With businesses dabbling into humongous amounts of data which helps in analysis and strategic decision making, they need to have robust networks to transfer this data across locations. There are various network devices such as cables, connectors, switches, media converters, and so on which help build a robust and safe network and facilitate data transfer over a long distance. They also enable the connection of two or more types of dissimilar networks. Switches are an integral part of modern networks, which enable communication between network devices and cables. They are especially useful in mixed or blended networks such as fiber optic and copper cable network. However, these are Ethernet switches are used in industrial applications. Industrial Ethernet switches are different and more advanced than regular switches. They are robust and are designed to resist harsh weather conditions, industrial environments, and so on. These are manufactured under special industrial grade standards and have a wide operating temperature range. When selecting Ethernet switches, there are many factors one must consider. This post discusses the same and more.
Types of Industrial Ethernet Switches
Industrial switches are different from commercial Ethernet switches used in offices. They are resistant to extreme temperatures, vibrations, dust, moisture, and most other environmental parameters. They come with an enclosure or casing that protects the inner components. All of these switches come with ports ranging from 2 to 40 or more. These ports are mostly of two types- SFP and for RJ45 connectors. SFP module ports enable connecting fiber optic cables while RJ45 connector ports are meant for copper cables. You can choose the number and type of port slots in a cable depending on your requirement. Broadly speaking, there are two types of industrial switches - managed and unmanaged.
- Managed switches: These switches largely operate on auto mode. They have advanced functionalities and can be pre-programmed according to your network requirements. A managed switch offers better control, monitoring, and configuring abilities than unmanaged switches. With managed switches, you can arrange or prioritize the type of traffic. They have advanced troubleshooting features which helps identify issues in the network and take the required steps.
- Unmanaged switches: These switches, on the other hand, are simple to use and operate with a plug and play design, but have only basic features. They need to be operated manually and do not offer troubleshooting and configuration abilities. These industrial grade unmanaged switches serve as an interconnect among network devices. They need to conform to IP 67 or IP 30 standards in terms of their design and ruggedness. They are absolutely cost effective and can be used in large and crucial networks such as railways, road infrastructure, and so on where automated operation is not a key requirement.
Aside from these two categories, here are specific types of industrial switches
- PoE/PoE+ switches: These industrial grade switches are capable of transferring power along with data over two different strands of the same cable. These are key for long distance networks where the cables pass through remote areas without any power and connectivity. These switches can determine the compatible or PoE-enabled devices on the network and connect with them. These also have an industrial grade ruggedized design with resistance to environmental parameters. Also, these PoE switches help speed up the traffic flow and transmission rate.
- Rack mountable switches: These are hardened industrial grade switches which can be mounted on racks in the server room or a data center. These are typically 10/100/1000 Base Gigabit Ethernet switches. Since these come with hard enclosures, they can be mounted on wall or DIN rail as well. These are typically suitable for blended networks, self-healing fast Ethernet backbone networks, or in a network with multiple Ethernet devices such as IP phones, CCTV cameras, and so on.
Some Pointers to Ensure When Selecting Ethernet Switches
Selecting the right switch is crucial for the proper functioning of the network. Here are some pointers to consider which may help you in the selection process.
- Data transmission and compatibility: Compatibility of the switch with other network devices is critical to its functioning. Ensure the number of connected devices with the switch meet this criterion. Ensure the switches are QoS enabled and have increasingly advanced features such as auto forwarding multicast traffic, VLANs, and so on. This increases data transmission efficiency and accuracy. VLANs increase the security factor, especially in real time data transmission.
- Durability and reliability: You can ensure these aspects by going through the IP, NEMA, and UL ratings. A switch must offer reliable performance and also durability regardless of the harsh industrial environments. While an industrial grade switch can resist factors such as vibration, heat, and so on, the list of such factors must be compared with those required in the application environment. This includes everything snow, rain, dust, heat, and so on. Also, the operating temperature must be wide enough, usually from -40 to 80 degrees Celsius or more.
- Ports: The number and type of ports vary with each model and brand of industrial Ethernet switches. Typically, in a mid-sized blended network, the switch must have at least 2-4 SFP module ports and 10 ports for copper cable connectors.
- Installation and maintenance: As much as possible, the switch must be easy to install and low on maintenance. Also, the installation method must match with the application environment in terms of the switch design and improving network efficiency. This is where you must choose the right mounting option so that the available space is utilized properly.
- Managed or unmanaged switches: This factor has much to do with your application requirement. While industrial switches are a bit expensive than normal switches, managed ones add a lot to the cost. So, this decision needs to be thoughtfully made. If you need to control and monitor as well as configure your network remotely, and once programmed let the network function on auto mode, definitely opt for managed switches. However, if the network is personally monitored, no matter how large it is, you can use unmanaged switches. Both the types of networks offer LED display based outputs. Managed switches would be especially useful in remote areas.
If as a business, you are expanding, moving to newer places, scaling up operations, and so on, you must have a robust and high speed network which must be scalable and leave scope for future expansions. Along with high speed data transfer, security, distance, and accuracy are of paramount importance, so fiber optics by and large would be the best choice for network type. If not, blending fiber optics with your existing legacy network is also recommended to accomplish all your requirements. Whether industrial switches or other network devices, ensure to make the right selection from a trusted manufacturer. Also, ensure there are no compatibility issues with other devices and the switches have the right number and types of ports. All these factors will help you optimize the business and always enjoy seamless communication over long distances.