Automation Reliability & Maintenance Center

Select a Correct Switch

Jane Alexander | December 17, 2018

Operations are increasingly turning to managed switches for networking and data communication, but are they right for every application?

What’s the difference between unmanaged and managed switches for networking and data-communication processes?

Which type is correct for your specific application? A recent blog post from Comtrol, New Brighton, MN ( provided a brief explanation.


An unmanaged switch is less expensive at initial purchase. This type of switch contains a fixed set of rules and will handle incoming data based on those rules. It’s important to note that the forwarding rules cannot be changed, which may increase downtime to discover and fix a problem.

An unmanaged switch also can simplify the configuration process or reduce costs in various areas, i.e., a less-powerful processor, less memory, fewer LEDs, and fewer ports. Depending on your specific network needs, cost-savings associated with such items can benefit an organization’s bottom line.


The best feature of a managed switch is its configurability. With a managed switch, users are free to adjust the rules for an application at any time. This capability can be very useful in the industrial-automation field and many others. The enhanced configurability offered by managed switches and, in turn, the freedom to separate networks, can save costs and downtime.

A managed switch offers other valuable capabilities, including support of VLANs, IGMP snooping, port mirroring, and increased security.

Recapping Pros & Cons

An unmanaged switch reduces costs and simplifies the configuration process. A managed switch, however, is more intelligent, allows new technology and application adjustments, as well as enables better troubleshooting, and most important, increased security.

The best way for an operation to benefit from the enhanced configurability of a managed switch would be to have an engineer on staff who understands the complexity of these switches.

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Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander

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