Switches
Whether you are using a managed or unmanaged network switch, you can also use a PoE switch.
PoE switches usually allow for the transfer of power and data to compatible devices on a network through RJ45 cable connections. If you have devices that are PoE compatible with your network, a PoE switch can offer more flexibility and versatility while at the same time increasing the reliability and scalability of your LAN setup. It is also worth noting that with this type of network switch, you can cut back on your cabling needs dramatically within your office.
Note that not all hardware (devices) are PoE compatible. Before buying this type of switch, first, check all the devices on your network to check if they are PoE compatible.
What is the difference between a Network Switch and a Router?
Many people often confuse a network switch and router given that both play a crucial role in computer networks. However, there is a clear distinction between the functions of a network switch and a router.
As we mentioned earlier in this article, a network switch usually allows multiple devices connected to a network to communicate with each other.
On the other hand, a router usually allows multiple different networks to communicate with each other. For example, a Wi-Fi router supplied by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) usually communicates with an external network to deliver an internet connection to a device from the outside. A network switch does not have the ability to deliver an internet connection rather it usually increases the flexibility in how an internet connection brought by a router can be used.
Many people tend to confuse the role of a network switch, router and hub most because some hardware models have features that are taken from all three devices – the most common feature being the availability of in-built Ethernet ports. It is however worth noting that though there are some hardware models that combine the design features of a network switch, router and hub, the roles and technical capabilities of each device are distinctly different.
What Data Speeds Can a Network Switch Handle?
When shopping around for a network switch to fulfil specific networking requirements, you should check the speed category given for each particular type of LAN switch by the gadget manufacturer. The general speed categories for network switches available in the market include:
• Fast Ethernet Switches (FS) – These switches can handle speeds that range from 10 – 100 Mbps (Standard IEEE 802.3u)
• Gigabit Ethernet Switches (GS or JGS) – These switches can handle speeds of 10/100/1000 Mbps (Standard IEEE 802.3-2008)
• Ten Gigabit Ethernet Switches (GSS) – These switches can handle speeds of 10/100/1000/10000 Mbps (Standard IEEE 802.3a)
When checking the data speeds of network switches, you may also come across gadgets that have been categorised as having the capability for 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, 25 Gbps, 40 Gbps, 50 Gbps or even 100 Gbps. Network switches that have the capability of handling these data speeds tend to be developed for special applications.
At this stage, it is worth mentioning that the most ideal Ethernet switch for domestic connections may not be best suited for a small office, industrial or enterprise applications
When choosing a network switch for heavy-duty or commercial applications, you should consider the scale of the connections you need to create as well as the most connectivity speed that you need in order to maintain a stable and highly functional network.
Though it is important to consider the speed of a network switch, it is also important that you check the number of Ethernet cable ports offered by each particular model of the network before making a purchase. More ports usually offer to increase the flexibility and number of connections that can be added to a network at any given time. You should however remember that the number of devices that can comfortably be supported on a network will depend on several key factors such as the bandwidth of your internet connection.
A Guide On How to Determine the Number of Network Switch Ports Needed By Your Network
In order to determine the number of Ethernet switches that your network needs in order to operate optimally and conveniently, there are several key questions that you should ask yourself. They include:
• How many wired devices do you want to be connected to your device? At this point, ensure that you also consider your future needs for example any devices you may want to be connected to the network in the future
• How much money are you willing to spend on purchasing a network switch?
• Do you want a managed or unmanaged Ethernet switch?
• Do you currently own any devices that are PoE compatible, or, are you planning on buying PoE compatible devices in the future?
• What is the bandwidth of your current internet connection?
If you are looking to buy a network switch for your domestic home networking needs, you may consider acquiring a small-medium sized switch that has 4, 5 or 8 ports. If you are looking for a network switch for a more complex enterprise or server network, you may need a network switch with greater capabilities such as a 64-port PoE network switch.
Some of the common resources that are commonly shared through a network switch include:
• Incoming network connections flowing through a router
• External storage devices and file sharing modules such as servers and high-capacity hard drives
• Hardware such as laptops, desktop computers, gaming consoles, printers, UPS power supply points, smart TVs and other gadgets
Network switches are also referred to as Local Area Network switches or Ethernet switches. Network switches are known as LAN switches because of the simple fact that they rely on cable connections to support networking activities among different device users in a restricted space such as a small office.