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What Is A Network Switch?

What Is A Network Backbone

Date First Published: 13th March 2022

Topic: Computer Networking

Subtopic: Network Hardware

Article Type: Computer Terms & Definitions

Difficulty: Medium

Difficulty Level: 5/10

Learn more about what a network switch is in this article.

A network switch, also known as a switching hub or a bridging hub is a device that connects other devices within a network together, often a LAN. They usually consist of 4-8 Ethernet ports, which can connect to modems, computers, routers, and other switches. Network switches have fewer capabilities than routers, since they can only send data to one intended device, such as a computer, another switch, or a router rather than to networks of multiple devices. Routers route data to other networks rather than the local computers.

Switches are cheaper than routers, but they come with fewer features, such as firewalls, QoS, and traffic monitoring. However, switches have more capabilities than hubs. Switches can limit traffic to and from each port, ensuring that any device connected to the switch has enough bandwidth. Hubs do not have this capability.

Network switches use MAC addresses to forward data at the datalink layer of the OSI model. Routing functionality can enable switches to forward data at the network layer of the OSI model. In today's data networks, switches make up a huge proportion of network devices. They connect desktop PCs, wireless access points, industrial machines, and some IoT devices including card entry systems through wired connections.

In addition, switches connect the computers in data centres that run virtual machines, servers, and the other storage equipment together. In telecommunication provider networks, they transfer large amounts of data.

Types Of Network Switches

Switches come in four types, which include:

  • LAN switch - Also known as Ethernet or data switches, these types of network switches connect devices in the internal LAN of an organisation. They are useful for reducing network congestion and allocating bandwidth in a way that data packets in a network do not overlap.
  • PoE (Power over Ethernet) switch - These are used in PoE Gigabit Ethernet connections and combine data and power transmission over a single connection, enabling devices connected to it to receive both power as well as data over the same line.
  • Managed switch - These are used in organisations with large and complex networks. They are expensive switches and are used because they can be altered to extend the functionality of a standard switch. The extended features may be QoS (Quality of Service), better precision control, and total network management. The simple network management protocol (SNMP) is used for configuring managed switches.
  • Unmanaged switch - These are used in home networks and small businesses. They are cheap and easy to set up, since all that is necessary for them to be set up is devices plugging into the network. This method enables more switches to be added. Because they don't need to be configured or monitored, they are referred to as unmanaged.


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