What is a Network Switch?

A network switch is essential networking hardware that enables communication among multiple devices within a network by efficiently exchanging data packets.

This whitepaper explores the intricacies of a network switch, including how it works, the types available, key considerations when choosing the right switch for specific network requirements, and more.

Table of Contents

Network Switches

How Does a Network Switch Work?

How Does a Network Switch Works

A network switch receives data packets from source device within a local area network (LAN), examines the packet's destination Media Access Control (MAC) address, and forwards them to the appropriate ports on which the destination device is connected.

Let’s understand the different steps involved in this whole process,

  • MAC Address Learning: When a network switch receives a data packet destined for a specific MAC address, it consults its MAC address table to determine the egress port to which the packet should be forwarded. The switch then directs the packet only to the port associated with the destination MAC address. This is how network switch work to minimizes unnecessary network traffic and improves overall network efficiency.
  • MAC Address Forwarding: When a network switch receives a data packet destined for a specific MAC address, it consults its MAC address table to determine the egress port to which the packet should be forwarded. The switch then directs the packet only to the port associated with the destination MAC address. This approach minimizes unnecessary network traffic and improves overall network efficiency.
  • Filtering and Flooding: If the network switch does not have the destination MAC address in its MAC address table, it employs a technique called flooding. In flooding, the switch forwards the packet to all ports, except the ingress port. This ensures that the packet reaches its destination, even if the switch is not initially aware of the destination MAC address. Once the switch receives a response from the destination device, it learns the MAC address and updates its MAC address table accordingly.
  • Loop Avoidance: Network loops can occur when multiple connections create redundant paths between switches. To avoid loops, network switches utilize a protocol called Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). STP identifies and disables redundant paths, allowing for a loop-free topology. If a switch detects a loop, it blocks one of the redundant links to maintain a stable and efficient network. This is how network switch work to avoid loops.
  • Buffering and Queuing: Switches have built-in buffer memory to temporarily store incoming packets before forwarding them. This buffering mechanism helps accommodate bursts of data traffic and prevents packet loss or congestion. Additionally, switches employ various queuing algorithms, such as First-In-First-Out (FIFO) or Weighted Fair Queuing (WFQ), to prioritize and manage outgoing packet traffic.
  • Broadcast and Multicast Forwarding: When a switch receives a broadcast or multicast packet, it forwards the packet to all connected devices within the broadcast domain. This ensures that all devices on the LAN receive the broadcast or multicast message.
  • Purpose of a Network Switch

    A primary purpose of a network switch is to connect users, applications, and equipment across a network, enabling them to communicate with each other and share resources.

    Here are several other key purposes of a network switch:

    • Packet Forwarding: The primary purpose of a network switch is to forward data packets between devices within a LAN. It receives incoming packets and determines the appropriate egress port to which each packet should be forwarded based on the destination MAC address. By selectively forwarding packets only to the intended recipient, a switch minimizes network congestion and optimizes data transmission.
    • Local Area Network Segmentation: Switches can create separate segments or virtual LANs (VLANs) within a network, allowing for better organization, security, and management of network traffic.
    • Enhanced Bandwidth and Performance: Network switches provide dedicated bandwidth to connected devices. Unlike hubs or repeaters that share bandwidth among all connected devices, switches allocate a separate data path for each port. This ensures that devices can communicate simultaneously without contention, resulting in improved network performance and reduced latency.
    • Increased Network Capacity: By providing multiple ports, computer networking switches enable the connection of numerous devices to a LAN. This increased capacity allows for the expansion of the network to accommodate additional devices such as computers, servers, printers, IP phones, surveillance cameras, and other network-enabled devices.
    • Network Security: Switches offer security features to protect the network from unauthorized access and data breaches. Features such as port security, access control lists (ACLs), and secure management protocols help control network access, prevent unauthorized devices from connecting, and enforce security policies.
    • Quality of Service (QoS) Support: Network switches often include QoS capabilities that prioritize certain types of network traffic. This ensures that critical applications such as voice or video conferencing receive sufficient bandwidth and lower-priority traffic does not impact their performance. QoS helps maintain optimal network performance and enables efficient resource utilization.
    • Centralized Network Management: Managed switches, in particular, provide centralized management capabilities, allowing network administrators to configure, monitor, and troubleshoot the network from a central location. They offer features such as remote management, SNMP support, and traffic monitoring tools, enhancing network visibility and control.

