managed vs unmanaged switches

Managed vs Unmanaged Switches: What’s the Difference?

Are you getting the most out of your network hardware? Would you love to improve efficiency and accuracy at work? In today’s business, network technology is at the forefront of managing a successful company. Because of all the changes in the world, and the digital migration, managed vs unmanaged switches are necessary hardware to invest in.

Of course, there is no reason why you shouldn’t invest in these switches, but how do you know which is the best for you?

What are the significant differences you need to analyze first before making this step in your company? What are some factors to consider before you deploy this opportunity?

Keep reading because this guide analyzes the A-Z of this technology, including the different characteristics of these two switches, so that you can make a more informed decision about them.

What Are Managed and Unmanaged Switches

Automated technology like managed and unmanaged switches allows companies to use network systems at total capacity. For example, suppose you have a team of employees with laptops, printing, and other devices. In this case, they’d need network connectivity to the LAN to perform and reach company objectives.

Without excellent connectivity, your company’s progress will be at risk. Your team will probably find it hard to carry out simple tasks such as printing documents or communicating with customers effectively.

Failed core company practices will garner negative input, and your services may be out of the market in short time. But, networking hardware like switches eliminates all these by enabling quick and safe data transmission between your employees.

Managed switches have more capabilities than unmanaged switches, however, this comes at the price of complexity.

On the one hand, unmanaged switches enable communication between connected devices in the most basic form. On the other hand, these types of switches, unlike managed switches, don’t have the concept of LAN; thus, all devices use the same broadcast domain.

When working with managed switches, network administrators will prioritize connected devices to ensure better performance. Of course, all devices will have their share of network bandwidth, but not as efficiently as the prioritized devices.

Administrators can also make configuration changes or adjustments from physical locations using a remotely available console (command-line or web interface) on managed network switches.

If two devices were using unmanaged switches and collide when sending data using the same domain, the switch drops both packets, and both devices have to retransmit. A collision domain is the Layer 2 network border that allows devices to deliver a broadcast frame to all devices within a segment.

Small businesses with the basic needs can benefit more from unmanaged switches as they’re straightforward to use. In a nutshell, the definitions of the two network switches are in their name; that’s the quickest way to remember.

Characteristics of Managed Switches

As aforementioned, managed switches come with various settings that companies can customize to align with their current demands. When broken down, these settings create characteristics helpful in determining what you can get from them.

Below are the characteristics of a managed switch;

Enhanced Security

Managed switches come packed with security features to protect a company’s and employees’ data. But, a data breach is likely to occur for some reason since various devices can connect to the LAN through a managed switch.

But these switches come with security features a network administrator can use to control who accesses the network. Usually, company devices are registered to the LAN, so it’s easier for the administrator to identify them.

Besides, external or unpermitted connections raise a red flag, the network administrator quickly notices. They then follow up to ensure nothing sinister from this new connection by restricting access, preventing data breaches and other threats.

In other words, the security features allow network managers to control access to the network. This helps to prevent cybersecurity threats and data breaches. It also enables them to resolve any violations that may have occurred, preventing further damages.

Some security features include PoE Port Control and Port-Based Network Access Control. These features arm the network managers to secure the system.

Freedom To Configure

Network administrators can configure and customize the managed switches either remotely or on-site. The configurations can range from traffic control, network access, virtual LANs, and connectivity, among many others.

This freedom gives companies control over their entire network to adjust the settings as they see fit to improve efficiency. It also provides broader possibilities businesses can leverage for better performance.

In particular, the security features allow companies to safeguard personal and company data. Hence, enabling them to share, use and store data confidently.

Wide Deployment

There are several topographies to consider when it comes to network design. These include aggregation, ring, mesh, and spanning tree protocol, to mention a few.

Companies need to know the advantages and limitations of these topographies to determine which ones work best for them. But, with a managed switch, you have access to at least five topographies.

These include mesh, ring, aggregation, stacking, and spanning tree protocol. Consequently, this gives you options to maximize reliability, efficiency, and productivity.

Moreover, the wide deployment adds redundancy. For instance, a ring topography allows switches to connect to adjacent switches. In consequence, this forms two paths to individual switches, causing redundancy.

Performance Optimization

Big companies come with many devices that must be of peak performance for efficiency. Thus, managed switches come with essential standardized features that are more beneficial to big businesses.

Besides the quality of service feature (QoS), automated tech switches allow network managers to control, manage and optimize devices. For example, suppose employees use specific devices for a standard function; the network manager can group them to perform at a certain level.

Similarly, the network manager can control traffic by prioritizing devices based on groups or demand with multiple devices in use. All these optimize performance.

Remote Management

Network administrators can operate managed switches remotely, streamlining the management of large networks. For instance, the administrator can troubleshoot networks and control traffic even when out of the office through port forwarding.

