Network switches have overtaken hubs and routers in terms of efficient network management. This is because they do more than connect several computers and devices to one another; they act as a traffic light, systematically directing data transfer with the least amount of errors and delay.
With switches, intelligence trumps speed. And to gauge just how “smart” a switch is, one has to look at the protocols it’s able to perform. Also anticipate the number and kinds of devices to be included in the network as well as future expansions.
Form factor vs. Modular
Form factor switches are the “boxed” variety, meaning they don’t allow that much upgrade options and can usually support up to 48 ports making them ideal for small networks like in the home or small offices. On the contrary, the modular type allows more flexibility in its configurations and is quite suitable for networks that are expected to expand.
Protocols are programs embedded in most electronic devices these days. It’s the common language they share with network managing tools such as switches. Through protocols, switches are able to “speak” to these devices and procure whatever information the network administrator requires of them. Therefore, the more protocols or languages a switches can speak, the more functions it can perform efficiently.
Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)
SNMP or Simple Network Management Protocol is the most basic and is present in most type of devices and switches. This protocol has only two operations. The “GET” operation enables an administrator to acquire paramaters and configurations on a device. These information can be stored in a server to be used when some changes need to be made (i.e. installing new software) through the operation “SET”.
Quality of Service (QoS)
With QoS, a network admin can set priorities on a certain traffic interface. Being able to do so enables a network to have a more efficient control over its bandwidth and equipment and ensure that the most important type of applications get carried out first.
Link Aggregation Control Protocol (LACP)
The Link Aggregation Control Protocol (LACP) is part of IEEE specification 802.3ad that facilitates the bundling of several switch ports into one channel. It’s like putting several narrow streets side by side to create one wider road. For example, if port A has a 12Mbps link speed and port B runs on 14Mbps, bundling them together will yield 26Mbps allowing more traffic through their channel. Now, if port B doesn’t have that much incoming or outgoing data, yet data traffic to port A is heavy, the latter can still use port B’s additional 14Mbps to accomodate its workload.
Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP)
Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol enables switches to device a backup plan in case “traffic jams” occur in some parts of the network. It designates a virtual IP addresses and distributes it to several LAN routers, one if which becomes a master router. If this master router fails, another one is automatically chosen to take its place until such time as the problem is fixed. This protocol enables a network to recover faster from isolated crashes.
Spanning Tree Protocol
Spanning Tree Protocol is quite useful especially with larger and more complicated networks. Without STP, data packets broadcasted from one server to several others maybe duplicated over and over thereby filling up the memory with redundant data.
In large-scale networks specially in big companies, people from different departments may not necessarily be in the same physical location. Yet, personnel from a certain department may require unique network privileges from others and if they’re all connected to the same physical LAN router, it will be difficult to distinguish one from another. Most high-end switches solves this problem by assigning each switch port to a unique Virtual LAN or VLAN. With VLAN support, it’s easier to identify and classify each workstation and provide them with their rightful broadcast traffic, therefore increasing network security.