    Types of Network Switches

    • Unmanaged Switches: Unmanaged switches are known for their simplicity and ease of use. They are typically plug-and-play devices that require minimal configuration. Unmanaged switches are suitable for small-scale deployments or environments where basic connectivity is the primary requirement. 
    • Managed Switches: Managed switches provide advanced features and customization options that allow network administrators to have granular control over their network.These switches offer a wide range of capabilities, including VLAN support, link aggregation, Quality of Service (QoS), and security features. Managed switches require configuration and management through a web-based interface or a command-line interface (CLI). They are highly scalable and adaptable, making them suitable for medium to large-scale networks where network optimization, security, and advanced management capabilities are crucial.
    • PoE (Power over Ethernet) Switch: A PoE switch can deliver both data and electrical power to connected devices over Ethernet cables, eliminating the need for separate power sources for those devices. Common applications of PoE switches include powering IP phones, wireless access points, IP cameras, and other PoE-enabled devices.
    • Stackable Switch: A stackable switch allows multiple switches to be physically interconnected and managed as a single logical unit. It simplifies network management as configuration changes, and updates can be applied to the entire stack simultaneously, improving scalability and redundancy.
    • Chassis Switch: A chassis switch is a modular switch with interchangeable line cards and power supplies, providing flexibility in network design. Administrators can customize the switch by adding or upgrading modules to meet specific port and performance requirements.
    • Industrial Switch: An industrial switch is specifically designed to operate reliably in harsh environmental conditions commonly found in industrial settings. It can withstand extreme temperatures, vibrations, and other challenging conditions, making it suitable for use in factories, outdoor locations, and other industrial applications.
    • Distribution Switch: A distribution switch is strategically positioned between the core and access layers in a hierarchical network design. It aggregates traffic from access switches and forwards it towards the core, optimizing the flow of data within the network.
    • Core Switch: A core switch is a critical component that sits at the center of the network and handles high-speed and high-volume data traffic. It serves as the backbone of the network, interconnecting different segments and ensuring efficient data flow between them.
    • Cloud Managed Switch: A cloud-managed switch is remotely managed and configured through cloud-based management interfaces. This allows network administrators to control and monitor the switch's settings from anywhere with an internet connection, making it ideal for distributed networks or businesses with multiple locations.
    • KVM Switch: KVM switches also known as "Keyboard, Video, Mouse" switches are hardware devices used to control multiple computers from a single console. They allow users to switch between different computers using a single keyboard, monitor and mouse setup. By pressing a button or using keyboard shortcuts users can seamlessly switch their input devices to control different computers connected to the KVM switch. KVM switches are commonly used in data centers, server rooms and offices to simplify management and save space by reducing the need for separate peripherals for each computer.
    • Smart Network Switches: These are self-managed switches, which are also known as intelligent switches. Smart network switches operate on the network layer (Layer 3) of the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) or data link layer (Layer 2). These switches have management features that allow remote port reset, partial LAN modification and port bandwidth, and local device monitoring. It is less expensive than managed switches, and are easy to set up, feature multiple ports with multicast support, and come with PoE options. The networking switches support gigabit and fast Ethernet options.
    • Fixed-configuration switches:As the name suggests, these switches feature fixed number of Ethernet ports like 8 Gigabit ports, 48 ports, 24 ports, and so on.  These ports differ in connection and speed, with the least port speed being 1 Gbps.  These switches cannot accept new modules, which limits their application to home networks or medium-sized networks. Managed, unmanaged, and smart switches can be fixed configuration switches.
    • LAN Switches: Local area network switches or LAN switches are used to make connections in local area networks. LAN switches are generally known as data switches or Ethernet switches. They help alleviate network congestion by sending the data packets to intended receiver in the network. These switches allocate specific bandwidth for data packets, which helps avoid their overlapping and congestion. LAN switches ensure high speed and seamless data flow in the localized networks of institutions, homes, and offices.
    • Data center switches: These high-performance switches have gained immense popularity in recent years. Data center switches are mainly used by cloud providers and large enterprises that use virtualization. These switches possess high-security features like port security, access control lists, and encryption to protect data as well as prevent access. They are usually deployed to anchor one-tier flat mesh or fabric, or two-tier (spine-leaf) architecture.

