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Switches enable you to connect multiple computers, printers and other devices to your LAN (Local Area Network) using Ethernet cabling. Devices connect to the switch via a port. Switches vary in size, from 4 ports up to 52 ports and beyond. Switches can also be connected to additional switches to increase port capacity as your business grows. Once connected to a switch, computers and devices can transfer information between them, including messages, emails, files and printer instructions etc. A switch cannot access the Internet; this functionality requires a device called a router that switches connect to.
Switches are available for the currently adopted Ethernet networking speeds: Fast Ethernet (up to 100 Mbps) and Gigabit Ethernet (up to 1000 Mbps). Fast Ethernet is more than ample for general office networking, e.g. emailing, sending documents, printing, scanning etc. Gigabit Ethernet is better for large LANs with high traffic volumes or heavy network users sending very large files or transferring media, such as voice, video, imagery or music. Fast Ethernet switches are backward compatible to 10baseT Ethernet (still used in many networks), which supports up to 10 Mbps, whilst Gigabit Ethernet switches are backward compatible to both 10 and 100 Mbps networks.
Important note: Some fast ethernet (10/100) switches feature one or two gigabit ethernet (10/100/1000) ports, that are designed to be used to uplink the switch to other switches in order to remove bottlenecks betweeen switches. For this reason, such switches may be listed as 'gigabit ethernet' in search results. Be sure to always check the 'interfaces' section of the technical specification to see how many of the switches ports support the speed you require before purchasing your switch.
Hubs v Switches
Switches are more efficient than hubs; they are able to look into each data packet to read the MAC address (physical location) of each computer connected to it. A hub is not able to read the physical address of each computer connected to the network, so it broadcasts the data packet(s) to every computer or device connected to its ports. Slow network performance can be greatly improved by replacing hubs with switches. Switches operate far quicker, significantly reduce network traffic and improve security, as computers do not see data intended for another destination. Switches are available in various guises to suit the size and complexity of your office network.
Most small networks will run quite happily with basic switching functionality described above. These switches are known as unmanaged switches, they are inexpensive and easy to set-up - just plug in your Ethernet networking cables and connect a power cord.
See our range of Unmanaged Switches here.
Smart (Web Managed) Switches
Smart Switches are 'web managed' switches that find the middle-ground between unmanaged and Layer 2 managed switches, by providing basic management features to improve the efficiency of the network, without the costs of a fully SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) managed network.
See our range of Smart Managed Switches here.
Layer 2 Managed Switches: For larger networks, with higher traffic and greater complexity, consider introducing managed switching. Layer 2 Managed switches support SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), enabling you to monitor and control various aspects of the switches operation from a computer. A managed switch can alert you when something goes wrong with the network, provide information to ascertain bottlenecks on your network that slow performance and enables prioritisation to be given to heavy users or senior personnel.
Layer 3 Managed Switches: Layer 3 Managed Switches do everything Layer 2 Managed Switches do and more. Layer 3 Managed Switches provide the backbone to a large network, by sub dividing it into several subnets (segments); these subnets could be different departments or areas of a building. Layer 3 managed switches know the location of every single computer and device on the network. They also monitor the traffic across the entire LAN, which enables them to efficiently route data between different sub-nets, using the direct or quickest path. A Layer 3 switch will typically have other unmanaged or Layer 2 managed switches connected to it that pass data on to computers located in their segment of the network.
See our range of Managed Switches here.
Switching in a Wireless Network
If you choose to implement a wireless office network or create a hot-desking area within an existing cabled Ethernet network, you do not need to buy switches, you need access points.