Managed vs Unmanaged Switches: What is the difference between a managed and unmanaged Network Switch?

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Managed vs Unmanaged Switches
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Managed vs Unmanaged Switches: Setting up a local area network involves several considerations and components. One of the most crucial pieces of networking hardware is a network switch, as it acts as the core of the network, connecting different devices and ensuring adequate data transmission between components of a Local Area Network (LAN). Business owners should ensure they have the right network switch to cover their IT department’s needs.

Switches are designed in a variety of sizes, configurations, and specifications. They are typically categorized based on their materials, ports, and other factors. However, they primarily belong to one of the two types – managed and unmanaged. In this post, we try to understand how managed switches differ from unmanaged network switches to help business owners understand what type best suits their application.

RELATED: Switch vs Router: What’s the Difference?

What are Managed Switches?

Managed network switches facilitate communication between Ethernet devices while allowing administrators to configure, manage and monitor the network to provide a customized experience to users. These devices not only offer tools to monitor the network but also better control over how the network transmits information from one end to another.

Managed switches are like Virtual Private Servers, where you are in control of setting things up and stay responsible for configurations that result in any downtime. This type of switch can be administered using either a command-line interface, web interface or a Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP).

Managed Switches are available in two types – smart and fully managed. Smart switches are designed to be less expensive and come with limited configuration options, and hence, they are ideal for home and office use.

Fully-managed switches, on the other hand, offer a wide range of tools and options to manage networks and are ideal for servers and enterprises. Managed switches are for high traffic loads, intense workloads, and applications that demand custom configurations.

What are Unmanaged Switches?

While a managed switch requires some management to get the network working the way you want, an unmanaged switch generally functions without input from you. These devices work in their most basic form to facilitate a connection between network components.

Unmanaged switches are just like adding extra ethernet ports to the network. These devices offer a great way to connect additional hardware when you have a limited number of outlets and access points. This type of switch is suitable for small office and home usage.

As they don’t allow configuration or need setup, they cannot control traffic passing through the network. This makes them easy to deploy. A good example of this type of switch is a surveillance system. A camera records the activity and sends it to an unmanaged switch which then passes the data to a managed switch to the more extensive network.

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Managed vs Unmanaged Switches – How do They Differ?

An unmanaged network switch provides a plug-and-play utility to connect devices quickly in a network, whereas a managed switch gives better control over connections. However, there are several areas where the two types of network switches differ.

Performance

Unmanaged network switches are plug-and-play devices with built-in QoS services that ensure easy setup and operation. However, with a managed switch, you can prioritize channels to ensure you receive the optimum performance when needed.

It also uses protocols like SNMP to analyze the performance of network devices through a comprehensive interface. This protocol also allows remotely managing the network and components without any physical intervention.

Security

Unmanaged switches generally have a basic level of security. They are secured by making sure there are no vulnerabilities with accessories like a lockable port that protects the device from direct tampering.

On the other hand, managed switches have additional security benefits like the ability to control and monitor the network to protect data and manage threats.

The security features vary between switches, some of the most common being access control lists to prevent unauthorized access, network communication encryption, VLANs for limited network access, and more.

However, it should be noted that managed switches offer much more control over the network, which could be a potential threat. This is why a technician with the correct privileges should continually monitor them.

Cost

When it comes to the cost, it is quite easy to differentiate the two types of network switches. Unmanaged switches are generally available at affordable prices and much cheaper than managed switches. You can expect to find these at about $50-$100, depending on how many ports you want it to have.

Managed switches, with all their capabilities, cost higher than unmanaged switches. They can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $2,800 per port. The price depends greatly on features like access controls and security in addition to its configuration.

These switches also demand more expertise to manage and monitor, translating to higher costs for staff.

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Features

An unmanaged switch has a simple design and functionality; it connects Ethernet devices with a configuration you cannot change. This switch is often used for smaller networks or to add systems to a more extensive network.

A managed switch lets you configure, manage and monitor your network settings. You can control the LAN traffic, prioritize channels and create new networks to manage traffic better. This type of switch comes with redundancy features to make copies of data in case of a device or network failure.

Here are some typical features in managed switches, though they vary between models and brands.

Application

The application is one of the biggest factors differentiating the two types of network switches. An unmanaged switch is generally ideal for smaller networks like one for a home, single office, or small-sized business.

On the other hand, managed switches suit large-scale businesses with a bigger network or enterprises that need increased control over the network traffic.

Managed vs Unmanaged Network Switches – How To Choose?

Looking at the significance of the network component and the differences between the two types of switches, it is clear that it is vital to choose the right network switch that suits your requirements. However, a technician or network manager is the best person to make this decision for the business.

Managed switches are pricier because they need frequent updates, software patches, and expertise for deployment and maintenance. This is why they are often found in complex networks containing wireless access points, servers, IoT devices, and computers for better configuration options.

On the other hand, small businesses with a few dozens of devices would generally deploy unmanaged switches because there are no critical requirements for availability and security.

With all the control and flexibility they come with, managed switches are ideal for networks that demand security and reliability. These networks are found in enterprise-level businesses, universities, healthcare units, and government agencies.

However, it is crucial to consider the features required and the nature of the network to decide the type of switch rather than just the size of the network.

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Even if you have a small network of devices, you might want to consider managed switches if it transmits a lot of sensitive data like customers’ financial and personal details.

Similarly, if your business works with partners and clients who require temporary, limited access to the network, you might want to use the VLAN functionality of managed switch to ensure security.

Though managed switches cost more than unmanaged switches, the variety of models available lets users select the suitable component for the complexity and budget.

Managed vs Unmanaged Switches – Which is Better?

If you are uncertain if your business needs a managed or unmanaged switch, answering the following questions should help you decide.

How important is security for you?

Check whether you have a high amount of sensitive information transmitted across the network. If yes, managed switches are probably the right choice for you. These components would allow segmenting of the network and limit access to only authorized users and devices.

How much downtime can you accept?

Interruptions can often cost a lot to businesses in terms of productivity and revenue. If your business can’t at all deal with downtime, managed switches are the perfect option for you. Its redundancy feature safeguards against downtime with an alternate path. These switches also control traffic, allowing the most sensitive data to get through. They also prevent any malfunctions and give control of individual ports to each network user.

Do you want control over the switch configuration?

If you want to be able to manage, control and configure network settings like channel prioritization and traffic, managed switches let you do so. Smaller networks that may not require control over switch configuration can go with unmanaged switches.

Do you need to access and monitor the network remotely?

Managed network switches are designed to give you updates on the status of the network, alert you about potential issues and facilitate troubleshooting problems. This would eliminate the need to employ staff for 24/7 onsite monitoring.

Final Thoughts

A managed switch is better if you can manage a LAN and configure everything. Those who want to keep things simple at home or office should opt for an unmanaged switch.

Smart managed switches balance cost and features and suit small businesses with limited budgets looking for better network performance and security protection.

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