Every small business network is going to require a switch. Even though most ISP modems have built in routers and 5 or 6 switch ports, this is generally not sufficient for business applications.
Let's breakdown some of the factors you need to consider when purchasing a switch for your business.
Devices on the Network
Switch selection starts with the number of connected devices on the LAN. Remember that in todays office environment there are far more devices on the network that just user workstations and printers.
IP Phones, Wireless Access Points and Surveillance Cameras all require additional switch ports. Even the smallest office network can have ten to twelve connected devices. Businesses also need to provide some scalability in their switch selection to provide for future expansion.
Access Points, Cameras and VoIP Phones can all be powered over the same network cable that is providing data to the device. This switch feature is called POE (Power over Ethernet). POE can eliminate the need to provide external power sources for these network devices, thereby simplifying the installation. There are several types of POE protocols and every POE switch has a maximum power output. Consultation with an experienced network installer is recommended when choosing a POE switch.
Although there are fast ethernet switches (10/100 Mbps) available, the cost difference to upgrade to a Gigabit (1000 Mbps) switch is negligible. IP Phones and HD Cameras require the extra speed provided by these switches.
Managed or Unmanaged
Most small business networks will function just fine on an unmanaged switch. These switches are essentially plug and play and are available from 5 ports to 48 ports.
More sophisticated networks will benefit from a managed switch. Managed switches allow users to configure network management, monitoring and traffic controls such as VLANs, Quality of Service, IGMP Snooping and traffic logs. Managed switches are recommended for networks running IP Phones, Wireless Access Points and Camera Systems. Managed switches will probably require an experienced network administrator to set up properly.
Network switches are an essential part of any small business network. Proper selection of size, speed and management options will provide your network with years of trouble free service. Always consult an IT expert before making a switch purchase. They will help you make the right choice.