Network Switch: What is It and Why You Need One?
A network switch is networking hardware that connects devices in a home or business. It can provide power and network functionality via RF spectrum, copper wires or light-based optics. Switches use MAC addresses to direct data at the data-link level of the OSI model. They’re the bulk of today’s network equipment and carry huge traffic volumes in telecommunications provider networks.
What is a Network Switch?
A network switch is a virtual networking device that connects devices within a wired local area network (LAN). Something important for your home or office is connecting your internet router to computers, Wi-Fi routers, and printers that use cords to connect. A switch is a computer tool that helps send data using MAC addresses. It works in a specific part of the computer system called the data link layer. Unlike network hubs- less advanced than switches and broadcast data to all ports connected- a network switchs distinguishes incoming packets based on their MAC addresses and forwards them accordingly.
You’ll find both unmanaged and managed network switches on the market. Unmanaged switches are easy to use, but managed switches give you more control over the things they connect to. Network switches come in many port count options, from a few ports for home use to dozens or more for larger networks. To determine the best network switch for your needs, start by counting the number of Ethernet-compatible devices in your home or office and then purchasing a switch with the right number of ports for your network. For the most versatility, consider a modular networks switch that lets you add expansion modules for power over Ethernet (PoE), wireless connections and other app-specific features as your network grows.
Do You Need a Network Switch?
You may hear network switches, hubs and routers thrown around almost interchangeably by networking technicians, but each device performs a different function in the network. A network switch is a basic component of a wired network, connecting devices like computers and printers to share data over ethernet. A network switch sends information only to the device that needs it, unlike a hub which sends it to all devices. It uses MAC addresses to do this. Switches are important parts of a network that give more control than a hub.
A modem router typically has four ports for connecting devices, and you can use a network switch to add more wired ports. It can also free up system resources on your router for delivering internet to your Ethernet-connected devices. What Is an Ethernet Switch? Ethernet switches join wired gadgets, for example, computers, Wi-Fi gadgets, lights, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and servers, in an Ethernet network. There are two kinds of network switches: ones that are managed and ones that are not addressed.
Managed network switches by Fortinet offer greater customization of your devices with features such as spanning trees, quality of service and port-based VLANs. If you don’t need these advanced capabilities, an unmanaged network switch can be a simple plug-and-play solution for expanding your LAN. Smart network switches are an in-between option combining managed switches’ management functions with the simplicity of unmanaged network switches. They’re often more affordable than fully managed switches.
How Does a Network Switch Work?
Network switches operate at the Open Systems Interconnection model’s data-link layer (L2), scan incoming Ethernet frames and tell them where to go. A switch uses a device’s media access control (MAC) address to determine the port to send the frame. It then updates a table to match the MAC address of devices with the ports on which they are connected. This table called a forwarding database, enables the switch to select how it filters and forwards traffic smoothly. It is important because the switch ensures that every incoming frame goes to the appropriate device without being broadcast to the entire. It also helps reduce congestion that would otherwise slow network performance. A basic network switch works with Layer 2 of the OSI model, but specialized switches can support higher levels of functionality like port mirroring and VLAN tagging.
Unlike routers and modem routers, which only have four Ethernet ports, a network switch can add many more wired Internet-capable devices to your home or small business setup. It includes desktop computers and laptops, printers, smart TVs, gaming consoles and IoT devices like doorbells and thermostats.
Which Switch is Right for Me?
Network switches are vital networking equipment for any small or large business, home office, or data center. They keep a variety of Ethernet-compatible devices reliably connected around the clock. They work differently from hubs and routers, essential for high-speed internet and local network data. Switches send data to a device that requests it rather than broadcasting to the entire network. This way, the network stays more organized, and data transfer speeds remain consistent. Network switch ports come in various speed configurations, including Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet. Look for one that your wired internet connection speed and the number of Ethernet-compatible devices you need to connect. When choosing between a managed or unmanaged switch, consider how much control you want over your network.
Managed switches are typically used for larger networks with more advanced functionality and security features, such as VLANs. A simple unmanaged network switch is a good choice for homes or small businesses that don’t require extensive customizations. To determine which type of network switch you need, count the number of Ethernet-compatible devices in your network and buy a switch with at least that many ports (though more ports can help you expand your network in the future).