How to pick the right Industrial Ethernet Switch for critical networks

Introduction to Industrial Switches

Industrial Ethernet switches are highly reliable Ethernet devices designed to be applied in harsh industrial environments that are subject to shocks, vibrations and extreme temperatures. Industrial Ethernet switches are comprised of managed and unmanaged switches with Gigabit, PoE, and various industry certifications. Featured industrial-grade reliability, network redundancy, strengthened security, and easy management gives you the flexibility to build powerful and secure networks even in harsh environments. These include automation processes, smart transportation systems, security operations, and power/utility plants.

Ethernet Switches

Managed Ethernet Switches VS. Unmanaged Ethernet Switches

When connecting more than one Ethernet device in the same location, an Ethernet Switch is the way to go. It may seem simple, like plugging into an outlet strip, but there are significant considerations one must take to ensure your network is rock solid. What is the difference between managed and unmanaged switches besides price you ask?

Industrial Layer 2 Managed Switch Capabilities

Industrial Layer 2 Managed Switches or Layer 2+ Switches are designed to operate at extreme temperatures up to -40 to 75°C (-40 to 167°F) and in areas with electromagnetic interference, allowing for the creation of cost-effective, reliable, and secure networks. A range of advanced Ethernet management features, with support for necessary redundancy and security elements, these switches meet the demands of a wide range of applications.

Industrial Managed switches

Benefits of Industrial Layer 3 Managed Switches

Industrial Layer 3 managed switches provide a rugged and solid solution for routing between sub-networks with support for static routes, RIP V1/2, and VRRP. Layer 3 switches were developed to provide the network with better fault isolation and traffic segregation and to simplify security management.

The benefits of using Layer 3 switches include reduced broadcast traffic volume, easier VLAN configuration, support for inter-VLAN routing, and separate routing tables. Additionally, Layer 3 switches provide lower network latency and reduced time and res

Industrial Managed switches

When Neither Routing nor Management features are needed: Industrial Unmanaged Switches

Industrial unmanaged Ethernet switches are simple, easy to use, and connect multifarious Ethernet devices seamlessly. Unmanaged switches generally do not provide monitoring, alerts, or alarms. Using an unmanaged switch is analogous to driving a car with no dashboard. In simple applications where there are not too many Ethernet devices and fewer than three switches, unmanaged switches are often the best and most economical choice.

Unmanaged Ethernet Switches

Managed Switches vs. Unmanaged Switches

Managed switches provide extra value in a network by providing information about the status of the network. This includes things like high bandwidth consumption, unexpected port connections, and power supply failure. Additionally, a managed switch can implement redundancy, a critical feature when connectivity must be maintained at all times. Managed switches also enable administrators to configure, manage and monitor networks for full optimization.

Unmanaged switches are simpler, easy to use, and more economical. However, unmanaged switches do not provide any sort of monitoring, alerts or alarms. In simple applications where there are fewer devices, no VLANs, and basic connectivity is the main objective, they are often the best choice.

AttributeManaged SwitchesUnmanaged Switches
FeaturesVLAN, redundancy, DHCP, port mirroring, QoS, SNMP, etc.Few features. Mostly fixed configuration.
PerformanceHighly configurable, control network traffic based on user-defined parameters. Allow for remote troubleshooting.Plug and play. Some allow configuration of QoS settings.
SecuritySecurity protocols for the data, management, and control planes.Physical security only
CostHigher to purchase, install, and maintain.Less expensive
ApplicationsLarge networks with more than three nodes.Small Networks found in homes, small offices, laboratories, etc.

Frequently asked questions on Ethernet Switches

Industrial Ethernet switches are high-reliability and cost-effective network devices designed to be applied in harsh industrial environments where they are likely to be subject to shocks, vibration and extreme temperatures. With the ability to operate in temperatures from -10 to 60°C (-14 to 140°F), industrial switches are widely implemented in the transportation and energy networks. They are usually equipped with redundant power inputs to ensure uptime in case a power source fails. Power input is usually DC, with some models having options for AC power. Industrial switches come in both managed and unmanaged versions. 

Industrial Ethernet switches are employed in factories, where they play a key role in modern automation systems. Other applications include power stations, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), railway systems, and water treatment plants. Because many of these application locations will have relatively higher levels of electromagnetic interference (EMI), industrial switches are built with extra shielding and filtering for operation in these environments. Industrial switches are also built and tested for higher Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), the ability for devices to function in electromagnetic environments. 

Regular Ethernet switch used in offices and schools are often called “commercial switches.” Most commercial switches are designed to operate in a temperature range of 0 to 45°C (32 to 113°F), which is usually very suitable for indoor use. As opposed to industrial switches, commercial switches are not protected against excessive shock, vibration, and EMI. They will often use an internal fan to dissipate heat, and are designed to be installed in a rack instead of a DIN rail. Commercial switches almost always use AC input power, and are not equipped with redundant power inputs. 

The first decision when choosing and industrial Ethernet switch is to go with a managed switch or an unmanaged switch. Unmanaged switches are simple, easy to use, and generally more inexpensive. However, unmanaged switches do not provide monitoring, alert, or alarm functions. Moreover, they usually do not allow an administrator to control network traffic through protocols such as Quality of Service (QoS). Managed switches provide all of this functionality and more. 

The second choice is to figure out if you need Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE switches can deliver power to and transfer data from external devices such as IP cameras, wireless hotspots, VoIP phones, and more. Industrial PoE switches have different power output (per port) abilities, and varying total power budgets. The final factors are port count and speed. Obviously you will need enough ports to connect all devices, and those ports will need a high enough speed to handle your data requirements. Port speed options are fast Ethernet, gigabit Ethernet, and 10G (which will require a fiber port or a small form-factor (SFP) pluggable transceiver. 

10G Ethernet switches are usually used as core switches: switches installed at the backbone a hierarchical network. 10G Ethernet switches operate at full-duplex, eliminating the need for collision detection and devices such as repeater hubs. 

Both copper and fiber cables can be used for 10 Gb transmission. Fiber options include both Single-mode fiber (SMF) and Multi-mode fiber (MMF). At higher speeds, copper cables are best used for shorter distances. 

Unmanaged Ethernet switches are relatively simple devices that are easy to install and use. Little or no configuration is required. They are much more affordable than managed switches. However, unmanaged switches have very little functionality besides receiving and sending data. This is usually fine for small networks with normal volumes of network traffic. 

Managed Ethernet switches are much more expensive, but have a far wider set of features and functions. They give administrators the ability to control and monitor the network, and usually have more robust security features. Managed switches are used in large networks where network traffic needs to be prioritized, and are better in terms of network scalability – the ability to expand a network’s size and capacity. See more information 

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