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How Do Ethernet Switches Work?

What does an ethernet switch do, how does it work, and why should you use one for your business or enterprise network? Here's what you need to know.

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Ethernet switches connect essential devices such as laptops, computers and servers to a local area network (LAN). They can be an essential piece of hardware in networking for organizations of all sizes, as multiple Ethernet ports allow for quicker connectivity and access across a multitude of devices. They also provide a more reliable connection than Wi-Fi. If you're wondering how an ethernet switch works to enhance IT operations for business, read on to discover the benefits, functionality and more.

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How Does an Ethernet Switch Work?

When learning how a network switch works, it helps to look at the functionality one piece at a time:

  • Receiving Packets. An ethernet switch works at the data link level. Devices with IPs create packets, which are then housed within an ethernet frame.
  • Encapsulation. In order to transport the information contained in the IP packet through the network, encapsulation occurs, where bits adhere to the front and back of the packet.
  • Processing Identifying Data. The frame contains key identifying data in the header, such as inter alia source, source MAC address and the destination MAC address. When the frame arrives at the ethernet switch, the switch reads the information and decodes where to forward it through the ports to reach its intended destination.
  • Sending Packets. The frame arrives at the destination device, which then receives and strips the packet.

How an ethernet switch works in terms of effectiveness on the whole depends largely upon a skilled installation and configuration by a talented IT professional. 

Ethernet Switch Benefits

Here are some key advantages to using an ethernet switch for your business:

  • Reduce network downtime
  • Improve network performance
  • Increase available bandwidth on your network
  • Reduce strain on individual host computers suffer with lower workloads
  • Protect your corporate network with more robust security features
  • Reduce IT costs with remote management options as well as reduced wiring expenses
  • Provide unique network switch connections to specific workstations for further customization
  • Streamline future expansion with the use of modular switches

What Does a Network Switch Do?

Before we discuss how a network switch works, first consider the role an ethernet switch plays in connectivity. An ethernet switch connects devices on a network to ensure the data arrives at its destination. The network switch may include ports for 5, 8, 12, 16, 24 or 28 devices, whereas corporate ethernet switches may commonly offer between 32 and 128 connections. Packet switching allows the network to receive, forward and process that data before delivering it to the intended device. Networked devices communicate effortlessly when their respective cables connect into the switch. 

Ethernet Switches vs. Hubs

Ethernet hubs work much in the same way but can only complete a simple data transfer between connected devices. In contrast, switches offer added layers of security and control over how data is transferred. A home network may only require a hub, whereas a business or enterprise network may need one or more switches for proper network functioning.

A network switch carries numerous benefits over the less sophisticated ethernet hub, which cannot distinguish between recipients and nonrelated computers and devices. For this reason, ethernet switches tend to be more efficient and reliable than hubs.

For a deeper look at the differences and advantages of these devices, read our guide on Ethernet Switches vs. Routers vs. Hubs.

Versatility & Flexibility for Wired Networks

An ethernet switch provides great versatility and flexibility for non-wireless networks. Dozens of devices can connect to the network by way of an ethernet switch. Network administrators can monitor traffic, control communications between machines and manage user access on the network. Ethernet switches operate as an alternative to wireless networks, which connect machines to the network using a wireless modem or adapter, without the need for ethernet cables and ports.

Types of Network Switches

Many different types of network switches exist to satisfy unique needs of business or personal networks. One of the biggest aspects to consider is whether the network switch is managed or unmanaged:

  • Unmanaged switches operate simply as a plug-and-play connection between devices on the network (computers, printers, etc.) without the ability to customize configurations. While the functionality may be limited, these are usually more affordable.

             Shop Unmanaged Switches.

  • Managed switches offer greater control over traffic with the ability to configure advanced settings and features to meet your requirements.

           Shop Managed Switches

Explore these switch types and more in our guide to the Types of Switches in Networking.

Ethernet Cords

Ethernet Switch Considerations for Business

What does an ethernet switch do to improve business operations or your company's bottom line? Network switches offer a number of technical advantages to companies. The wide array of ethernet switch devices makes it easy to find one that offers all the features and settings you need to create a robust and powerfully connected network.

Network switches offer scalability, versatility and higher performance to your company network. You can find ethernet switch options for networks of all sizes, from simple unmanaged network switches to vigorous managed switches. The latest models, such as Gigabit Ethernet switches, offer incredibly high data transfer rates (1 Gbps) that can easily outperform wireless bandwidth. Network switches deliver data only to devices deemed vital to receive that information.

When deciding on the right switch for your business, remember that a managed network provides greater control and flexibility over the state of the network and its features.

Build Your Network Today

Now you know how an ethernet switch works to improve many aspects of your network operations. Find the equipment you need to build reliable networks at CDW!