An important part of any IT system, a network switch helps to connect different devices within a Local Area Network. While more advanced than a hub in terms of the ways in which a switch can deliver data frames at a stable rate to different devices, network switches lack the higher functions and Internet delivery of a router. It’s worth, then, looking at network switches as hardware that can be used for business and home networks to ensure that data is quickly passed around different computers.
A network switch effectively works on Layer 2 connections for data, whereas routers typically use Layer 3 Ethernet LAN connections with the Internet’s Wide Area Networks. Switches are similar to hub devices, in that they receive and transmit data to different connected computers – which can be linked by cables – and work to ensure that data is efficiently transmitted without collision or down time. Hubs, by comparison, are much simpler in how they respond to different ports and individual computers, and cannot always ensure consistent speeds.
Switches primarily work, then, with Local Area Networks to handle internal data traffic, and can either be connected through network adapters to an Ethernet device, or can be used in conjunction with a router. Most networks rely on a router to connect Internet data packets from a modem to a network of computers, with a network switch being more direct in terms of linking up and forwarding data within a single, closed off LAN.
While network switches and routers have similar functions, in the sense of transmitting data to different computers, routers are more sophisticated in how they deal with splitting traffic and connecting different networks. Most home networks use an unmanaged switch, which simply connects all the devices in a property, while managed switches are configured to handle bandwidth and data usage, acting as a gateway – computers connect to a switch through an originating computer, with different ports being configured to handle varying levels of traffic.
It’s useful for businesses that require connecting multiple computers to the Internet to combine routers with network switches that can ensure that traffic is clearly spread out and maintained through a piece of physical hardware. Switches, in this respect, mediate between the basic connection features of a hub, and routers’ ability to connect computers directly to a modem signal. Switches are valuable as security devices that can be used to filter signals and keep traffic running consistently.
In most cases, a router can handle much of the same features, as well as establishing firewalls and serial ports, and backups to a direct modem connections if a Wi-Fi signal goes down. Some higher level network switches, which can operate on Layer 3 levels, can handle this, but with the need for adapters to enable the wider range of data packet layers commonly found with routers. Either way, a network switch should be a stable piece of hardware that can prevent a Local Area Network’s traffic from being unevenly distributed across individual computers and devices.
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