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Managed vs Unmanaged Switches: Which do you need?

Managed vs Unmanaged Switches

Switches are one of the core pieces of almost any major network. They manage traffic routing for Ethernet-connected devices. As such, they provide stable, fast means of communication for any device across the network.

If you run a business network, you’ll need some kind of switch, and when you look into it, you’ll find that there are two competing types of switches: managed and unmanaged.

Each type of switch has its place in the world. If you want to choose the best option for your network, it helps to clearly distinguish the differences between the switches and how that impacts their strengths and weaknesses. So, here’s a quick breakdown of each type of switch to help you in that regard.

What Makes a Switch Managed?

A managed switch is a device designed to connect networks via Ethernet connections. This is a method of allowing devices within a room or building to communicate with each other directly or establish connections to the greater internet.

The key to a managed switch is in the name. The administrator of the switch has concise control over the network configuration and operations. The administrator can tightly control access, traffic routing, security, and more.

That’s the whole point of a managed switch. You gain access to more direct control, and that opens avenues of network design and operations that would not be feasible otherwise.

What Does Unmanaged Mean?

An unmanaged switch performs the same primary function as a managed switch — that is, connecting devices via Ethernet. The main difference here is that the unmanaged switch is largely automated.

That might not quite be the right way to say it. When you configure a managed switch, it operates just fine after that without much intervention on your part, so it is also an automation device. But, an unmanaged device is designed to dramatically reduce the need for user inputs.

In most cases, you can plug in an unmanaged switch from out of the box, and it will work just fine. You don’t have to dictate to it how it should run the network, and that certainly simplifies how you use the switch.

How Do They Differ?

Obviously, the level of management is the primary difference between these device types, but what does that mean in practice?

Generally speaking, unmanaged switches can be installed a lot faster. They require less labor across the duration of their lifespans. The primary design angle is to make it easy to add an unmanaged switch to a network ad hoc. That makes it indispensable for rapid deployment and fast adjustments to the overall network infrastructure. Unmanaged switches are typically the less expensive device too.

When it comes to managed switches, it’s all about control. If you need specific traffic behaviors or advanced security, managed switches are essential. They also do better when it comes to quarterbacking automation sensors and devices. Any network that tries to monitor large systems or use heavy automation will typically need managed switches to keep everything communicating cleanly.

Which Should You Choose?

With a little more perspective on the fundamental differences between managed and unmanaged switches, which should you choose?

The answer depends on the network. If you’re expecting a network to grow in either size or complexity, you’re going to end up using managed switches at some point. It’s inevitable.

When you’re focused on minimizing costs or deployment times, then unmanaged switches clearly win.

For all of this comparison, you can also hybridize a network. You can use managed switches to control critical nodes, and you can deploy unmanaged switches as needed to expand access to the network.

Cisco Meraki Cloud Managed Switch, 48 Gigabit Ethernet Ports, 4 SFP Uplinks, MS120-48-HW, Unclaimed, Refurbished, Original

Cisco Meraki Cloud Managed Switch, 48 Gigabit Ethernet Ports, 4 SFP Uplinks, MS120-48-HW, Unclaimed, Refurbished, Original

Cisco WS-C3750X-48PF-S Catalyst 3750X 48 Port Full PoE, Refurbished, Original

Cisco WS-C3750X-48PF-S Catalyst 3750X 48 Port Full PoE, Refurbished, Original

Cisco Meraki Cloud Managed Switch, 24 Gigabit Ethernet Ports, 4 SFP+ Uplinks, PoE, MS225-24P-HW, Unclaimed, Refurbished, Original

Cisco Meraki Cloud Managed Switch, 24 Gigabit Ethernet Ports, 4 SFP+ Uplinks, PoE, MS225-24P-HW, Unclaimed, Refurbished, Original

Cisco 2960S 48 Port Gigabit PoE+ Switch, WS-C2960S-48FPS-L, Refurbished, Original

Cisco 2960S 48 Port Gigabit PoE+ Switch, WS-C2960S-48FPS-L, Refurbished, Original

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