Exploring Network Switches

Network switches allow devices to be connected on a network by using packet switching to send, receive, and process data. There are many types of network switches, but at their most basic there are three types of switches for the industrial automation environment. These are the unmanaged switch, managed switch, and the relatively new, lightly managed switch (we’ll talk more about this one in a future post).

Types of Network Switches

The unmanaged switch is the most basic of these devices. These switches simply allow Ethernet devices to communicate with one another, such as a PC, Variable Frequency Drive (VFD), or PLC, and those are typically what would be called “plug and play.” They are shipped with a fixed configuration and do not allow any changes to this configuration.

The managed network switch is a more complex device that performs the same basic operations as its unmanaged counterpart but with several more layers of control. Some of the control features are things such as spanning tree protocol, quality of service, VLAN support, configurable ports, port mirroring, and more. Let’s take a closer look at these features.

Features of Managed Switches

Spanning tree protocol (STP) allows for one active path at a time between two network devices, preventing loops and establishing the redundant links as a backup to keep integrated systems available and prevent expensive downtime, which network admins can appreciate.

Quality of service allows you to prioritize your network traffic by assigning a higher priority to critical traffic. This helps ensure consistent network performance and can support delay-sensitive data such as real-time voice.

VLANs allow a switch to logically group devices together to isolate traffic between these groups even when the traffic is passing over the same physical switch. This segmentation and isolation of network traffic help reduce unnecessary traffic.

Configurable ports allow for protocols such as simple network management protocol (SNMP), which is a protocol that facilitates the exchange of management information between network devices. SNMP queries can determine the health of the network or the status of a particular device. By displaying this data in an easily understood format, IT managers located at a central site can monitor the performance of the network and quickly detect and repair network problems without having to physically interact with the switch.

Port mirroring is useful to diagnose problems in conjunction with a network analyzer. It copies the switch network traffic and forwards it to a single port on the same switch for analysis by a network analyzer.

Let Us Help You Manage the Switch

As you can see, there are a lot of features available with the fully managed network switches that allow for advanced control of your network. This enables things such as coordinated motion, network monitoring, and much more. Tune in next time to learn about the advantages and limitations of the new lightly managed switches. And in the meantime, out talented, knowledgeable Automation Specialists are here to help you find the right solution for you. Contact us today!

About the author

Austin Desmond
Austin Desmond

Austin is an Automation Specialist with Horizon Solutions and supports industrial control, safety, PLC/HMI, motion and drives. He is currently undertaking formal TUV Rhineland safety certification. In his spare time, Austin enjoys welding, grinding, motorcycles, lawn mowers and building (tinkering?) in the Horizon Solutions Automation Lab.