Difference between Managed and Unmanaged Industrial Ethernet Switches



Unmanaged Ethernet switches — These switches have no configuration interface or options. They are plug-and-play. They are typically the least expensive switches, found in home, SOHO, or small businesses. They can be desktop or rack mounted.

Managed Ethernet switches — These switches have one or more ways, or interfaces, to modify the operation of the switch. Common management methods include: a serial console or Command Line Interface accessed via telnet or Secure Shell; an embedded Simple Network Management Protocol SNMP agent allowing management from a remote console or management station; a web interface for management from a web browser. Examples of configuration changes that one can do from a managed switch include: enable features such as Spanning Tree Protocol; set port speed; create or modify VLANs, etc.

Two sub-classes of managed switches are marketed today:

Smart (or intelligent) switches — These are managed switches with a limited set of management features. Likewise "web-managed" switches are switches which fall in a market niche between unmanaged and managed. For a price much lower than a fully managed switch they provide a web interface (and usually no CLI access) and allow configuration of basic settings, such as VLANs, port-speed and duplex.

Enterprise Managed (or fully managed) switches - These have a full set of management features, including Command Line Interface, SNMP agent, and web interface. They may have additional features to manipulate configurations, such as the ability to display, modify, backup and restore configurations. Compared with smart switches, enterprise switches have more features that can be customized or optimized, and are generally more expensive than "smart" switches. Enterprise switches are typically found in networks with larger number of switches and connections, where centralized management is a significant savings in administrative time and effort. A Stackable switch is a version of enterprise-managed switch.



What Is the Difference Between a Managed & Unmanaged Switch?

Local area networks connect computers that frequently need to share information (e.g., at a business). Switches are important components of a local area network. Switches allow nodes in the network, like individual computers, to communicate directly with one another quickly and efficiently. There are two principal types of switches -- managed switches and unmanaged switches -- from which LAN managers must choose.



  • The key difference between a managed switch and an unmanaged switch has to do with the ability of local area network administrators to configure the switch and to set priorities for LAN traffic. This is a way of ensuring that the most important information gets through to the relevant computers. Unlike a managed switch, a unmanaged switch simply allows nodes such as computers and printers to talk to one another. They are manufactured with a fixed configuration that cannot be changed.

Data Traffic and Nodes

  • Managed switches allow nodes in the network to talk to one another but also provide the ability to configure and manage data traffic throughout the local area network, giving administrators the ability to restrict access to certain types of information. Managed switches also use protocols (e.g., the Simple Management Network Protocol, or SMNP) that allow administrators to monitor nodes in the network. This information can be used to determine the health of the network, diagnose problems and determine the status of a particular device. As such, problems can be repaired without having to physically interact with the switch. Unmanaged switches lack these abilities.


Quality of Service

  • Managed switches, while more expensive, also provide users with the ability to prioritize traffic so that the most important information always gets through. This feature is called "quality of service" control. Managed switches also provide the ability to create virtual local area networks, which allow for the isolation of devices that are only sharing information with each other. Isolating devices allows them to be grouped together based on the information they are sharing and not on their physical location. This makes the network less complex and less likely to experience problems. Finally, redundancy provides the ability to create a safeguard for the network. If a data path fails, another data path will immediately be made available. This minimizes lost data and interrupted data transfers.


  • Since managed switches cost more than unmanaged switches, your company or organization should do a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether the extra options are worth the added cost. Central to this discussion will be whether your company deals with information that can cause serious problems if lost. If so, you should consider paying extra



Managed Vs. Unmanaged Ethernet Switch


Ethernet devices, including computers, connect to the network switch via Ethernet cables. The switch is responsible for directing data to and from these devices. The switch also learns where to correctly send data to more efficiently use network resources.



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  1. Function

    • The basic function of an Ethernet switch is the same whether it is managed or unmanaged. Because traditional Ethernet cables only send data in one direction, the switch is responsible for changing, or switching, the direction of transfer to send data in return.


    • While the unmanaged switch automatically provides functionality to an Ethernet network, the network administrator can manually use the features of a managed switch to further customize the network. A managed switch includes the basic features of an unmanaged switch but also supports Simple Network Management Protocol. One feature that managed switches support is limiting the data rate for each port (device). Unmanaged switches do not support this.


    • According to Contemporary Controls, a technology company that provides networking solutions to businesses, a managed Ethernet switch tends to cost more than an unmanaged switch. Managed switches are especially beneficial to networks in industrial settings; however, the average home or small-business user may not require the features that the managed switch provides.



      What Is an Unmanaged Ethernet Switch?

      A switch is a piece of networking hardware that moves data between computers. It is known as a network switch, a switching hub, a multi-port bridge or an Ethernet hub. Ethernet is the most widely used set of standards for physical level protocols in networking. The standards are so prevalent that the name "Ethernet" is often applied to any network equipment. Switches fall into two categories: managed and unmanaged.