To achieve this, you’ll need a skilled administrator. The administrator will first have to allocate their IP address to the switch. Then, they’ll forward the HTTPS to the address.

This is port forwarding. It will allow the administrator to manage the switches from a separate location.

Virtual Local Area Networks

Suppose there is a combination of large and small devices. You’ll need networking essentials to create virtual LANs to control network traffic better. Fortunately, a managed switch has a feature that allows administrators to create virtual LANs for segregation quickly.

In many ways, this controls network traffic and improves device performance based on functionally.

Network Statistics

With the Simple Network Management Protocol, administrators can now track switch statuses to ensure performance. For example, the SNMP provides statistics of traffic, switch port status, and network malfunctions.

The administrator then uses these statistics to troubleshoot and manage the network accurately.

Redundancy Features

With the many settings configurations, managed switches have one critical feature called the redundancy feature. The feature helps administrators duplicate data. It also allows them to recover data in case of data loss.

For example, the spanning tree protocol topography supports link redundancy. As a result, it allows administrators to track and retrieve data in case of data loss.

Characteristics of Unmanaged Switches

Small businesses benefit more from unmanaged switches – due to their reliability for essential functions. Although companies cannot configure these switches, they come with characteristics that make them operable and worthwhile.

Traffic Management

Traffic management is challenging with unmanaged switches because there’s no administrator to configure them. But, that doesn’t mean it is undoable. Media Access Control (MAC) address tables allow users to create and use them to manage traffic.

This works because when a user creates a MAC address table, the tables learn and track the addresses. Thus, offering separate domains.

Limited Deployment

Unlike managed switches, you can only deploy unmanaged switches to fewer topologies. These topographies include daisy chain and star. Although limited, this allows small businesses with simple needs to not overcomplicate their network hardware.

Using managed switches with a broader deployment ability is ineffective. As a result, small businesses that don’t need it will be underutilizing it. Besides, many functions will go unused because the switches are simply unsuitable for the business’s goals.

But, using unmanaged switches ensures the use of all features. So, if you have a small business, use unmanaged switches to avoid the expensive upkeep of the network.

Instead, you’ll have what you need to run your business and manage your network flexibly.


Another characteristic of unmanaged switches is their usage in surveillance cameras. For example, suppose an office camera is connected to an unmanaged switch. In that case, the camera will send its feeds to the switch before reaching other networks.

So, the unmanaged switch will act as a bridge between the surveillance camera and the extensive network. It’ll first send data to the managed switches before traveling to other networks.

No Configurations

Unmanaged switches come with configured settings that a company cannot make any changes to. Thus, you use it as is with devices connected in the same broadcast domain. Therefore, it’d be best for small businesses with more specific functions to use them.

Key Differences: Managed Vs Unmanaged Switches

The above are the differences in the features of the managed vs unmanaged switches. Still, there are critical differences every engineer, network manager, and company must know. These differences will influence your decision about which controller is best for your company.


Unmanaged switches are easy to set up. Also, you can start using them almost immediately after plugging in. You don’t need an IT professional to configure any settings or change the switch. All you have to do is plug your devices, and the switch will start forwarding network traffic.

Due to the lack of configuration, unmanaged switches come with an in-built quality of service feature (QoS). This feature allows its ease of use and ensures high performance.

On the flip side, managed switches have multiple features that allow for controlled performance. So, IT professionals can configure them to boost performance when they’re lagging. These features, as discussed above, allow for network optimization in several ways;

One, you can prioritize channels to control network traffic. For example, suppose a network manager creates groups of devices in use. In that case, they can easily track and prioritize the performance of each. Consequently, allowing them to boost speed when needed and create virtual LANs to control traffic.

Two, administrators can remotely troubleshoot large networks using the priority SNMP feature. Then, of course, the company can have network issues when the IT professionals are away. The company doesn’t have to suffer as the IT personnel can optimize the network from afar.

Lastly, network managers can prevent data breaches and retrieve any data loss. With absolute control over who accesses the network, administrators can conveniently restrict suspicious connections. This prevents unauthorized access, protecting company data.

Additionally, suppose there’s a malfunction that culminates in data loss. Under those circumstances, administrators can retrieve data using the redundancy features.


For many users, the cost is a significant motivator. But, with managed vs. unmanaged switches, functionality determines their suitability, not cost. So, for example, startups and small businesses would benefit more from unmanaged switches.

Oppositely, large businesses would need managed switches. Why? Because of their features and suitability for large networks.

That said, unmanaged switches are cheaper due to their basic functionality. However, depending on the number of ports you want your switch to have, the price will differ. Nevertheless, the overall cost is affordable at around $100.

Due to their advanced features, configuration abilities, and flexibility, managed switches are costly. You can expect a price range of $1500 – $3000 per port. Remember that the expertise and workforce to operate these switches are extra costs to the price and your budget.

