Network Switch: Do you need one?

Modern networks are critical for any enterprise. Networks deliver business applications, multimedia messages, and key data to end users around the world. A fundamental element that networks have in common is the network switch, which helps connect devices for the purpose of sharing resources within a local area network (LAN).

What is a Network Switch?

A network switch connects devices in a network to each other, enabling them to talk by exchanging data packets. Switches can be hardware devices that manage physical networks or software-based virtual devices.

A network switch operates on the data-link layer, or Layer 2, of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. In a local area network (LAN) using Ethernet, a network switch determines where to send each incoming message frame by looking at the media access control (MAC) address. Switches maintain tables that match each MAC address to the port receiving the MAC address.

network switch

How does it work?

Once a device is connected to a switch, the switch notes its media access control (MAC) address, a code that’s baked into the device’s network interface card (NIC). The NIC attaches to an Ethernet cable that connects to the switch. The switch uses the MAC address to identify which device’s outgoing packets are being sent, and where to deliver incoming packets.

The MAC address identifies the physical device and doesn’t change, while the network layer (Layer 3) IP address, can be assigned dynamically to a device and change over time. (Think of a MAC address as the VIN number on a car and the IP address as the license plate.)

When a packet enters the switch, the switch reads its header, then matches the destination address or addresses and sends the packet out through the appropriate ports that lead to the destination devices.

To reduce the chance of collisions between network traffic going to and from a switch and a connected device at the same time, most switches offer full-duplex functionality in which packets coming from and going to a device have access to the full bandwidth of the switch connection. (Picture two people talking on smartphones as opposed to a walkie-talkie).

While it’s true that switches operate at Layer 2, they can also operate at Layer 3, which is necessary for them to support virtual LANs (VLANs), logical network segments that can span subnets. For traffic to get from one subnet to another it must pass between switches, and this is facilitated by routing capabilities built into the switches.

Types of Network Switches

There are several types of network switches:

  • Unmanaged Switches: These are the most basic switches that only use MAC addresses to communicate with the devices. You cannot configure these switches.
  • Manageable Switches: You can configure these switches. In addition, they allow the creation of virtual LANs.
  • Intelligent Switches: These switches are more advanced than unmanageable switches but can’t perform as much as manageable switches.
  • KVM Switches: You use this switch to connect a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to several servers.

What is the value of Network Switches?

Switches remain important in today’s modern enterprise, as their capabilities can enable further wireless connectivity, as well as support Internet of Things devices and smart buildings that help create a more sustainable operation. The growing use of Industrial Internet of Things devices that connect sensors and machinery in factories also requires switching technologies to connect back to the enterprise network.

Modern switches now likely include Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology that can deliver up to 100W of power to support network-connected devices. This lets companies deploy devices in areas where a separate power outlet is not required, such as security cameras, outdoor lighting, wireless access points, VoIP phones, and a litany of sensors (temperature, humidity, moisture, etc.) that can monitor remote areas. Data collected and transmitted from IoT devices can be collected by a switch and be applied to artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to help optimize smarter environments.

network switch

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantages of network switching are discussed below.

  • Network switching increases the available bandwidth.
  • It increases the performance of the network.
  • It supports virtual LANs & thus helps in logical segmentation.
  • They reduce frame collisions within networks that utilize them by simply making collision domains for every connection.
  • It helps in reducing the workload over individual host computers & supports centralized management.
  • This switching establishes a connection with workstations directly. In addition, they allow numerous simultaneous conversations.
  • It increases the capacity of accessible data transfer in the organization.
  • They reduce the load on each host PC.
  • It enhances the bandwidth available for the network.

The disadvantages of network switching are discussed below.

  • Compared to network bridges, these are very expensive.
  • The issues of Network connectivity over network switches are very hard to trace.
  • IP addresses can be captured by Cyber attackers or spoof Ethernet frames once the switching is within a promiscuous mode.
  • They do not function very well once used as a diversion for limiting broadcasts.
  • The issues of network availability are very hard to follow throughout the organization switch.
  • The proper arrangement & planning are necessary to deal with multicast parcels.
  • It should have physical contact with the object to be activated.


The global demand for network switches is constantly increasing to support an era of remote connectivity and the rise of IoT. IDC’s worldwide trackers found that the global switch market increased by 7.5% in Q3 of 2021. This is also due to the increase in the adoption of cloud computing, as network switches help to orchestrate, maintain, and stabilize resource distribution across large-scale cloud computing environments. In the next few years, this demand will grow further, making it essential to know about the operations of network switches.


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