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, simple, easy to use, connect your ethernet devices and magically everything 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 3 Ethernet switches, you should consider Managed switches.
Managed switches provide a lot of value in a network. First, they can let you know the status of the network. If there is a condition that isn't right, a managed switch can send you a message telling you so. This includes things like bandwidth consumption is high, someone just plugged into a port 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 itself powers 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 preventing 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're 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 switch, I hope that this short article can help you make a decision that is best for your networking needs.