What is a network switch?
A network switch is networking hardware that connects wired devices on a network by using packet switching to receive and intelligently forward data to the destination device.
A Network Switch Explained
A network switch (often called an Ethernet switch) is essential networking hardware that provides wired connectivity to other networking equipment and devices using packet switching to receive and intelligently forward data to the destination device.
Network switches transmit packets using their physical ports over fiber or copper twisted-pair cabling to connect access points, IoT devices, computers, and other network equipment. They range in size from compact layer 2 Ethernet switches to large, high density modular switches with hundreds of ports supporting speeds up to 100GbE and deliver features such as Power over Ethernet (PoE), Layer 3 routing, high availability (HA), and built-in analytics.
Why network switches?
Network switches, often referred to as Ethernet switches, provide wired network connectivity to devices and users. Modern networks require switches to provide connectivity throughout office spaces, buildings, and across facilities and campuses with support for the following:
- Traditional wired connectivity to high-performance engineering workstations, servers, wired printers, and network equipment.
- Wireless aggregation for access points where wireless is the primary connectivity method for users.
- Wired IoT connectivity for smart building devices including PoE lighting, signage, HVAC controls, surveillance cameras, and industrial IoT equipment.
What a network switch connects
At the edge of the network, network switches provide connectivity for many devices including access points, workstations, and IoT devices.
Types of network switches
- Access switches – Access switches sit at the edge of the network, often where most of the data originates. Their job is to connect users, wired client devices, and infrastructure equipment to the network. Some infrastructure equipment, like Wi-Fi access points, security cameras, and voice over IP phone systems, support Power over Ethernet (PoE) that simplifies deployment.
- Aggregation switches – Aggregation switches connect access switches together, aggregate outbound traffic, and distribute data across the network edge and to the network core. To effectively manage traffic volume, these switches often have multi-gigabit ports, redundancy features, and deeper Layer 3 routing capabilities.
- Core switches – Core switches sit at the heart of the network, typically connected to a router or gateway. They manage traffic coming to and from aggregation switches, the wide area network (WAN), and the internet and typically offer High Availability (HA) capabilities to ensure continued network access.
- Data center switches – Data center switches are high-performance switches designed with HA and fault tolerance built-in for mission-critical applications. They handle east-west and north-south traffic with top-of-rack and end-of-row features and deployment flexibility.
Where a network switch is used
Aruba’s comprehensive CX switching portfolio includes solutions ideal for access, aggregation, core, and data center deployments. Features include high availability platforms with redundant management, fabric, power, fans, and high-density industry-standard high power 90W Class 8 and HPE Smart Rate multi-gigabit ports. The Aruba CX 10000 is a distributed services switch that provides 800G of distributed stateful firewall for east-west traffic, Zero Trust segmentation, and pervasive telemetry.
How do network switches help address network requirements?
When evaluating solutions, first understand your network requirements and also consider that the best network switch may be part of a broader solution. For example, automation, embedded analytics, HA, and secure segmentation are designed into Aruba CX switches with Aruba Central delivering a unified, single view of the network that maximizes operational efficiency across enterprise networks.
|How a network switch addresses it
Know how and where the network switch will be deployed.
|Switch features are based on specific requirements of data center, campus, branch offices, SMBs, and home office networks. Features are also based on access, aggregation, core, and spine and leaf switch requirements.
Determine network size, density, and space constraints.
|Fixed switches are 1U rack height with network ports built-in, typically support a maximum of 48 access ports, and may offer modular power supplies and fans. Modular chassis’ support hundreds of ports, allow network port customization with line cards, and often support redundant fabric, fans, and power supplies.
Determine network performance and user experience requirements with consideration for future network growth.
|Switch port speeds of 1 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), Multi-gigabit Ethernet (2.5 and 5 GbE), 10 GbE, 25 GbE, 40 GbE, 50 GbE, and 100 GbE connectivity are available. Non-blocking architectures help maximize switch throughput.
Determine business requirements for network uptime.
|High availability can be delivered by both software and hardware with features like live upgrades that provide uninterrupted access during software updates, switch stacking, and redundant and hot-swappable power supplies, fans, and line cards.
|Power over Ethernet (PoE)
Calculate how many network devices such as access points require PoE power.
|PoE technology allows PoE switches to use twisted-pair cable for both data and electrical power. PoE switches can support up to 15, 30, 60 and even 90 watts per port with total PoE limited by switch PoE power budget.
Plan segmentation strategy to keep traffic securely separated.
|Switches that support dynamic segmentation help automate configuration and enforcement of user- and device-based policies across an enterprise. Support of EVPN-VXLAN allows creation of a network fabric that extends layer 2 connectivity as a network overlay over an existing physical network, providing even more operational simplicity and security.
|Automation and analytics
Evaluate solutions to speed troubleshooting and resolve issues.
|Network switches supported by unified cloud management that have analytics built-in can instantly alert operators to potential problems, help identify trends, pre-empt future problems, and make smarter design decisions, ultimately reducing costs and improving user experiences.
Determine network management operations.
|Switch management options include CLI, web GUI, on-premises, and cloud-based management. Using a single pane of glass management for all network infrastructure devices can simplify IT operations with AI insights, security, and unified infrastructure management for campus, branch, remote, and data center networks.
How do I choose a network switch vendor?
Your network switch vendor should:
- Demonstrate industry leadership as recognized by leading analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, and IDC.
- Offer a portfolio of intelligent, scalable, and high-performance switching solutions so you can create a network foundation ready for new technologies and future business needs.
- Help simplify operations by using automation to promote programmability, reduce manual tasks, and enjoy error-free configurations.
- Deliver real-time analytics and automation to speed troubleshooting and provide actionable recommendations for quick issue resolution.
- Support built-in security with unified policy enforcement globally across wired and wireless networks.
- Provide the flexibility to manage on-prem or in the cloud.
- Offer global support services to deliver desired SLA, attractive financial services, and as-a-service options.