What is The Difference Between a Managed Switch and Unmanaged Switch?

The difference between managed and unmanaged network switch is more complexity. While managed network switch is more complex and requires more number of skills, but offers better control and network configuration.

Managed Ethernet switches have more capabilities than unmanaged switches, but they also require a qualified administrator or engineer to take full advantage of them. A managed switch allows you to have better control of your network and all the data frames that move through it. On the other hand, unmanaged switches allow connected devices to communicate with each other, in their basic form.

Next, we compare the differences between managed and unmanaged switches.

Unmanaged Ethernet switches

Unmanaged switches use automatically negotiated ports to determine parameters, such as data rate and whether to use semi-duplex or full-duplex mode. In addition, unmanaged switches have no virtual LAN (VLAN) concept. Therefore, all devices belong to the same broadcast domain.

However, unmanaged switches maintain a table of media access control (MAC) addresses. This table tracks the dynamically learned MAC addresses and the corresponding switch port on which the MAC address was learned. Including a MAC address table means that unmanaged switches offer a collision domain separate from the port. This is a main differentiator between an unmanaged Ethernet switch and an Ethernet hub.

Managed Ethernet switches

An essential difference between managed and unmanaged switches is control. A managed switch allows you to adjust each port on the switch to any configuration you want, allowing you to monitor and configure network in many different ways. It provides greater control over how data travels through the network and who has access to it. Managed switches generally provide the Simple Network Management Protocol, which allows you to monitor switch status and individual switch ports, and provides statistics such as traffic performance, network errors, and port status.

The functions available on managed switches may vary between manufacturers and models, but often include the following:

  • Spanning Tree protocol support for redundancy of switches and links without creating loops
  • The ability to implement the quality of services
  • VLAN support
  • Port mirroring
  • Bandwidth rate limitation

The managed switch ports can be configured as trunks, a process that labels data frames with a VLAN ID and transports many VLAN frames on a single link. Several ports can also be combined practically to form aggregate links of ports that transport at speeds of two, four and eight times greater than the speed of a single link. Finally, managed Ethernet switches generally have a remote access console (command line or web interface) to allow administrators to make changes or configuration settings without being in the same physical location.

Another differences between managed and unmanaged switches is price. Managed switches are more expensive than unmanaged ones, as they require corrections and software updates and often a qualified professional for implementation. That said, when you have complex networks consisting of wireless access points, PC servers, and IoT devices, the configuration options are often required.

Smart switches

Smart switches fill some of the spaces between managed and unmanaged switches. They provide better management and configuration control, as well as VLAN support, than unmanaged switches, but remain limited when it comes to full configuration capabilities. The price of smart switches is between managed and unmanaged switches.

What is the switch for you?

When it comes to the “switch-switch”, one of the biggest differences between the types of switches available is the level of configuration and management. An unmanaged switch switches simplicity for control, without providing configurability, but the most economical price. A managed switch offers you significantly more advanced control functions at a higher cost. A smart switch is a managed input level switch that delivers the best of both worlds

In general, a business network that hosts less than 100 active users will work well with smart switch. These devices have more than sufficient functionality to support business, for example, word processing, Internet access, IP-based office phones, and access points. Managed switches are more common when it comes to larger companies, although they also make smart asset for small businesses interested in maintaining scalability in the future.

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