Enterprise Switches and Their Selection Guide

Enterprise switches are the type of network switches, which are deployed in large networks comprising many connections. These switches do not suggest typical types but only refer to the work environment and application. There are different types of enterprise switches based on the designs. This post analyzes these switches, their hierarchy, types, and applications in detail.

Types-of-Enterprise-Switches

Enterprise Switches: Hierarchical Design Discussed


All enterprise switches possess the same hierarchical design. In a LAN, the switches are distinguished into three layers:
  • Core Switches: They form the backbone of any network. They serve as the gateway to the Internet because they are positioned to the center of the network. There may be at least one or two core layer switches in any network. This switch must be fast, fault-tolerant, and possess high availability. Thus, only fully managed switches are used as core switches.

  • Distribution Switches: They serve as the bridge between the core layer and access layer switches. As the name suggests, these switches ensure the data packets are routed properly within the network. It is also responsible for policy-based network connectivity and performs functions such as packet filtering, QoS, application gateways, and so on. A network may comprise distribution layer switches equivalent to the sum of the core layer and access layer switches. These switches are also known as aggregation switches or workgroup layer switches.

  • Access Switches: These switches help connect the end node devices like the wired devices or APs to the network. They are the most important layer switches. Most switches that you see in a network are access layer switches. Access switches are equipped with supportable features such as VLANs, port security, Fast Ethernet/Gigabit Ethernet, and so on.

Types of Enterprise Switches Based on Designs and Applications


Nowadays, enterprises are implementing hybrid networks to leverage the benefits of copper and fiber connections. As a result, you will see the increasing use of fiber optic network switches in many enterprise networks. These switches allow better connectivity than traditional copper switches. If you have been considering any type of enterprise fiber optic network switches for your organization, the consideration of the following types will be quite helpful.
  • Managed Switches: As the name indicates, these switches are managed by administrators. They help build highly secure networks. Administrators can easily tweak these switches for optimizing data rates when new users or devices are added to the network. Managed network switches are also considered best for supporting Gigabit Ethernet. Nowadays, many network administrators use managed switches to build virtual local area networks (VLANs) that allow them to segment their network and manage traffic effectively. These switches are often expensive than unmanaged switches owing to range of functions they offer. For instance, managed switches are equipped with Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) that allows administrators to perform their QoS duties easily. They can control the switch remotely to ensure maximum safety. Although the cost factor is high, these switches allow administrators to build a customized high-efficiency network with better traffic.

  • Unmanaged Switches: Unmanaged switches feature no managed features. These switches can be handled by anyone with or without any technical knowledge. These switches require no special installation and is usually plug-and-play type. Unmanaged switches possess auto-negotiation feature, which enables a port on the switch, server, or router to communicate with other devices on the link. This feature also enables the switch to identify the connection speed and duplex configuration. These enterprise switches are preferred for applications that require minimal level of customization or no customization. If the administrator aims to connect and customize it remotely, there is broad setup involved. Otherwise they cannot monitor and manage it remotely.

  • POE Switches: PoE stands for Power over Ethernet fiber optic network switch distributes power to different devices on the network. These switches produce a PoE network that supports both PoE-enabled and Ethernet devices. PoE switches are credited for introducing network simplicity as they have reduced the need of wiring. Any device on the PoE network can easily function even if they are not near to the AC access points or routers. The switches send both power and data to the connected devices. These switches can transmit over Ethernet up to 100 meters. There are two types of PoE switches – active and passive PoE switches.
    • Active PoE Switches: These switches are rated to EEE 802.3af, IEEE 802.3at or IEEE 802.3bt standards. They can negotiate the proper voltage between the PD and PSE equipment.
    • Passive PoE Switches: These are non-standard PoE switches, which can deliver power over Ethernet lines without communication or negotiation.

  • Smart Switches: This is a type of managed switch that comes with few features for limited management options like duplex modes or VLANs. These switches make a great option if your network requires limited customizations. The devices are affordable due to their limited customization options.

How to Choose the Best Enterprise Switch for Your Application


There are several things to keep in mind when choosing the enterprise switch for your applications. Fiber optic network switches differ in terms of design and applications, so you need to be careful while making the selection. The following pointers will ease the selection.
  • Power: Do you want to power your devices? If that sounds yes then PoE network switches are the best option. These switches also help you reduce the cabling and infrastructure complexity.
  • Ports: Managed, unmanaged, PoE and smart switches come with several ports. You can find these switches in different port sizes like 5, 8, 10, 16, 24, 28, 48, and 52. If your business is expanding at a rapid speed, then perhaps you may need the switch with the most number of ports. However, if you have only limited expansion plans then choosing switches with limited number of ports is advisable.
  • Stackability: If your business is rapidly expanding, you will need to support more devices. This would imply investing in more switches. Stackable switches come in handy in this context. These switches can be connected and help increase your network’s availability and capacity of your network. Similarly, if your network expansion is limited, you can try standalone switches. These switches work as an individual entity and come with limited capacity.
  • Speed: No matter whatever type of switch you choose, ensure to check the speed. The switches can be availed as Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, and Ten Gigabit speeds.
  • Level of Customization: Do you own one of the busiest traffic networks that require high level of management and customization? If that sounds yes, then managed switches are the best option. If you need only limited customization, then smart switches can be a great choice. If you have applications that require no customization, then including unmanaged switches are better.

Conclusion


The choice of the right network switch will depend on your application requirements. Nowadays, all networks utilize the above types of switches individually or in combination. If you are also considering a hybrid network with these switches and fiber optic devices, ensure to make a wise selection. Enterprise switches also vary in configurations and not all switches may be best for your application. In this case, you can check the online catalogs for more information on these switches. You can also approach the manufacturer to make the right selection. After all, your enterprise network will serve as a key growth driver of your business.

Rich Tull

R.W. Tull is the President of Versitron Inc. He works closely with clients to review layout diagrams and drawings in order to ensure that the best fiber optic solution is achieved for a particular project.

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