An Introduction to Switches


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Switches are networking hardware, or network communication devices that connect two or more computer and peripheral devices such as, printers or servers to each other within a Local Area Network (LAN) such as, a building or a campus. An easy way to understand switches and their function is to think of them as network controllers that allow different devices within a LAN to communicate effectively with each other.

This communication is facilitated through the ‘switching’ of transmitted data into optimally-sized data packets and its subsequent transmission to the destination device. And this is where the device gets its name from as well.

Why are switches used?

Switches help businesses save bandwidth, trim operating expenses, and save money by connecting different network devices to one another throughout the facility. They score additional points over network hubs, which are another networking hardware capable of connecting computers and peripherals in a LAN by being more bandwidth-efficient.

While hubs broadcast incoming data packets from each of their ports, switches are more specific and they direct information to only those ports that actually need it. This is because they are able to analyze data in incoming messages, read the IP address and determine the exact output ports that must be used for transmission. Due to the use of this network-conserving method, switches are able to reduce network response time and increase employee productivity.

At homes, switches allow homeowners to connect different computers, laptops and other devices to the single, central internet connection. Most consumer-grade Ethernet switches will allow you to connect up to eight different devices to one network. Enterprise-grade switches on the other hand, allow you to connect up to 128 different devices to the single LAN. Switches also find extensive usage in data centers where they can effectively support speeds as high as 10 Gbps.

Considerations in purchasing switches

Managed switches make good choices for business or enterprise use. They offer greater flexibility, control capability, and personalisation. For home use, you can also opt for an unmanaged switch with ease. Both of the aforementioned are fixed configuration switches that cannot be expanded.

If expandability is a concern, you can opt for modular switches that allow you to add modules for specific applications or devices. Once you have decided on the switch category, it is time to consider the speed, Power over Ethernet (POE) capability and the number of ports.

To make an informed choice, determine the number of users the LAN is likely to support. You will find switches with up to 52 ports in the fixed configuration category. Consider the nature and architecture of the network as well. Do you need high speed or high volume? Will latency be a problem? What additional features will you need in the switch?

Document all details about your network’s architecture, function and needs. Cross check capabilities of different switches against this document. And remember to factor in the price as well as reputation of your vendor as well.

Additional learning resources

The keyword “network switch” and “networking switch” can be used in an array of combinations to learn more about switches. Make search queries such as “benefits of network switch”, “concerns with network switch”, “comparisons of different network switches” to get a more comprehensive insight into the device.

In addition, you can browse through the following resources:

A comprehensive guide on switches at Search Telecom
How to buy a switch on Wiki How
Different types of switches on the Cisco blog