Managed Services, Network

Networking 101: How a Switch Acts Like a Traffic Signal on a Network

Chaz Hager October 22 2021

Networks are frameworks that help you thrive both personally and professionally when using the internet. In today’s digital marketplace, it’s nearly impossible to carry out tasks and data management without a strong network.

But did you know that there are multiple ways to set up, manage, and change your network to suit your exact streaming or storage needs? A network switch is just one method for customizing your network so that it functions with enough speed and connectivity to power your everyday work.

In this post, we’ll explore what a network switch is, how it’s different from a standard router, and what you can use if you want an alternative.

What is a Network Switch?

A network switch is a large, physical box that helps connect technological devices within the same network. Most residential spaces don’t require a network switch, since modern WiFi is strong and reliable enough to power normal tasks.

Network switches are more beneficial in corporate settings, where multiple users require extra power for many devices on the same network. A network switch most often operates within a local area network (LAN) as it forwards data to specific devices or computers. 

Additionally, a network switch is beneficial for settings that require several Ethernet ports. Using a switch expands the number of devices you can use in a single place, particularly when there is a need to hardwire each device.

Switches vs. Routers—What’s the Difference?

Network switches are designed to connect multiple devices over a network, but routers are able to connect multiple networks together. 

Routers work by choosing pathways to send and receive data across a network. Each router forwards data from one network to the next, allowing users to capitalize on everything that the internet has to offer in terms of connectivity. 

In contrast, a network switch only sends data to one place (usually in the form of another switch or device). In this way, the switch consolidates data and directs traffic to one location or destination, which can be hardwired to improve speed and accuracy.

When Do You Need a Network Switch?

You may need a network switch if you are looking to build or construct a more reliable network. Switches are just one of the many building blocks you should consider if you want to maximize speed, power, ease of use, and security. 

You will need a network switch in any of the following situations:

  • You’re planning to build a network using physical Ethernet cables or wiring

  • You need to remove the burden or load from your primary wireless router

  • You regularly use high-powered streaming services

  • You need a reliable way to stream or play 4K video

  • You want to connect separate devices by using a physical connection

Corporate Network Switch Use Cases

Large scale corporate settings and data centers benefit from network switches because they are more likely to use hundreds of connected devices at one time. A single WiFi network simply isn’t strong enough to support the speed and functionality needed in this situation.


Types of Network Switches

All network switches help direct traffic to certain devices on your established network, but there are variations that can be used to achieve specific goals. Two of the most common network switches are unmanaged and managed. 

Unmanaged Switches

An unmanaged switch is considered to be the most common type of network switch. Because of its simple design and ease of use, it’s most typical in-home or residential settings to help network owners achieve a quick fix. An unmanaged switch functions by expanding the number of Ethernet ports that are available to the network owner.

Managed Switches

Managed are more elaborate, which makes them ideal for corporate settings in which network administrators want enhanced oversight and control. The managed switch model works similarly to the unmanaged design, but its capabilities suit much larger networks. Controllers can decide how much traffic is sent to specific devices.

Alternatives to a Network Switch

Depending on how much you need to stream or use 4K video, a wireless mesh network (WMN) is an excellent alternative to a network switch. Mesh ports and networks are relatively affordable and highly flexible, which makes them easier than placing new Ethernet cables in multiple spaces around your home or office.

Before you opt for a network switch, remember that it is a physical wiring project that needs adequate space and physical support. Unless you have the space and ability to install a complete switch system, consider alternative solutions.

Key Takeaways

Is going wireless at the top of your strategic goals list this year? If so, don’t tackle it alone. Northriver IT offers premium networking services that help you stay connected to your data in fast, reliable, and secure ways.

Whether you need to establish routing and switching connections, remote access, or voice and video services, our team of IT experts is ready to serve. Reach out today to get started on your next networking project!

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