As businesses scale up and add more in-house employees, they face increasingly complex IT hurdles. What may have worked for an office with a handful of employees simply won’t support an office with five or six times as many network users. As more people and more devices send data packets careening around the office, the demands placed on the in-house network will grow to the point of severe slowdown.

In today’s super-connected world, homes can suffer the same fate as well. The more devices there are on a network the greater the risk of data collisions causing slowdowns and even security risks.

Network switches are the answer, of course. But which types of switches are right for which situation? Are you offering your clients the best switch for their business? Let’s take a high-level look at the three main types and the situations they’re best suited for.

Unmanaged switches

The simplest and easiest switches to install are unmanaged switches. These are plug-and-play and require no advanced setup whatsoever. They’re ideal for smart homes with lots of connected devices and most small businesses with less than 10 employees on the network simultaneously.

The downside? Unmanaged switches don’t prioritize network traffic, they simply direct it from one device to another in an organized and efficient way. So even if your client is a small business with only a handful of employees, it’s important to consider the type of work they do and their network demands. If they’re mostly using their network for email and browsing the web, an unmanaged switch should do the trick. But if they’re also doing a lot of video streaming, video conferencing, and massive data transfers, they may require a managed switch.

Managed switches

Without a managed switch, large offices and businesses that put a lot of demands on their network will run into slowdown issues and even security issues. Where an unmanaged switch simply directs traffic between devices, a managed switch offers the ability to prioritize certain types of traffic over others, such as VoIP and video conferencing over email downloads and web browsing.

Managed switches also give admins the ability to divide the network into multiple virtual networks (VLANs), so specific departments can operate behind a closed network door, so to speak.

Managed switches require specialized training to install and setup properly, as well as advanced IT knowledge to oversee and support. They’re also the most effective way for growing businesses to future-proof their network, allowing them to scale up fast and without disruption.

Smart switches

If you’re advising a business that falls somewhere in between, or a client that’s reluctant to make the pricey jump to managed switches, a smart switch might be the solution. These offer some of the same advanced features of a managed switch, such as the ability to prioritize certain traffic on the network, but not as much granular control.

Smart switches are more user-friendly and require less IT support than a managed switch. But if a business is on a growth arc that’s forcing them to consider a move to a smart switch, they might be better off upgrading to a managed switch sooner rather than later.

Power Over Ethernet (PoE)

Power Over Ethernet is a common amongst newer switches. This allows for it to run without a separate power supply since the power is drawn from over the ethernet cable. This is an important feature as it allows the switch to continue operating even if regular premise power is down.

Installing the right switch

In the end, selecting the right type of network switch depends on the needs of the network (what type of traffic is it handling?) and the demands on the network (how many users or devices is it supporting at once?).

Many clients will be drawn to cheaper options that require less costly IT support, such as an unmanaged switch or even no switch at all, but this may only create ongoing IT and security issues for their business. For installers, it’s important to communicate why certain types of switches, installed professionally inside proper enclosures and using efficient cable management, are the most cost-effective options over the long term.