Three steps to deciding if you need a managed network switch
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Managed network switches can offer a lot of exciting and useful functionality, but they also carry a hefty price premium over unmanaged switches. Not only are they more expensive to buy, but you may also need to think about the cost of hiring someone who actually knows how to manage them. This means that you should probably only think about buying a managed switch if you would really need one. Here are three points to consider before you decide.
Are you prepared to pay a premium for the highest level of security?
If the answer to that question is yes, then a managed switch is really the only way to go. For the sake of completeness, it’s worth noting that different managed switches offer different levels of functionality (basically in line with their price) and therefore different levels of security, however, any managed switch is going to be more security than even the best unmanaged switch.
At least, they will be if you use them properly. Managed switches are only ever as good as the skills of the person who configues them and they are only ever as secure as the competence of the person monitoring them. In all honesty, if you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re unable or unwilling to spend the money on hiring someone who does, then an unmanaged switch may be the way to go.
Alternatively, if you do have the budget for a managed switch and the staff required to look after it, but you’re struggling to recruit and/or retain skilled IT professionals, then you might want to consider option for a managed service provider.
Unmanaged switches aren’t exactly a security hazard, although it’s strongly recommended to use a lockable port cover. This will not only stop people deliberately tampering with the switch, but also stop people from accidentally pulling out cables or deciding to “improve” the set-up themselves. Basically, unmatched switches are completely passive (from a security perspective), they neither create vulnerabilities (assuming you’ve covered the ports) nor help to fix them. They just depend on your system security as a whole.
Do you regularly need to give short-term/limited access to your network?
This is really an extension of the point about security but given modern working practices, it’s worth highlighting on its own. Even if, objectively speaking, your business has low security needs, it can still be worth investing in a managed switch if you make regular use of short-term/freelance workers who need network access.
Quite bluntly, every person who has access to your network is a potential security hazard. There is simply no other way of putting this. Ideally you want to restrict the access of all workers so that they only get what they really need (and perhaps what they really want), you certainly do not want them having the same sort of access as IT staff (in fact, you do not necessarily want all IT staff to have the same degree of access).
If you’re employing a lot of short-term/freelance/gig workers and giving them any sort of access to your network then really you should probably give strong preference to a managed switch to maximize your level of control.
Would you like to have a high degree of control over your network management?
Another reason why IT teams often love managed switches is their ability to create Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs). What this means in practice is that your IT team gains the ability to use software to make certain changes to your network architecture. This saves them the hassle of having to go around a building making changes to cabling, which can involve either them working out of hours or users being inconvenienced so they can get the access they need.
Managed switches offer many other network-management benefits too, most of which revolve around the fact that they can be customized to suit your needs, for example, you can prioritize one channel over another so that the highest-priority traffic takes precedence over lower-priority traffic. Managed switches are also quite likely to offer network-monitoring tools such as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP).
Unmanaged switches are essentially plug-and-play devices which are usually fine for domestic use and may be fine for smaller businesses, but even smaller SMBs should probably be looking at managed switches if only for the security benefits they offer. This may be particularly important in a regulated industry, but even non-regulated businesses should be doing everything they can to protect their data as it is often the life-blood of their business. If you’re interested in a managed network switch and would like to learn more, please click here to contact Aperio IT.
Managed extensibility framework