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?
■ The Difference Between Managed and Unmanaged Switches
Let's first consider Unmanaged Ethernet Switches. They are simple, easy to use, and connect your Ethernet devices 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.
|Features||VLANs, redundancy, DHCP snooping, port mirroring, QoS, SNMP, etc.||Few features. Mostly fixed configuration.|
|Performance||Highly configurable, control network traffic based on user-defined parameters. Allow for remote troubleshooting.||Plug and play. Some allow configuration of QoS settings.|
|Security||Security protocols for the data, management, and control planes.||Physical security only.|
|Cost||Higher to purchase, install, and maintain.||More inexpensive|
|Applications||Large networks with more than three nodes.||Small Networks found in homes, small offices, laboratories, etc.|
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.
■ Real-World Applications
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, 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.
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.