What to Look for When Buying a Network Switch

A network switch acts as a hub that connects multiple computers in a network. These become essential when the number of computers that have to be networked increases. We, at Buzzle, have highlighted the points to watch out for when buying a network switch.
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Finalize number of users for appropriate switch size
Did You Know?
The first Ethernet switch was introduced in 1990, by Kalpana, a computer networking equipment manufacturer in Silicon Valley.
The network switch has ports through which multiple computers and other computer hardware are connected together in a network so that data can be shared between them. Many people confuse the functions of a router and a network switch. Network switches are used to connect computers in a network, while routers connect multiple networks to one another.

Routers connect these networks to the Internet. While buying a network switch, price will obviously be a vital decisive factor. Network switches can cost you anywhere between USD 500 for a normal switch to around thousands of dollars for reputed brands. You should carefully evaluate your network needs on the basis of the points mentioned below, before buying the switch.

Number of Ports

The first thing to consider is the number of users. If you have about 6-7 users, you can opt for an 8 port switch. Switches with 4, 8, 12, 16, 24, 32, and 48 ports are widely used. In case you have consumed all the ports on your existing switch, you can connect another switch with the existing one by using a crossover cable. Some models have uplink ports that are special ports for interconnecting switches.

Speed

The speed of the network switch is one of the decisive factors. The 10/100 Mbps transfer rate switches are popularly used. The higher the switching speed, the more packets will be sent/received. The backplane speed is also of utmost importance, because it will determine the number of packets transferred between different modules inside the switch. It is similar to the bus speed. Look for sufficient backplane speed, because it will determine the traffic the switch can handle.

Full-duplex or Half-duplex

You must check whether the switch that you are interested in, supports full-duplex or half-duplex transmission mode. The older hubs and Ethernet switches used to support half-duplex systems, whereas, now, full-duplex is the preferred option. A full-duplex switch will give you a speed of, say, 100 Mbps in both directions (uplink and downlink).

Buffer Size

Every data packet sent to the switch is buffered and then sent according to the buffering mechanism used by the switch. This size should be checked because if the switch has small buffer size, it will not be able to handle network congestions. Large buffer size means that the data will be assigned to a port or to the switch on all, and once the network congestion clears, these data packets will be transferred. It is advisable to select a switch which has increased buffer size.

Hot Swapping

When switching from one module (switch) to the other, you are bound to face some downtime. The ability to minimize this downtime to its lowest possible value is nothing but hot swapping. There are switches available in the market which have the ability to swap modules while they are still operating.

Role of the Switch

Network switches are the main building blocks of the network. However, once you have evaluated the number of users, it is easy to determine whether you would need a single access switch or a core (distribution) switch. If you have a large network, you will need a core switch.

Monitoring Capability

When we talk about large networks, it can be difficult to troubleshoot if one port does not function. Thus, monitoring capabilities is a must in the switch. You will find switches with SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) and RMON (Remote Monitoring). SNMP is usually available on almost all switches, but the RMON is available only on advanced switches.

Your Checklist

We have summarized a set of questions for you that will help you in the quest for finding the right switch.

How many primary ports do I need?

How many uplink ports do I need?

What is the primary speed that I am looking at?

What is the uplink speed that I need?

Do I need a core switch, or an access switch will suffice?

What kind of customer support options do I need from the switch manufacturer? Will I get free or paid software updates?

What will be the warranty period and terms of the product?

Do I require remote monitoring, or will SNMP monitoring work for my networking needs?

How much will the switch cost?

Once you have answered all the checklist questions, you will get a clear idea about the desired features of the network switch. Then you can decide upon the suitable models from Cisco, Netgear, Linksys, D-Link, Belkin, 3 Com, etc. If you are a startup or small business owner, you can consider buying used switches as well.
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Published: March 28, 2014
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