Meter Switch

What are network switches? Network switches connect multiple devices, such as computers, printers, wireless access points, and servers. Network switches enable the devices on the same network to communicate.

What is a network switch?

A network, wired or wireless, requires hardware to allow external devices like computers and mobile phones to connect. A network switch functions as a hub where devices can connect to a local area network.

Typically, a network works through the following process:

  • Internet service enters a location through an entry point and connects to a modem, converting physical signals into digital packets of information per Internet Protocol standards. 
  • The signal from the modem enters a router. The router handles incoming and outgoing signals, routing them between devices on the network (among other functions). 
  • The router navigates traffic to other devices on the network. In a small office or home network, this is often a direct connection to devices. However, in enterprise LANs, these routers often transmit to switches further down the network. 
  • Switches pass signals to and from devices, whether through wired or wireless connections. 

A switch can actually connect several different kinds of devices, including computers, routers, other switches, or anything that uses packets and IP traffic to communicate. 

What are the different types of switches?

While switches all serve the same purpose, not all switches are created equal. The differences in specific network switch technologies apply to different types of network design and fulfill specific needs in those networks.

Some different types of switches include the following:

  • Level 2 switches operate on the data link layer of the OSI model, specifically through MAC hardware addresses rather than IP addresses. These networks are most useful on primary LANs where all the devices and hardware are connected to a single network.

    OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model: a framework for network communication that separates functions into 7 layers.
    MAC (Media Access Control): a unique identifier assigned to network devices to enable communication on a LAN.
  • Level 3 switches use the network layer of the OSI, meaning that they manage IP routing tables as a router does. They can handle routing over both MAC and IP addresses but are most useful in enterprise situations where you need to link multiple VLANs or multi-access switches. 
  • Unmanaged switches are a sort of dummy switch, where devices can connect to the network and not much else. This kind of switch opens more Ethernet ports and passes network traffic around based on the MAC address.
  • Managed switches provide more control over individual connection ports. Administrators can enable the Simple Network Management Protocol to monitor network traffic for criteria like throughput or errors with a managed switch. It further allows control over configuring the network and connecting devices to the switch. 

What is the difference between switches and routers?

While they share very similar capabilities, switches and routers differ in ways that can impact how you design your network and purchase network hardware. 

One of the major differences between a switch and a router is that a router can implement several advanced capabilities, including advanced router tables, network firewall technology, and network traffic optimization. On the other hand, a switch mainly focuses on just routing network traffic to and from devices on the network. 

A single router is usually enough for small businesses with a single office to handle network traffic. A better network design path for larger offices or offices with unique data transfer needs is to use a router to connect several switches, connecting different devices as needed. 

The Meter Switch Platform

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What should I look for in a network switch?

How you select your network switch is going to count on different design factors and how the switch will impact that design. 

Factors to consider when purchasing network switches include the following:

  • Location: Network switches will often connect to other hardware via Ethernet cables. This can impact how you place devices like network access points, which will support the bulk of connections on the LAN. Switches should be able to support various access points in the strategic locations that you need to cover with Wi-Fi. 
  • Power: Many network access points need a power source to operate, which can make placing them where needed incredibly difficult. Network switches that can support Power over Ethernet is a necessity to support PoE access points. 
  • Control: If you want to add Ethernet space to your network, unmanaged switches should cover your needs. However, if you need control over analytics, configuration, or other aspects of the network, you’ll want the managed variety. 
  • Virtual Networks: If you operate virtual LANs to organize hardware and devices in logical units, then you will most likely want to have at least a backbone of Level 3 switches.

Switches are the core of network design

Enterprise networks rely on control, flexibility, and efficiency. While a single location can get by on a collection of routers, enterprise organizations need different types of network switches to support virtual LANs, high-performance network connections, and more robust wide-ranging access points. Selecting where to place switches, routers, and access points will depend on the volume of people you are supporting, the types of data transfers you are using, and how broad your coverage area is. 

To learn more about the possibilities for your enterprise network, call Meter to request a network design. We also recently launched our next-gen switch platform: learn more.

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