Common Reasons for Using a Managed Switch

Common Reasons for Using a Managed Switch

Enterprise Networking Mag | Wednesday, November 24, 2021

FREMONT, CA: In a world where swift and relatively dependable Ethernet—both wired and wireless—has grown ubiquitous among customers of all ages and technical abilities, it's easy to believe industrial automation systems can be connected to any accessible networking hardware. After all, individuals routinely connect portable gadgets, entertainment equipment, and home automation components to their local network and the cloud, with largely positive consequences.

The qualifier "primarily" refers to the fact that industrial products must be mentioned for industrial solutions. While a networking failure in a consumer environment is typically more of an annoyance than a disaster, industrial systems are continually transacting time-sensitive data, including input/output (I/O) signals in some circumstances, via Ethernet. While these signals are frequently informative and optional to a certain extent, timely I/O and interlock signaling are required to avoid equipment damage, wasted product, and data loss—all while maintaining required worker safety.

Industrial-grade network switches are commonly available and come in a range of pricing points. They are powered by durable and redundant sources and connected by high-quality media and fittings. However, users must choose between simple unmanaged switches, suitable for some applications, and managed switches, which may provide considerable operational benefits but are more expensive to acquire and configure. There are several circumstances where a managed switch may be essential, including the following:

Keeping the traffic under control: Communication data packets must be transferred from the source to the target device to reduce network delays and increase determinism on any network. Packets sent to locations where they are not needed can delay the processing of vital messages by using resources.

This problem can be alleviated by modern unmanaged switches, which can perform some packet filtering. On the other hand, an unmanaged switch cannot identify and filter out numerous sorts of packets efficiently; therefore, these devices wind up sending unnecessary packets to all connected devices.

Traffic filtering in commercial and industrial environments can be improved with the use of managed switches.

  • Multicast filtering: Unmanaged switches indiscriminately forward multicast packets, which are common in control systems. The IGMP snooping done by managed switches allows them to learn when these packets are required and only forward them when necessary.
  • Virtual LANs (VLANs):  Network traffic can be logically separated on a single physical installation using managed switches’ virtual LANs (VLANs). As a result, each group of devices is isolated from the rest of the network and receives traffic.
  • Traffic priority: Devices can prioritize the packets they deliver using quality of service (QoS) characteristics. Managed switches can treat each packet according to its priority.

Superior protection: Security is desired in any network, but it is critical in automation networks that control physical equipment and store essential data. While unmanaged switches forward packets, managed switches add an extra layer of safety by providing the following:

  • Port control:  Users can block unused ports to assist in limiting illegal access.
  • Management and browser security: These settings, including passwords and the industry-standard HTTPS protocol with SSL, ensure that unauthorized parties or programs cannot interfere with switch and networking configurations.

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