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Network Deployment

Network Switch: Managed vs Unmanaged

by

Gary McCauley

|

July 1, 2019

When designing a network, a network switch is effectively its core, or its “brain”. It’s networking hardware that connects all devices together on a LAN (Local Area Network), redirecting and forwarding data to the correct destination. When running a business, it’s important to ensure that you have a network switch that helps you effectively cover the needs of your entire IT scope.

Switches come in various sizes that allow them to have any number of ports up to 48, but the differences go deeper than that when it comes to managed switches and unmanaged switches. Here, we’re going to define the two types, look at the differences between them, and help you decide which is right for you.

The Differences Between Managed and Unmanaged Network Switches

On a basic level, an unmanaged switch allows you to immediately plug-and-play devices into your network, while a managed switch allows for greater control over it. However, the differences go deeper, so it’s time to look at the features, performance, security, cost, and application of each.


Features

An unmanaged switch is simple, connecting Ethernet devices with a fixed configuration that you cannot make any changes to, often used for small networks or to add temporary groups of systems to a larger network. A managed switch, on the other hand, also allows you to manage, configure, and monitor the settings of your LAN, including controls over LAN traffic, prioritizing certain channels, and create new virtual LANs to keep smaller groups of devices segregated and to better manage their traffic. Managed switches also offer redundancy features that duplicate and recovery data in the event of a device or network failure.

Performance

The advantage to unmanaged switches when it comes to performance is that you can plug and play immediately with your network. There’s no need to set anything up, and it has in-built QoS services to ensure its working well. With a managed switch, however, you can prioritize channels at will, ensuring that you get the best performance where you need it. Furthermore, features like Priority SNMP, which allow for remote troubleshooting of the network, also make it even easier to check for any issues impacting that performance, allowing you to implement fixes if necessary.

Security

Unmanaged switches, on the whole, have very basic security. They’re secured by ensuring you have no vulnerabilities from system to system, which accessories like a lockable port cover can ensure no-one is tampering with the device directly. Managed switches have some major security benefits, such as the ability to monitor and control the network to shut down active threats, protection for data, control, and management plan. The security features differ from different managed switchers, from network communication encryption, access control lists that keep out unauthorized users, and VLANs can also be used to create temporary or limited access to your network for those that normally shouldn’t have access. It is, however, worth noting that managed switches offer a lot of control over your network that could, potentially, be a threat. As such, they should be monitored and controlled with only a network technician having the highest level of access privileges. In our changing digital landscape, cyber security has become paramount importance of 2019.

Cost

When it comes to the cost, the comparison is relatively simple. You can find unmanaged switches usually in price ranges from $50 to around $100 (USD) or more. This price usually depends on how many ports you need the switch to have. With managed switches, however, you should expect significantly higher costs. These can range from anywhere in $1500 per port to $2800 (USD) per port. The prices here are more affected by the different features, such as security and access controls that you’re paying for in addition to the switch’s configuration abilities.

Application

Size is not the only thing that matters when deciding on the right switch, as you can get switches with any number of ports, both managed and unmanaged. However, when it comes to smaller networks, such as for small businesses, the home, a single office, or so on, then an unmanaged switch is more likely to be used. Managed switches are better suited to enterprise-sized businesses with a much larger network scope, or for those that use things data centers and need much better control over the traffic within their network.


How do I Choose Between a Managed and Unmanaged Network Switch?

This question cannot be so simply answered. A network manager or technician is usually the one best qualified to help you choose a network switch based on your needs. However, for smaller businesses that consist of a single office or freelance professional work, it is not likely that you’re going to need more than a smaller unmanaged switch. If there are thousands of users on the network at any one time, however, then managed switches are crucial.

Yet, it’s important to look at not just the size, but the features that you might need and the complexity of the network. For instance, security may play a large role in your choice. Even if your network is relatively small, if there is a lot of highly sensitive data (customer data, financial details, etc.) being transmitted across the network, then managed data switches may still be the most appropriate choice. Similarly, if your business frequently works with clients and partners that need a temporary, limited degree of access to your network, then the VLAN function of the managed switch might be necessary to ensure security.

Learn More About the Best Network Switch for You with a Network Technician

If you’ve read all of the points above and you’re still not certain whether an unmanaged network is enough to meet your needs or if you have crossed the line where a managed switch is necessary, you need an expert. At Field Engineer, it’s easy to tap into an international network of IT experts, including network technicians, which can make sure that you’re choosing not just the right network switch, but that you’re creating a network that’s secure, efficient, and has all the features that you need.

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