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What Is a Network Switch?

When you have multiple devices in a network that have to “talk” to one another, you need a network switch. It’s a device that assists in the transfer of data from one device to another device on a wired network connection.

In a household, you have internet service coming into your modem and router. That’s the setup that most people are familiar with. Your router transfers data on two or more networks and uses IP addresses for the transfer of data packets. While that setup suits a household and even a small business, it’s not acceptable for a larger one.

In a larger business, you have different work computers and different printers. Only workers in the billing department should be able to access the billing department printer. It could be a breach of privacy if contractors had access to the billing department’s printer.

You might have videos from security cameras transferring to one specific computer. You can’t have every employee viewing the security footage for privacy or security reasons, and a network switch becomes the device that takes the incoming data and sends that traffic to a specific computer or device.

Explore the Common Types of Network Switches and Their Features

That quickly details what a network switch does, but there’s more to it. There are several types of network switches, and each has unique features that you need to consider before you buy one. 

OSI stands for “Open Systems Interconnection”. The OSI Model is a seven-layer concept that details how applications communicate with each other on a network.

Application (end-user)

Presentation (syntax)

Session (Synch and send to port)

Transport (End-to-end connections)

Network (Packets)

Data Link (Frames)Physical (Physical structures)

A network switch is designed to help at either Layer 2/Data Link or Layer 3/Network. If it’s a Layer 2 switch, it transfers data using the destination MAC address. Layer 3/Network switches transfer data based on the destination IP address.

It’s a good time to stop and look at the difference between a MAC and IP address. MAC addresses are permanent ID codes assigned to a specific device. An IP address is also assigned to a device, but it can change. An IP address is not permanent.

Most of the network switches you’ll find are Layer 2 switches and require ethernet cables to connect them. It’s less common to have a wireless network switch, that’s the role of a router and not a good choice for a larger company.

Unmanaged and managed switches are the next choice. A managed switch is good for larger networks because administrators play a role in determining or “managing” the prioritization of traffic. An unmanaged switch doesn’t require as much management. It establishes more ethernet ports when more devices need to access the internet.

What Are Their Benefits?

While a large company needs to have a network switch. Smaller companies also gain these benefits, so you should consider it investing in this hardware for these reasons.

  • Improved network performance
  • Increased reliability
  • Reduced congestion
  • Heightened security

What Features Do You Need?

Now that you’ve decided you need a network switch, how do you know which one to purchase? You need to look at the features that are the most important to you.

  1. Port Count:

How many ports do you need? There are network switches with as few as 5 ports to as many as 52. Calculate how many users are on your network and plan accordingly. If you plan to grow and hire additional workers, you’ll need to plan for those increases.

  1. Speed: 

Internet speeds have changed a lot in the past 20 years. In 2000, a residential internet connection was around 0.127 megabits per second (Mbps). Skip forward 10 years and it increased to 4.4 Mbps. Today, it’s around 167 Mbps download and 22 Mbps upload. 

The network switch that you choose needs to leave room for increasing speeds. If you don’t plan ahead, your system could become outdated and leave you having to purchase more hardware in a year or two. Popular options are:

  • Fast Ethernet (10/100 Mbps)
  • Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 Mbps)
  • Ten Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000/10000 Mbps)
  1. Software Defined Networking (SDN):

SDN is a newer architecture that you need to consider as it’s the wave of the future. SDN analyzes and optimizes resources to match changing demands.

  1. Network Security:

Communications have to be secure. As a business owner, you have a responsibility to your clients, customers, employees, and business associates to protect their private information. Network security has to be a key feature in your network switch. Options include:

  • MACsec
  • Software Defined Secure Network (SDSN)
  • Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN)
  1. Quality of Service (QOS)

When your company is in the middle of an important client meeting via a video chat, the last thing you want is for speeds to slow and have your video freeze or drop out. If you’re providing support to a loyal customer and the VoIP phone call goes all static, it’s a problem. Switches that support QOS eliminate those problems, which increases your professional appearance.

  1. Collision Avoidance

On a shared network, packet collisions are a risk. It happens when two devices on that shared network send information at the same time and collide along the way. A network switch is supposed to manage these packets and prevent this, but it helps to make sure that the network switch is equipped with collision avoidance.

  1. Self-Healing Software:

If software glitches, it can be a frustrating situation in the middle of a workday. Look for network switches that have Stateful Fault Repair and software that fixes itself. It will save a lot of time and frustration.

How Do You Choose the Best One?

How do you purchase the best network switch for your company’s needs? Start by figuring out how many users are on your network. You need to consider all of your staff, whether you allow access to visitors in your waiting room or lobby, and contractors who come and go from time to time.

If you know your company will be expanding, increase your users to match the growth you expect in the next year or two. It’s better to have a system that’s more than you need than to have one that’s too small and has to be replaced a few months from now.

What features are essential in your industry? A hospital is going to have different security needs than a real estate office, but both must keep an eye on protecting their clients. 

Finally, how much money is in your budget for your network switch? You need to have a starting point. If you require budget devices, you can still get quality without sacrificing cost. Refurbished devices help you save a bundle while still getting the utmost in quality. 

BrightStar Systems specializes in refurbished network switches from leading manufacturers like Arista, Cisco, and Jupiter. These network switches have been refurbished, put through every test possible, and readied for sale at savings of up to 95%. Plus, all of the hardware sold by BrightStar comes with a one-year in-house warranty.

Our team brings more than 45 years of experience to your business. Talk to us about your business’s network equipment needs and we’ll help you find the best equipment at the best price. Contact BrightStar for a free quote.