Business Class Switches 101

By Kevin Stewart
Updated: June 08, 2011

A network switch is a device that connects network segments. Switches are an important part of any Ethernet LAN (Local Area Network. The most basic switches are found in home applications, where a home network is created from a single broadband account. Most businesses will require modular, managed network switches that provide for multiple independent connections and full network management capability.

Managed Switches Provide Greater Flexibility

An important aspect of a business class network switch is network management capability. These switches should have at least a web-based interface that provides feature controls such as Virtual LAN setup, port bandwidth settings, and duplex mode. Sometimes called Smart switches, these basic managed switches are the entry-level for home office or small network switches.

Enterprise Managed Switches Provide More Features and Support Larger Networks

Enterprise managed switches expand on the smart switch capabilities, providing the following: Priority settings, MAC filtering, port mirroring, and other useful features for business networks. Enterprise managed switches also support multiple network connections. These capabilities are must-haves for any business class network switch, so make sure you start with this level of features when making comparisons between products.

Traffic Monitoring and Other Advanced Requirements

Some features, such as traffic monitoring, will require both an enterprise managed switch and the expertise to support the feature. Make sure you have clear and well-established requirements before you commit to a particular type of switch. Your vendor should be able to help with this type of requirement.

Form Factor and Environmental Requirements

You may also have requirements for the hardware specifications of your switch, based on existing equipment or facilities requirements. Sometimes switches and other network equipment will be located in a cabinet or closet that is separate from a data center. Make sure that your switch matches the specifications for rack mounting or installation in an existing frame or cabinet.

If the switch will reside in a closet, cabinet, or other closed environment, then make sure the cooling or other environmental requirements are met. Review these requirements with your vendor or manufacturer to make sure that you have the correct conditions to install and operate the switch.

After establishing your operating requirements and evaluating the hardware installation and technical support needs for installing a network switch, you may want to compare the relative costs and benefits of a hosted switch. If the hosted option is available for your business, you may find that it presents advantages over purchasing and maintaining your own switch.

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