    Network Switch Architecture

    The architecture of a networking switch is a critical component that determines how it functions in a network. Networking switches can be categorized into two main types of architecture:

    • Shared Memory Architecture: In a shared memory architecture, the switch has a central memory unit that stores all the data, frames, packets, and addresses that pass through the switch. Each port of the switch has equal access to this central memory unit. Shared memory switches can handle large amounts of traffic, but they can also suffer from latency and reduced performance as the traffic load increases.
    • Crossbar Architecture: In a crossbar architecture, the switch has dedicated pathways that connect each port directly to one another. This type of architecture is faster and more efficient compared to shared memory switches since each port has a direct connection. Crossbar switches are ideal for high-traffic environments since they can handle a large volume of data without any compromise in performance.

    What is a Network Switch Used for?

    Network switches have diverse applications across various industries and environments. Some key uses of computer networking switches include:

    • Business Networks: Switches form the backbone of local area networks (LANs) in office environments. They connect computers, servers, printers, and other devices, allowing for efficient data transfer, collaboration, and resource sharing.
    • Data Centers: Network switches play a crucial role in data centers, connecting servers, storage systems, and networking equipment. They provide high-speed connectivity and ensure reliable data transmission within the data center infrastructure.
    • Industrial Networks: Industrial environments, such as manufacturing plants, utilize switches to connect control systems, monitoring devices, and machinery. Switches in industrial networks often have ruggedized designs to withstand harsh conditions.
    • Campus Networks: Educational institutions and large campuses rely on switches to connect classrooms, administrative buildings, and student dormitories. They provide network segmentation, enabling efficient traffic management and ensuring reliable connectivity throughout the campus.

    Advantages of a Network Switch

    Network switches offer many advantages over other types of networking devices. The following are a few key advantages of using these switches.

    • Optimized Bandwidth: Network switches help ensure dedicated connections between different devices in a network. This allows full duplex communication and optimizes the network bandwidth.
    • Minimized Network Congestion: Computer networking switches are slowly replacing network hubs because they help reduce network congestion. Generally, the hubs broadcast data to all devices connected in the network, whereas switches only send data to intended recipient devices through dedicated pathways. This helps prevent network congestion, which usually occurs, when multiple devices are sending data simultaneously in the same bandwidth.
    • Improved Security: Network switches scans the MAC addresses of the recipient device before sending the data. This offers a degree of security and helps prevent unauthorized access.
    • Low Latency: As these switches refer to MAC addresses and dedicated pathways, both these switches offer low-latency communication. This is advantageous for real-time applications like VOIP, video conferencing, and gaming.
    • Improved Network Management: The switches used in growing networks are managed through various tools, such as command-line interfaces, web interfaces, and so on. These tools help monitor and manage the traffic flows in the network and optimize the performance of the network.
    • Scalability: Most network switches can be stacked or connected in the networks to form large networks. They help add new devices to the network. Thus, they are now becoming integral part of many growing networks.
    • Cost-effectiveness: With their security, performance, and effective communication, these network switches can be termed more affordable than routers. They also ensure faster rate of data transfer than routers or hubs.

    Network Switch Features

    Network switches offer additional management features that provide network administrators with enhanced control and visibility. These features include:

    • SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol): SNMP allows centralized network monitoring and management. It enables administrators to monitor switch performance, track network traffic, and receive notifications about network events or issues.
    • Port Density and Speed: Port density refers to the number of physical ports available on a switch. It determines the capacity of the switch to accommodate connected devices. Evaluate the required number of ports based on the number of devices that need to be connected to the network. Different switches offer varying port speeds, such as Fast Ethernet (10/100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 Mbps), and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 Gbps). Consider the speed requirements of the network and choose switches with appropriate port speeds.
    • Port Mirroring: Port mirroring is a feature that allows network administrators to capture and analyze network traffic. It helps in diagnosing network issues, optimizing performance, and monitoring for security threats or abnormal behavior.
    • VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks): Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs) allow logical segmentation of a network, isolating traffic and improving network performance and security. Consider the need for network segmentation and VLAN support when choosing switches. VLANs provide benefits such as improved network management, enhanced security through the isolation of sensitive data or departments, and efficient traffic management by separating broadcast domains.
    • Quality of Service (QoS): Quality of Service ensures that critical or time-sensitive applications receive the necessary network resources and bandwidth to maintain optimal performance. Consider the importance of QoS for your network environment and choose switches that offer QoS features and prioritization mechanisms.

    How to Choose a Network Switch

    When selecting network switches for a specific network environment, several factors should be taken into account:

    • Network Size and Scalability: Evaluate the current network size and anticipate future growth. Choose switches that can accommodate the expected increase in devices and network traffic.
    • Speed and Bandwidth Requirements: Switches come in various speeds or throughputs, measured in megabits per second (Mbps). Fixed-configuration switches offer different options, including Fast Ethernet (10/100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 Mbps), Ten Gigabit (10/100/1000/10000 Mbps), and even higher speeds like 40/100 Gbps. The choice of switch speed depends on the specific data transmission requirements. When considering the switching speed, it is important to assess the need for high-speed connections and sufficient bandwidth to support data-intensive applications, multimedia streaming, or real-time communication. For tasks involving frequent transfer of large data files, a Gigabit Ethernet switch is recommended. By selecting the appropriate switch speed, you ensure that your network can efficiently handle the demands of various activities without experiencing performance limitations or bottlenecks.
    • Switching Capacity: Switching capacity refers to the amount of data traffic a switch can handle. It is measured in terms of throughput and is usually specified in megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps). Higher switching capacity is preferable for networks with heavy data transfer requirements to avoid congestion and bottlenecks.
    • Network Security Features: Consider switch security features such as access control lists (ACLs), port security, and secure management protocols to protect against unauthorized access, data breaches, and network attacks.
    • Management and Monitoring Capabilities: Determine the level of control and visibility required for network management. Consider features like remote management, traffic monitoring tools, and compatibility with network management systems.

    How to Set up a Network Switch?

    To Set up a network switch, follow these steps:

    • Gather Equipment: Collect the network switch, Ethernet cables, and a power source.
    • Physical Connection: Plug one end of Ethernet cables into devices (computers, printers, etc.), and the other into the switch's ports.
    • Power On: Connect the switch to a power source and turn it on. LEDs will indicate power and connection status.
    • Configuration (Optional): For basic setups, no configuration is needed. For advanced setups, access the switch's management interface via a web browser to customize settings.
    • Testing: Check connectivity between devices to ensure proper functioning. Your network is now set up!


    In conclusion, network switch is an essential component in modern networking, playing a critical role in managing data flow and ensuring efficient connectivity within a network. By understanding how they work, the various types available, and their specific applications, businesses and individuals can optimize their network performance and reliability. Whether for small home networks or large enterprise systems, selecting the right network switch is crucial for maintaining seamless and robust connectivity.

    Versitron manufactures a range of network switches with various configurations. Don’t forget to check out the network switches below to find the one best suited for your application.

    Managed Commercial Grade Switches
    Model Product Name Copper Ports Copper Speed Fiber Ports
    (SFP Slots)
    Fiber Speed Connector Type
    SG70660M 6-Port Managed Switch 6 10/100/1000 1 100 LC
    S70850M 8-Port Managed Switch 7 10/100 1 100 LC
    SG72860M 28-Port Managed Switch 24 10/100/1000 4 100/1G LC
    SGX72870MA 28-Port Managed 10G Switch 24 10/100/1000 4 1G/10G LC
    SGX75270M 52-Port Managed 10G Switch 48 10/100/1000 4 1G/10G LC

    Unmanaged Commercial Grade Switches
    Model Product Name Copper Ports Copper Speed Fiber Ports
    (SFP Slots)
    Fiber Speed Connector Type
    SG70460 4-Port Unmanaged Switch 2 10/100/1000 2 1G LC
    SG70660 6-Port Unmanaged Switch 4 10/100/1000 2 1G LC

