When it comes to Industrial Automation Control System (IACS) traffic, an unmanaged switch simply does not hack it. A managed switch is invaluable for five significant reasons.
Reason #1: Security
Imagine this scenario: An unaware employee connects their PC to an unmanaged switch in the office and spreads a virus throughout the entire company network. This happens all the time.—but it will not happen if the business uses managed switches, as they can disable ports that prevent unauthorized access.
Reason #2: Redundancy
Should a link or device in a network fail, it is vital to ensure the rest of the network remains functional. Unmanaged switches have no redundancy protocols, while managed switches have several options that support redundancy—two of the most common being Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP) and ring topographies.
These types of protocols prevent loops and establish backup links that keep integrated systems available. The upshot of these safeguards is the prevention of downtime, which is expensive and disruptive.
Reason #3: Prioritization
For a network to run smoothly, it is critical that the Local Area Network (LAN) traffic can be prioritized. The most important data must always get through. Prioritization prevents heavy network traffic from causing a malfunction. A network crash causes costly downtime and IT Department service calls and leaves a lousy performance impression for users.
Managed switches have a Quality of Service (QoS) function that gives critical traffic a high priority. On the other hand, an unmanaged switch simply allows devices to communicate with minimal QoS functions.
Reason #4: Segmentation
Managed switches allow the creation of Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs) to segment network traffic. A VLAN is a Local Area Network (LAN) that segregates (segments) devices on a basis other than geographical location. For example, a business’s marketing employees may be dispersed throughout an office building but can be assigned to a single VLAN that allows them to share resources and bandwidth. Other departments’ resources may be invisible or accessible to the marketing VLAN members, depending upon how the VLAN is set up.
This isolation helps reduce unnecessary traffic that enables better system performance and an additional layer of security. Unmanaged switches do not have this capability.
Reason #5: Monitoring
Monitoring a network’s traffic and performance is crucial. Only managed switches have protocols such as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) that keep an eye on a network’s health or a specific device’s status. SNMP helps to uncover and repair network problems—and can even do so remotely.