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When setting up your network equipment for your small business, you will want to make sure you get the right equipment to get the job done. You may already know that a network switch helps connect various devices together, and there are many different types to consider. One of the options that many people do not fully understand is the smart switch. What is a smart switch, exactly?

Let’s learn more about what a smart switch can do and how it can be used when setting up and configuring your network.

Types of Switches

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Which switch’s which?

When looking for network switches you will find several key options. What you will likely also notice is that the price can vary greatly based on what type of switch you choose, the brand you choose, how many ports it has, and the speed or bandwidth capabilities. In order to avoid wasting hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars, and to make sure your network functions the way you need it to, make sure you have a good understanding of each type of switch and when a smart switch should be used.

The following are the main options when it comes to network switches:

  • Unmanaged Switch – These switches, which are also sometimes called dumb switches, do not need any configuring. You just plug them in, and they will start passing data traffic that comes in to all the different devices that are connected.
  • Smart Switch – Smart switches (which are sometimes listed as a type of managed switch) will have some basic management and configuration options but will ‘learn’ about the network and how to most efficiently pass traffic.
  • Managed Switch – Managed switches, which are the most advanced of the options, are entirely configurable and allow you to adjust just about every setting you can imagine. This will let you specify things like the speed for each port on the switch, where traffic is sent, and much more. There are also many security features built into managed switches.

Within each of these categories there are many different models, each of which having different specific features. Getting your options narrowed down to the type of switch you need will be a great place to start.

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Smart Switch vs Unmanaged Switch

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The majority of small businesses are going to need either a smart switch or an unmanaged switch. Unmanaged switches are typically the least expensive option available, but they also have the fewest features. This, however, is not always a bad thing. If you do not have someone who is familiar with networking working for your company, you can easily use an unmanaged switch since they do not need any configuring.

Simply plug the switch in and connect the data cables that you want connected and it will begin to work right away. Unmanaged switches are considered ‘plug and play’ devices and work quite well when you do not want any type of added security or customization for your network.

Smart switches are a significant step up from unmanaged switches because they allow you to connect to them to make a number of important changes to how they work. With a smart switch, you can configure network optimization features, including the following:

  • Quality of Service (QoS) – You can generally configure basic QoS adjustments, which means you can tell the switch which traffic to prioritize so that your network performs at its best. For example, if you use Voice Over IP (VOIP) phones on your network, you can give them priority in the network to help ensure your voice calls are clear even when there is lots of network traffic.
  • Access Control Lists (ACL) – ACLs are an effective form of security that allows a switch to determine what systems can connect to what other systems over the network. Smart switches can usually have a limited number of ACLs to help keep your network safe.
  • Network Segmentation – You can use a smart switch to create and manage basic virtual networks, or vLANs, to segment your systems. This can help to make your network traffic more efficient and safer.
  • More – Some smart switches can have a variety of other features and options based on what brand and model you choose.

While every brand makes their switches a little different, a basic smart switch will allow you to connect to it and make configuration changes through a browser interface, which is quite convenient and user friendly.

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Can Fully Managed Switches Do More than Smart Switches?

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If you need something more advanced than a smart switch, a managed switch is going to give you all the features you need. Managed switches are typically what is used for enterprise level facilities that have a large number of devices, vLANs, and other things on the network. In many cases, those who choose a managed switch will have multiple different switches, routers, and other things as well to make an advanced network environment that is entirely configurable.

Some of the things that a smart switch generally cannot do that a managed switch can will include:

  • Setting Link Speeds – While a smart switch can sometimes set the overall speed at which the device passes traffic, managed switches can usually set the link speed by each individual port.

  • Logs and Stats – Managed switches generally gather a lot of information about how much traffic is being passed, where it is coming from, and much more. This data is great for troubleshooting, planning your systems, and more.

  • Console Port – Managed switches will have a console port that will allow you to connect a laptop or other device to it directly to set things up. This can also make it easier to configure remotely once a network connection has been hooked up to this port. Smart switches generally do not have this option.

One thing to make sure you are aware of when it comes to managed switches, however, is that they typically need to be configured using a command line interface. Unless you have experience using this type of thing, it will seem much less intuitive than the browser-based interface that most smart switches offer.

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When to Use Smart Switches

Smart switches fit nicely in that space between unmanaged and managed switches. They are an ideal option for small businesses that need something a little more advanced, but still do not want to invest thousands of dollars into a fully managed switch. These devices are also commonly used by enterprise networks alongside the managed switches.

For example, a smart switch could be used to connect multiple computers, printers, and phones together in one part of the office, creating a small local network. The smart switch would then connect to a managed switch to give the LAN access to the rest of the network resources when it is needed. No matter what type of network resources you need, having the right equipment in the right place will help to ensure you get the results you want. For many people, a smart switch is going to provide all the features you need at a price that is still very affordable.

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Michael Levanduski

Author Michael Levanduski

Michael Levanduski is a writer with over 20 years of experience working in the IT industry. He regularly writes for a variety of different publications, providing content on a wide range of different topics, including multiple different niches within the tech field. He lives in West Michigan with his family where he enjoys camping, hiking, and of course, writing.

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