Security Functions

Security functions of your switches are essential to protect against and detect threats. If you’re a large company, you need your network switches to have robust security features. This way, you won’t need to use many resources to combat insecurities or operate in fear of a data breach.

Therefore, large companies must use managed switches for their configurable security features. These will help you detect and stop threats before they affect your business. Besides, they’ll protect your entire network, increasing confidentiality, efficiency, and accuracy.

On the other hand, unmanaged switches don’t have security features. As a result, businesses with large networks attract cyber threats, spying, and inside trading. So, large networks would be at risk using them.

But, small companies and startups can comfortably use unmanaged switches for their essential functions.

Why? Because these businesses are not on anyone’s radar, no hacker or competitor has a reason to attack them. But, what about once these businesses start to expand? It’d be best to switch to managed switches for better and controlled security.


Although managed switches features may depend on several factors, they have standard features. Regardless of the model, these features’ primary purpose is to offer flexibility and usability. They include;

  •         Virtual Local Area Network
  •         Spanning Tree Protocol
  •         Redundancy features
  •         Port mirroring

On the flip side, unmanaged switches don’t have configurable features. They have only one feature called the MAC address tables. This feature prevents domain collisions by reducing the number of transmitted broadcasts.

The unmanaged switches operate in a standardized way for the reason one cannot change the in-built settings. Unfortunately, this leaves no room for customization. Still, it’s operable for certain small businesses.


Because manufacturers program unmanaged switches to service small networks, they’re better used in small businesses. Another reason is that those small businesses don’t require security features as they have few devices connected.

Managed switches are complex. They have advanced features and configuration abilities that are best for large networks. Besides, since large networks rely on security, performance, and reliability, control is critical. Ergo, big businesses rely on managed switches for safe operations.

A business with more than 100 employees or one with offices countrywide constitutes an extensive network.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Between Managed and Unmanaged Switches

You may be asking yourself, how do I know which switch I need? Whether you’re a small or large business, there are some factors you must consider. Besides, because you’re a small business doesn’t necessarily mean you must use unmanaged switches.


To reiterate, being a small business doesn’t automatically mean you use unmanaged switches. For example, you may be a small business with sensitive data that competitors would love to acquire.

On the other hand, maybe you’re an upcoming software developer, and your software is about to revolutionize a particular industry. In that case, your information would be in danger of hackers and other cyber threats.

Regardless of size, you must determine the level of security your company requires. If security is critical to your business’s existence, you must choose managed switches. If not, you can opt for unmanaged switches. All in all, this will help you choose the right network switch.


It’s a no-brainer that speed matters most when using data. Slow speeds mean time wastage and unmet deadlines, lagging the company. It also demotivates employees as they cannot perform at their best level. Thus, simultaneously underutilizing and over-utilizing them.

If you’re a company with massive data to share daily, you want a network system that smoothens the process. Luckily for you, a managed switch will help your employees be productive at work without losing morale. In addition, this will streamline your company’s operations, ensuring met deadlines and deliverables.

Now, suppose you’re a business with small data files shared regularly. Then, you might benefit more from an unmanaged switch. This is as these switches can handle small-sized data without compromise.

Plus, you’ll save money buying unmanaged switches. This is because managed ones need extra expertise to operate.


No business owner can say for sure that their businesses will expand. While there are factors that determine a company’s scalability, it’s not a guarantee. But, it’s essential to use these scalability factors to choose suitable network hardware.

For example, if you’re planning to expand in the future, you must use managed switches that allow for this expansion. Managed switches will allow you to add more devices to the network, hold extensive data and improve efficiency.

The expansion of a company comes with more security needs, and optimization becomes critical. You can’t do all these with unmanaged switches as they have limitations. But, you can use managed switches to expand your business safely.


Another crucial factor to consider is the performance you’d like in your company. Regardless if it’s a startup or a large enterprise, performance will dictate which network hardware is suitable.

As you may already know, high performance requires control and management for optimization. Managed switches guarantee you this as you can customize their settings to optimize processes.

Furthermore, performance is not all about optimization. It’s also about efficiency and reliability. For example, can you rely on your IT personnel to manage your network remotely?

Can you rely on your network to detect and stop threats? Managed switches offer these features that will improve the performance of your company.

Unmanaged switches are not severely off either. As long as businesses with small data and minimal security needs use them, they can perform effectively.

Managed Vs Unmanaged Switches for Your Business

With the above information, you can now confidently choose the right switch for your business. You’ll also protect your company data, a function every business must put resources into.

The differences in managed vs unmanaged switches will take you one step closer to setting up the best network system for your business.

In many ways, you’ll enjoy having adequate resources for your business and not having to underutilize them.

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