What Is the Difference Between a Managed Switch and a Unmanaged Switch?


Quick Answer

Managed switches have configuration interfaces, while unmanaged switches do not. This means that a managed switch has an interface that can modify and manage its operation. An unmanaged switch works on a plug and play mechanism, because it has no interface nor any options to modify its operation.

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Full Answer

Switches are crucial network devices, so being able to manipulate them is sometimes important in dealing with information flow. Traffic may need to be controlled so that information is transmitted according to its level of importance, urgency and any operational requirements. This is the key reason for including managed switches alongside unmanaged switches. Whereas an unmanaged switch is sufficient to deal with normal networking, where traffic is managed solely by servers, a managed switch becomes useful when it becomes important to filter traffic more precisely.

Command line tools, also known as serial console interfaces accessible via secure shell or telnet, form one management method that can be used to configure managed switches. Another way is the use of an embedded Simple Network Management Protocol agent, commonly referred to as SNMP. Managed switches can be classified as either smart or enterprise-managed switches. Smart switches have limited options and are less expensive than enterprise-managed switches.

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