Managed vs. Unmanaged 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? When the differences go deeper, let's look at the features, performance, security, cost, and application of each.
The Difference Between Managed and Unmanaged Switches
There are various types of managed and unmanaged switches in the market, and opinions about applications of these network switches vary from person to person.
FeaturesUnmanaged switches are relatively simple. The connect Ethernet devices in a static configuration, and are usually used for smaller networks. For larger networks with more complicated needs, managed switches allow for the managing, configuration, and monitoring of the local network. With a managed switch, LAN traffic can be controlled virtual LANs (VLANS) created to segregate networks. Managed switches are also better in terms of redundancy (failover) and security options.
PerformanceUnmanaged switches are easier to set up, with essentially plug-and-play functionality. Many unmanaged switches have built-in Quality of Service (QoS) features to ensure certain applications and data flows are prioritized. While the fundamental speed of managed and unmanaged switches is essentially the same, managed switches can usually offer better overall network performance through the correct configuration settings.
SecurityUnmanaged switches generally have very basic security, with protection focused on physical access to the switch ports. There are many security benefits of managed switches, including threat monitoring, data protection, and more fine-tuned controls. Security features differ by model and vendor, but the important things to look for are support for encrypted login, access control lists, and security protocols such as TACACS+.
CostWithout a doubt, managed switches are much more expensive than unmanaged switches. A full-featured managed switch will often cost at least ten times as much as and unmanaged switch with a similar port count. Prices for managed switches are also affected by the switch’s feature set, with support for enhanced security features and routing protocols leading to the greatest increases.
ApplicationsIn the final analysis, the question of which kind of switch is suitable for a specific application comes down to network size (number of connected devices) and security needs. Managed
|VLANs, redundancy, DHCP snooping, port mirroring, QoS, SNMP, etc.
|Few features. Mostly fixed configuration.
|Highly configurable, control network traffic based on user-defined parameters. Allow for remote troubleshooting.
|Plug and play. Some allow configuration of QoS settings.
|Security protocols for the data, management, and control planes.
|Physical security only.
|Higher to purchase, install, and maintain.
|Large networks with more than three nodes.
|Small Networks found in homes, small offices, laboratories, etc.
Managed vs Unmanaged Switches: How to Choose?
Let's first consider Unmanaged Ethernet Switches. They are simple, easy to use, and connect your Ethernet devices with a fixed configuration so that everything magically communicates. This is indeed how an Ethernet unmanaged switch is supposed to operate. It should just work... but what if it doesn't? Unmanaged switches do not provide any sort of monitoring, alerts or alarms. They just take data in and send it back out. Using an unmanaged switch is much like driving a car without a dashboard. You will probably get to your destination, but how much gas do you have left, is your engine overheating, how fast are you going...? In simple applications where there are a few Ethernet devices and one to three switches TOTAL, unmanaged switches are often the best choice and will be the most economical. A general rule is if you have more than three Ethernet switches, you should consider a managed switch.
Managed switches provide a lot of value in a network. First, they can let you know the status of the network. If an abnormal condition occurs, a managed switch can send you a message telling you so. This includes things like high bandwidth consumption, unexpected port connection, and even power supply failure. Additionally, a managed switch can implement redundancy. This can be critical if an Ethernet cable gets cut, unplugged, or plugged into the wrong port, or even if the switch is powered down. Managed switches are intelligent enough to find another path to the destination, or even block communications that should not be occurring on a specific port in order to prevent serious network issues.
Some Managed switches have extra features that have real-world value. One example is PoE
(Power over Ethernet) monitoring. If you are using PoE Cameras or other PoE devices
(Solutions for IP Security) , a managed switch can monitor them to ensure they are functioning, and if not, a managed switch can automatically reset the power on that port and reboot the device, thus saving a service call.
More Managed switch Case Studies:
Fast and Efficient Upgrade to 10G in a Large Urban Transportation Network
While this is just a simple explanation of some of the differences between Managed vs Unmanaged switches. We hope that this short article can help you make a decision that is best for your networking needs.
Related ArticlesHow to pick the right Industrial Ethernet switch for critical networks