    Unmanaged Industrial Grade Switches
    Model Product Name Copper Ports Copper Speed Fiber Ports
    (SFP Slots)
    Fiber Speed Connector Type
    SF70460 4-Port Unmanaged Industrial Switch 2 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC
    SF70660 6-Port Unmanaged Industrial Switch 4 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC
    SF70760 7-Port Unmanaged Industrial Switch 6 10/100/1000 1 100/1G LC
    SF70960 9-Port Unmanaged Industrial Switch 8 10/100/1000 1 100/1G LC
    SF71060 10-Port Unmanaged Industrial Switch 8 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC

    Managed Industrial Grade Switches
    Model Product Name Copper Ports Copper Speed Fiber Ports
    (MM, SFP Slots)
    Fiber Speed Connector Type
    SF70460M 4-Port Managed Industrial Switch 2 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC
    SF70760M 7-Port Managed Industrial Switch 6 10/100/1000 1 100/1G LC
    SF71060MA 10-Port Managed Industrial Switch 8 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC
    SF71053M2 10-Port Managed Industrial 10/100 Switch 8 10/100 2 MM 100 ST
    SF72860M 28-Port Managed Industrial Switch 24 10/100/1000 4 1G LC

    Managed Industrial Grade PoE/PoE+ Switches
    Model Product Name Copper Ports Copper Speed Fiber Ports
    (SFP Slots)
    Fiber Speed Connector Type
    SF70460MP 4-Port Managed Industrial PoE/PoE+ Switch 2 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC
    SF70760MP 7-Port Managed Industrial PoE/PoE+ Switch 6 10/100/1000 1 100/1G LC
    SF71060MPA 10-Port Managed Industrial PoE/PoE+ Switch 8 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC
    SF71860MP 18-Port Managed Industrial PoE/PoE+ Switch 16 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC

    Managed Commercial Grade PoE/PoE+ Switches
    Model Product Name Copper Ports Copper Speed Fiber Ports
    (SFP Slots)
    Fiber Speed Connector Type
    SG71060MPB 10-Port Managed PoE/PoE+ Switch 8 10/100/1000 2 100/1G LC
    SG72060MP 20-Port Managed PoE/PoE+ Switch 16 10/100/1000 4 100/1G LC
    SGX72870MP 28-Port Managed PoE/PoE+ Switch 24 10/100/1000 4 1G/10G LC
    SGX75270MP 52-Port Managed PoE/PoE+ Switch 48 10/100/1000 4 1G/10G LC

    “All Fiber” SFP Switches
    Model Product Name Copper Ports Copper Speed Fiber Ports
    (SFP Slots)
    Fiber Speed Connector Type
    SG10208 10-Port All Fiber Switch 2 10/100/1000 8 1G LC
    SGX288164M 28-Port All Fiber Switch 8 (Combo) 10/100/1000 28 100/1G/10G LC
    SGX368244M 36-Port All Fiber Switch 8 10/100/1000 28 100/1G/10G LC

    Pick-A-Port Modular Switch*
    Model Product Name Copper Ports Copper Speed Fiber Ports
    (MM, SM, SFP)
    Fiber Speed Connector Type
    SG71090A 3-Slot Modular Switch Chassis
    SG71890A SG71890 8-Port Module 8 10/100/1000 -- -- --
    SG71893A SG71893 8-Port Module 0 -- 8 MM 100 ST
    SG71894A SG71894 8-Port Module 0 -- 8 MM 100 SC
    SG71895A SG71895 8-Port Module 0 -- 8 SM 100 SC
    SG71896A SG71896 8-Port Module 0 -- 8 SFP 100/1G LC
    SG71896-44A SG71896-44 8-Port Module 4 10/100/1000 4 SFP 100/1G LC
    SG71893-26A SG71893-26 8-Port Module 2 10/100/1000 6 MM 100 ST
    SG71894-26A SG71894-26 8-Port Module 2 10/100/1000 6 MM 100 SC
    SG71895-26A SG71895-26 8-Port Module 2 10/100/1000 6 SM 100 SC