Network switch

Network switch 101 | Tom’s gear

Network Switch Basics

In today’s increasingly mobile world, there has been a massive push for the spread of wireless networks. Everyone seems to like being connected during their day.

With the prevalence of wireless accessibility, people don’t stop to think about what is going on in the background to enable this connectivity. There is an infrastructure that needs to be put in place, tested and maintained to keep it viable and useful. Most of the time, this process can become very costly in terms of manpower, equipment expense, and troubleshooting. Reliability is another key factor that must also be taken into account. One of the solutions to creating a stable network, instead of using wireless, is to use structured cabling and network Ethernet switches.

A network switch is a tool responsible for the connections between the systems and equipment with which you want to interact and share data. These connections are usually created through the use of structured cabling that connects both the station side (the side you are interacting with) and the device you are trying to share data with, such as a server or another computer.

A network switch can be thought of as an intermediary that directs traffic to its correct location. In short, if a device tries to retrieve data from another source, the switch will check if it knows where the destination is. If it doesn’t know where the destination is, it will send the packets to another device like a router and let that device figure out what to do with the information. Depending on the type, layer 2 or layer 3, a switch will reside respectively on the Data Link layer or the Network layer of the OSI model.

7-layer OSI model: Switches operate at Layer 2 and, depending on the switch, at Layer 3.

Layer 2 switches are among the most common because they tend to be cheaper and perform well. They use a device’s physical address (MAC address) from incoming message frames to determine the outgoing port from which to transfer information. A switch is able to do this by maintaining a table of MAC addresses of ARP requests to compare incoming frame information.

Layer 3 switches have the same capacity and behave similarly to a Layer 2 switch; however, they also have the ability to route between different subnets or VLANs that may exist on a local network. This can lighten the load on a router, leaving it to only manage network access outside the local network.

What a typical home network might look like (multiple wired connections to a switch).

Switches allow information to be transmitted much more discreetly and efficiently than network hubs. Switches allow multiple users to access network resources by creating specific paths for information to flow between connections without any interaction with other data packets that could potentially be on the same network segment. They effectively reduce the number of collisions that can occur between data packets because the switch knows where to send the information based on its MAC table. It’s very different from a hub. A hub streams data to each connected device until the correct destination is reached, which can lead to data collisions as well as security issues.

How does this translate on the home and consumer side? An inexpensive switch can allow someone looking to build a home network to connect all of their devices together without worrying about slow data sharing caused by packet collisions, while still using the same internet connection. They also allow connections to be centralized within the house, which greatly facilitates management. The first step in choosing the right switch for your home is deciding what type you want. Fortunately, there are a few options.


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