      What Is an Unmanaged Ethernet Switch? thumbnail


      • A switch is a type of hub. The hub is a box with a row of sockets to receive networking cable connected with an RJ-45 plug. The sockets are called "ports," and each computer on the network connects to one port by one dedicated cable. A computer sending data to another computer on the network sends it down the cable to the hub. The hub copies any incoming data onto all other ports, so all computers on the network receive that data and have to in essence make their own decisions on whether to ignore it, or accept it.


      • The switch is the same as a hub except it only repeats incoming data out to the computer the data was meant for. This greatly reduces network traffic. Data travels across networks in packets. Each packet contains a header with the addresses of the computer originating the packet and the destination computer. On installation, the switch queries each computer connected to it for its address. It then associates that address with the port to which that computer is connected. When data arrives, the switch reads the destination address in the packet header address and only sends the packet to the port associated with that address. This is the basic switch. The basic switch is also called an unmanaged switch.


      Managed Switches

      • The term "unmanaged switch" is only meaningful in comparison with a managed switch. The managed switch offers network administrators the opportunity of altering the settings of each port. They can allocate different bandwidth to different ports, block ports, or use the managed switch to create VLANs. A Virtual LAN (VLAN) is a method of treating some of the computers on a network as though they were connected to a separate network. The network administrator tags messages from those computers so she can keep track of which computer is on which (virtual) network.

      Unmanaged vs Managed

      • The unmanaged switch is far cheaper than the managed switch. Managed switches are more often used on complicated networks run by large enterprises. Unmanaged switches offer sufficient functionality for small and middle-sized companies. The unmanaged switch is more popular than the hub. As technology develops, the price of switches has reduced, bringing them closer to the price of a hub. The superior performance of an unmanaged switch for little more cost than that of a hub makes it a popular choice for a basic network.


      Switches Used in Networking


      Wired networks need more than cables connecting computers together. They need a device that directs traffic around the network. The most basic piece of hardware to perform this task is called a hub, a repeater or a splitter. Each computer on the network connects to a port on the hub using a cable. Any data entering on one port is copied onto all the other ports. A more sophisticated version of this device is called a switching hub, or a switch.


      Switches Used in Networking thumbnail

      Unmanaged Switch

      • A basic switch is also called an unmanaged switch. The switching hub is very similar to its simpler counterpart in that it is an electronic box with a row of sockets, called ports. As with the standard hub, each computer connects to one of these ports via a network cable. The difference between the hub and the switch is that the switch does not repeat incoming messages onto all ports. Data travels around networks in packets. A packet has a header containing the source and destination address of the data. The switch examines the header and only copies the data packet onto the port it has associated with that address.

      Managed Switch

      • A managed switch is programmable. Various settings on the switch can be altered by an operator enabling certain paths from the switch to enjoy greater bandwidth than others. Network administrators can nominate certain ports to be part of a Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN). This separates out the traffic from certain devices. Where IP telephony channels voice signals over the data network, VLAN implemented on the switch can keep data and voice apart.


      Enterprise Switch

      • An enterprise switch is the most complicated and most expensive category of switch. It is a type of managed switch. The enterprise switch has a console with a monitor and keyboard, enabling the operator to input settings with a command line interface (CLI). This type of switch is usually only used by large enterprises with complicated networks.

      Smart Switch

      • The smart switch is another type of managed switch. Like the enterprise switch, the smart switch allows an operator to adjust the settings of each port. The smart switch looks more like an unmanaged switch, however, because it does not have a console. It is a simple box. A computer on the network substitutes for the missing console. The switch presents its settings as a web page, where the operator can alter and save the configuration.



      How does an ethernet switch work?

      Ethernet switches, both unmanaged and managed, avoid collisions by routing the messages in an Ethernet network to only the intended devices. When a switch receives an Ethernet message (packet), it reads the address of the device for which the message is intended, and then transmits the message out of only the port to which that device is connected (even if it is connected through several other switches).

      When the switch gets the first bit of information from the first device, such as your computer, it reads the MAC address of that device. The MAC address is the media access control number. This number is an ID number that is assigned to most network adapters and is preset by the manufacturer. Once this number is read, it is recorded in memory by the switch. Next, the switch attempts to look for any other devices on the network by sending out packet requests of information. Once another device gets this packet, it sends out a signal to the switch to acknowledge the request. Now the MAC address of this device is recorded. Each time these packets are sent, the information is "time stamped." The switch then works to filter this information that is communicated among all of the devices. The switch has enough memory to retain this information.

      Industrial applications of Ethernet (called industrial Ethernet) require special Ethernet switches that have industrial ratings for noise immunity, shock, vibration and temperature in a wide range of form factors with multiple options for copper and fiber connectivity.


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