How to buy a network switch
A network switch buying guide
A network switch is one of the more widely-used tools among networking products. Switches come in many different styles, sizes and speeds. Learning how to buy a network switch can be beneficial to your company or business.
>> What is a switch?
A network switch is a small hardware device that joins multiple devices together within one local-area network (LAN). Network switches inspect pieces of data (called frames) going through the LAN, determining the source and internal destination device of each piece of data and forwarding it appropriately. By delivering messages only to the connected device intended, a network switch minimizes the data going through the LAN and improves the network's performance.
Switches are sometimes confused with routers, because they use many of the same computer cables and connectors. Routers connect one or more LANs to a wide-area network (WAN). An example of a router is the device that connects a home network (LAN) to the Internet (WAN) for the purpose of Internet connection sharing. Many such routers include an integrated switch to increase their versatility.
>> Why use a switch?
Within a home or business, a switch commonly links computers and printers together, enabling them to share documents in a common repository (a file server) or use a common device for file backups. Switches can be plugged into to each other (the daisy chaining method) to add more devices to a network or create small LANs for better overall network performance.
In addition to connecting devices to each other, different types of network switches can benefit gaming systems as well. When you use a separate switch in addition to a router, the switch will take care of most of the internal network traffic, relieving much of the stress on the router and thereby improving the speed inside of the network.
>> Consider speed and ports
The different types of network switches vary mainly in their speed and number of devices that can connect to them. A switch's speed is stated as two or three numbers with slashes (/) in between them. A 10/100 switch, for example, transmits data at speeds of either a maximum of 10 or 100 megabits per second (Mbps); the maximum speed depends on the communication protocol a connected device uses. A 10/1000 switch transmits data at speeds of either a maximum 10 or 1000 Mbps. The limiting factor in communications speed is usually the capability of the network card/adapter in the transmitting/receiving device. If your gaming system, for example, has a 10/100 network card, and the switch's speed is 10/1000, the switch will receive data from the gaming system or send data to it only at 100 Mbps. In addition, the wire that connects a device to the switch must support the top switch speed in order send data at that rate.
As you learn how to buy a network switch, you can determine the number of devices that can connect to a switch by how many ports (Ethernet plug receptacles) it has. The types of network switches for homes and small business usually have 4-16 ports.
>> Consider your network's size
As you add more devices to your network, you might run out of ports on the switch. At that point, you can either upgrade your switch to one with more ports, or you can split your LAN in two by adding a switch to the network (it will plug into the existing switch). If your network has a lot of data traffic in a small part of it, such as a gaming system, plugging the gaming console into its own switch isolates the gaming system from the rest of the network, reducing traffic elsewhere and moving data around in the gaming system more quickly.
If you're growing a business, you might notice a slowdown in your network activities before you run out of ports on your switch. Putting files on or taking them from a file server, backup activities, and high volumes of printing all contribute to congestion on a network, just like rush hour slows down cars on the road. With network monitoring software, you can use some technical indicators to tell that it's time to add another switch:
- Utilization of more than 35%
- Data frame collision rates more than 10%
>> Think about extending the reach of the switch
If you have a location where it's not feasible to run an Ethernet cable or you're beyond the reach of a switch embedded in a wireless router, consider using power-line networking. This technology enables you to send data over the AC wires in your home or business to the switch. If you're using wireless networking, power-line networking eliminates the need to place a wireless access point near a power outlet, giving you more freedom in where you place network devices.
>> Think about accessories
As you learn how to buy a network switch, consider networking accessories that enhance your network. Wi-Fi range extenders, print servers and high-speed data cables will all improve the capability of your network.
As you learn how to buy a network switch, remember to read as much information as possible on the type of network switch that fits for your network. That will allow you to get a better idea of its individual features and benefits when determining which network switch to buy.