The Difference Between Managed and Unmanaged Switches

When choosing the correct switch for your project, one thought is whether to use a managed or unmanaged switch. The key distinction between the two lies within the quality of management and the flexibility you have over the settings and security of the switch.
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Unmanaged switches are used in very small, basic networks with less than a dozen connected devices and don’t require a high level of security and performance. Managed switches are fully configurable and offer security settings to protect the network. Because they provide flexibility and control, they are ideal for networks that require reliability and security, such as enterprise-level businesses, government agencies, universities, and health care organizations. Managed switches are available in a variety of models, each with completely different levels of complexity and value for businesses of all sizes.

  • Managed switches are configurable, customizable, and supply a variety of security and performance enhancements. Those attributes make them more appropriate for larger networks and networks supporting essential activities.
  • Unmanaged switches are designed to be plug and play with no settings to tack together. These are fine to use in small networks with basic requirements and no security.

How Managed and Unmanaged Switch Differ:

Managed switches and unmanaged switches differ in 3 key areas: features, security, and cost.

  • Features: Managed switches offer a large range of options like Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol, VLANS and security. These capabilities provide optimization of network performance, security and resiliency. Unmanaged switches begin forwarding traffic as soon as users have plugged them in. They need no configuration and are usually plug and play.
  • Security: Network security includes protection from and detection of threats to the network.  Managed switches offer security settings that are designed to safeguard the network and help mitigate threats. Unmanaged switches do not have security capabilities.
  • Cost: Unmanaged switches are inexpensive and simple to run. They are ideal for small, uncomplicated networks that don’t require robust security. Because managed switches offer advanced features and capabilities, they cost more than unmanaged switches and require skilled staff to manage and maintain the network.

Managed Switch Benefits

The benefits of managed switches with full management and observance include:
  • May be deployed in an exceedingly wider array of typologies like Spanning Tree Protocol, ring, mesh, stacking, and aggregation. These provide larger redundancy and security.
  • Ability to manage and troubleshoot networks, through remote management, access to traffic flow data, provision of electrical power to end devices, and software-defined network (SDN) management.
  • Several safety features to aid accessing the network, monitor for attacks, and help rectify any breaches that occur.
  • Ability to optimize performance of devices and applications on the network, through quality-of-service (QoS) options that grade traffic and cluster types of devices that use common services.

Unmanaged Switch Benefits

The benefits of unmanaged switches with basic property options at low value include:
  • Network is restricted to simple network typologies, like star and bus networks.
  • Plug-and-play operation that depends on negotiation for settings.
  • Can create and store MAC-address tables, which makes managing traffic a step higher than with use of LAN hubs.
  • Because there is no distinction in how the switches treat multicast traffic and broadcast traffic, there can be serious congestion, which is an issue for industrial IoT devices that rely on multicast traffic for device-related commands.

Smart Managed Switch Benefits

The benefits of smart managed switches with a balance of value and options include:
  • Restricted set of configuration options, that means lower value and easier operations than for managed switches.
  • If advanced applications aren’t needed, then Smart Managed Switches may be the proper resolution for straightforward applications for small to medium sized businesses with uncomplicated networks.
  • Most Smart Switches support limited VLANS, RSTP and are restricted to layer 2.

To recap, unmanaged switches are commonly used in simple networks, where all you need is port connectivity and security is not a factor. In most cases, managed switches are the right choice because of their advanced features, security, and customization.

MSI TEC offers a wide variety of managed and unmanaged switches from leading network manufacturers like Moxa, Cisco, Weidmuller, Advantech and more. Shop online or contact an MSI TEC network engineer.

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