A network switch is a device almost similar to a hub. However it does not have the flooding issues that an Ethernet hub has. It is a device used to connect and allow data flow between computers on the same network. It has a logical processor which decides where the incoming traffic must be routed to.
A network switch can support 10/100 Mb/s or 10/100/1000 Mb/s port transfer rates. Most often wee see that in a network, all the switches have the same speed. The reason for this policy being implemented throughout the network is because a slow network switch can become a bottleneck. The switches has the ability to choose the routes unlike a hub and similar to a router. However having switches of different speed, limits this functionality.
Network bridge is another term we use to refer to a switch. Normally switches works on layer 1 and layer 2 and takes decision on layer 2 of the OSI model. So it is basically a layer 2 device. There are layer 3 switches, commonly referred to as L3 switches. If a switch works in more than 1 layer it is called multilayer switch (L3 switches).
We normally use switches heavily while implementing a network. Switches are lower in cost as compared to routers and more effective that hubs. Network switch can transmit data between end stations reliably by directing the packets of data to the intended destination.
Switches were introduced to overcome the collision issues and also flooding of the network. They were a success and now we no longer use hubs. In a private network, we use network switch as it is more flexible even when integrating with proxy servers.
Types of Network Switches
- Managed switch
- Unmanaged switch
- Smart switches
- Enterprise managed switches
When it comes to small offices, we usually prefer unmanaged switches. The reason is because they are really cheap and provides the minimum required functionalities. Normally we have rack mounted unmanaged switches available in the market.
A managed switch comes with a higher price tag. This is a justification for the user interface built into the switch. With the UI, we can make changes to the switch configuration and tweak it to cater to our needs. However, to use a managed switch and modify it’s settings some knowledge about computer networking is mandatory. We can even update the switch through an internet connection remotely.
Smart switches are a mix of both managed and unmanaged switches. It has a web based interface and has lower flexibility when we compare it to a managed switch. It requires lesser knowledge to handle a smart switch and has auto configuration enabled.
When it comes to critical networks such as those in a huge company, we use enterprise managed network switches. There are dedicated network professionals who monitor the switch continuously and make note of traffic flows.