Managed vs. Unmanaged Switches: 5 Key Differences

Posted by The Team at CXtec on Jan 17, 2023 3:35:27 AM

Switches are the “building blocks” of any modern network. Switches are a critical part of network configuration and support...

Switches are the “building blocks” of any modern network. Switches are a critical part of network configuration and support connectivity and communication across local networks.

What switches do:

  • Improve network bandwidth
  • Reduce the load off personal computers
  • Enhance network efficiency
  • Foster real-time communication across network hardware and software

There are different types of network switches, such as KVM switches, managed switches, unmanaged switches, smart and POE switches, each serving a unique purpose. A clear understanding of these can help administrators exercise better control and cost across the data center.

Let us examine two frequently-used types of switches, managed and unmanaged switches.

What are managed switches?

Managed switches come with a certain level of complexity and need well-informed administrators to manage them effectively.

Managed switches allow users to map each port on the switch with different settings, allowing them to monitor, configure and manage the network flexibly. Managed switch ports are also configurable as trunks, allowing for transporting VLAN frames across one link. Admins can virtually assemble different ports and transmit information at 2x,4x, and even 8x the speed of a single link.

Managed switches offer many advantages to network admins because of the flexibility and control they provide. They are usually deployed across large networks where data security is essential.

Another feature of managed switches is the support for Simple Network Management Protocol (SMNP) which allows admins to track status updates for troubleshooting and conduct network capacity assessments.

Features of managed switches:

  • Reliability: Managed switches can be deployed across many topologies, including mesh, aggregation, and Spanning Tree, allowing for greater flexibility and higher security.
  • Improved security: Offers precise ways of monitoring data passage through the network and quickly resolving any data breaches.
  • Device optimization: Most managed switches come with Quality-of-Service (QoS) features that help admins determine device performance and troubleshoot any mishaps.
  • Smooth management of large networks: Managed switches allow for remote management, software-defined network management, and supply power to end-point devices, making them easier to work with.

What are unmanaged switches?

Unmanaged switches are generally “invisible” network elements. They serve one purpose: to provide Ethernet devices with the connectivity to communicate with each other. Unmanaged switches do not offer data intelligence and visibility into the network and cannot control network traffic. These basic features make them easy to deploy.

Unmanaged switches are usually deployed across smaller networks to connect edge devices. These can also be used to combine device groups on a larger network.

Unmanaged switches determine parameters like data rates and switching between half and full duplex modes with auto-negotiated ports. Most unmanaged switches belong to the same broadcast domain and do not support VLANs.

Features of unmanaged switches:

  • Plug-and-play, easy to deploy
  • Supports simple network topologies like daisy and star chain
  • A better option than Ethernet hubs since they can store MAC addresses
  • Cost-effective when compared to managed switches

Choosing between managed and unmanaged switches

Choosing between managed or unmanaged switches depends on your network and objectives.

Ticking a few critical boxes makes the process much easier.

  • Control and performance: Data control can help ensure network uptime and availability. Managed switches come with features to control network traffic and allow individual access to switch ports for users. Further, they also require well-trained administrators to configure the network as they come with a certain degree of complexity. Unmanaged switches, on the other hand, are simple to use.
  • Security and network stability: Does your network have sensitive data passing through it? Managed switches can protect your information and support authorized access with network segmentation methodologies, unlike unmanaged switches that cannot offer such capabilities.
  • Remote management and access: Managed switches offer remote access capabilities. This can help admins identify and resolve issues faster. Unmanaged switches cannot be accessed remotely, since they do not offer visibility into the network.
  • Cost: Unmanaged switches cost far less than managed switches because of the basic features they offer. A managed switch is more advanced and is for organizations looking for stable and high-performance networks.
  • Other features: Some of the features of managed switches include support for SNMP and other telemetry data. Unmanaged switches are simple, plug-and-play installments. Extra features for managed switches include support for STP, VLAN, port mirroring, etc.

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