Network Switches 101: The Different Types of Networking Switches and Which Ones You Should Use

When it comes to technology in our daily lives there are many purchasing decisions that come before the buy. Which streaming service will provide the best shows for the lowest price and result in fewer “what do we watch tonight” discussions? Is that Instant Pot really going to make dinner easier to make? Should I splurge on the new Nintendo Switch? The same is true for network switches. It's important to understand the fundamentals of network switches.

While we can’t advise you on which streaming service to use (although season one of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is now available on Netflix… by the power of GreySkull anyone?) or which kitchen gadget is the best, we can talk switches. We think the new Nintendo Switch is pretty sweet, but at CXtec our true expertise lies in networking switches and other networking technology. .

The Basics of Network Switches

You know the importance of networking gear when keeping your organization running smoothly. It keeps your users connected to each other and the Internet, allowing for effortless transfers of data to designated devices.

However, if you’ve been tasked with the purchasing decision of a network switch, all the different models on the market can be overwhelming—especially when you want to choose the type of switch that will be the best fit for your organization.

Fortunately, our passion for networking equipment also translates to knowledge. Get ready to whip out your heroic alter ego and save your organization’s network system with our breakdown of network switch types and their benefits.

Ethernet Switches

We’ll start broad first—after all, every super hero should understand the big picture of his or her mission. Ethernet switches, also known as LAN (local area network) switches, are an integral part of any computer network. They can be broadly categorized into two main categories: Modular and Fixed switches.

Modular Switches

If you’re looking for expansion capabilities, modular is where it’s at. Modular switches make it possible for you to add expansion modules as needed into the switches. These types of switches provide the best flexibility, but come with a price because they are more complex than their fixed switch cousins. While you may have more limited flexibility, if you’re looking for a lower entry cost, fixed switches may be a better place to start.

Fixed Switches

As their name implies, these switches typically aren’t expandable and they have a fixed number of ports. This category can be broken down even further into unmanaged, lightly managed, and fully managed. When it comes to network switches, the details matter.

Think of the Ninja Turtles’ Battle Shell—if Donatello hadn’t paid attention to what the turtles needed to upgrade their ride, they’d still be stuck with their sad Turtle Van. In the same way, you don’t want to end up with the wrong switch and delay taking your network to the next level.

Unmanaged Switches

These switches are most commonly used in home networks and small businesses. So, if you have a large organization this won’t be the option for you. These switches can’t be modified or managed.

They plug in and instantly start doing their job—hence the reason why they can be best for home users who don’t have the need or time for all the bells and whistles.

Partially Managed (Smart Switches)

This is a category of switches that changes at the fastest pace. As with anything in the technology world, it doesn’t stay static for long. They straddle the middle ground because they offer basic management features with the ability to create some levels of security, but their management interface is more simplified than what managed switches offer.

They do offer the capability to set up options like Quality of Service (QoS) and VLANs. These can be helpful if your organization has VoIP phones, or if you want to segment your network into work groups. Bonus! These switches are also cheaper than their managed counterparts.

Managed Switches

If you’re looking for the switch that has it all—the highest levels of security, precision control and full management of your network—this is the switch for you. Think of it as the Avengers’ Quinjet, which can travel anywhere (outer space included), store useful tools for the team, and even includes an on-board medical bay.

Managed switches are the most costly option of them all, but if your organization has a large network it could be the best option for you. The scalability of these switches also makes them ideal if you know your organization’s network will be growing.


Additional Considerations for Network Switches

Now that you have a basic breakdown of the different types of switches out there, here are a few other useful things to consider:

Number of Ports

Switches can have anywhere from 5-port to 52-port configurations. When considering the number of ports you’ll need, you should think about the number of users your network supports. The larger your organization is, the more ports you’ll need.

Speed

Fixed configuration switches come in Fast Ethernet (10/100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 Mbps), Ten Gigabit (10/100/1000/10000 Mbps) and 40/100 Gbps speeds.

If all of this seems confusing, the biggest thing to consider when determining speed is the network needs of the users. Will they be transferring large volumes of data? Then Gigabit Ethernet or faster is likely the way to go.

PoE vs. non-PoE

Power over Ethernet (PoE) allows you to power a device like an IP phone or wireless access point over the same cable as your data traffic. If you have a larger network, PoE can provide you with great flexibility by allowing you to place endpoints anywhere in the office. This is especially handy in spaces where it’s difficult to run a power outlet.

Stackable vs. Standalone

Is your network growing rapidly? Then you may want to go with a stackable switch. Standalone switches need to be configured individually, and troubleshooting also needs to be handled on an individual basis.

Stackable switches allow for multiple switches to be configured as though they were one entity. One great advantage is that they can be configured. In the event of a port or cable failure, the stack of switches will automatically reroute around the failure.


We get it. The world of network switches can be complex. Now that you have a little more knowledge under your belt, we hope you can save the day by keeping your data secure and your network running efficiently.

Consider CXtec the Robin to your Batman.

Wondering what to do with old switches and networking equipment once you’ve completed your upgrade? Learn how you can sell your network hardware the smart way and maximize your return on investment with our Guide to Selling Your Network Hardware the Smart Way!

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