Network switches are like the “brain” of a home network or an enterprise network. Therefore, choosing suitable and well-performing network switches is an important task for network managers. For a long time, many users feel confused that how to choose between a managed switch and unmanaged switch. In this post, the problem that users care much about—managed vs unmanaged switch: which is the real one I need—will be explored. And the use of managed switch or unmanaged switch for business or home will be discussed as well.
Managed switches are usually to deliver the most comprehensive functions for a network. Due to their diverse and rich features such as VLAN, CLI, SNMP, IP routing, QoS, etc., managed switches are often used in the core layer in a network, especially in large and complex data centers. However, in order to meet different size of networks demands, there are some lightly managed switches in the market, which is also known as smart switches. These switches only have part capabilities of managed switches. When users have limited costs and do not need all the features of fully managed switch, smart switch offers them an optimal alternative.
Compared with managed switches, unmanaged switches seem to be more “brainless”. They are a type of plug & play Ethernet network switch. What users need to do is to plug them in and wait them to work. Because unmanaged switches require no configuration at all. Therefore, when users need a few ports on their home or in a conference room, unmanaged switch can be used as a simple desktop switch to satisfy their demand.
There are various types of managed and unmanaged switches in the market like Cisco managed/unmanaged switches, Netgear managed/unmanaged switch, HP managed switches, etc. And opinions about applications of these network switches vary from person to person. What’s the difference between managed switches and unmanaged switches?
||Managed Switches||Unmanaged Switches|
|Features||Dynamic ARP Inspection, IPv4 DHCP snooping, QoS, SNMP, VLAN, CLI, IP routing, port mirroring, redundancy, etc.||Fixed configuration—doesn’t support any configuration interface or options|
|Performance||Switch can be configured Control over Access Control over LAN traffic—Priority SNMP—Allows for remote troubleshooting of the network||Plug and play with limited configuration like default QoS settings|
|Security||Very good. Provide protection of the data plane, control plane and management plane||Not very good. No security other than accessories such as lockable port cover|
|Application Places||Data center, large size enterprise networks||Small size business network, home, lab, conference rooms, etc.|
In many cases, network managers have to choose the most suitable network switches to ensure the whole network system goes well. Then, managed switches vs unmanaged switches: how to choose the suitable one for the practical network demand? Here are two questions many users may ask.
The answer to this question cannot be a simple “Yes” or “No” for the fact that each enterprise network needs and deployments can be unique. But generally managed switches are considered to suit business networks better than unmanaged switches for many enterprises. There are some reasons why managed switches are preferred.
Let's start with the business network needs first. Choosing between managed switches and unmanaged switches, the former obviously take a good position in offering high-speed links and providing the needed capacity since the intense workloads and high amounts of traffic are the distinctive features of enterprise networks. Features such as Link Aggregation Control Protocol (LACP) enable the user to add more bandwidth delivered by the aggregated physical link.
Compared with unmanaged switches, managed switches typically offer more security, which many network designers attach great importance to, no matter in large or mid-sized or small-sized enterprises. According to the Verizon 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 43% of cyber-attacks target small businesses. So, stay proactive to protect your business information. With ACLs, managed switches prevent unauthorized access in case of deliberate attacks. VLANs can keep the traffic of different users such as employees in different departments separated so as to secure the respective information. And management protocols enable network administrators to monitor the devices as well as the performance of the network to quickly detect the problems.
What's more, managed switches provide redundancy from which enterprises can benefit a lot. Downtime and data loss are disasters to business, causing serious financial problems. The recovery from the downtime disaster spends on expenses not only for laborers but also for equipment exchange. Managed switches help business away from such network failure to the maximum. Incorporating with spanning tree protocol (STP), the managed switch provides path redundancy. Even if under the circumstances of a link or cable failure, it provides an alternative path for traffic.
To be combined, business network benefits more from managed switches in terms of network capacity, security, and reliability.
If you searched on the related forum, you will find that many people choose to use 8-port managed switch or 24-port managed switch for their home. Does that mean managed switches are more popular in the home network? No. If the user wants to have more control for their home network and pay more attention for privacy security, choosing a managed switch for home use is much better. However, if the user just want to get the home network worked normally and do not want to spend much time on the management, then plug-and-play unmanaged switches are the best fit for them.
We have run through the comparison about managed vs unmanaged switch, and how to choose them for your business network or home use. If you are comfortable with managing a LAN and configuring everything, then a managed switch is a powerful option. Those who wish to keep things simple at home should go with an unmanaged solution.
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