As network infrastructures become more complex, the decision of when to purchase network switches should be considered carefully. It’s important to consider what your network needs and where the network switch fits in the network diagram. Network switches can generally fall into 4 categories – those that fit into the classic three-tier enterprise network model, and newer data center-class switches that are used by enterprises and cloud providers. These newer network switches offer extremely high density and performance levels which would be valuable for multi-tiered architectures or a one-tier architecture. Understanding exactly how network switches will help your network is key before making a purchase decision.
In data centers and other computer networks, switches are an essential part of data communication. By maintaining a MAC address-to-port table, switches provide the basic functionality that enables data to be selectively and efficiently forwarded from one network node to another. Through the use of standards-based protocols such as 802.1q trunks and 802.3ad port aggregation, data traffic can be effectively segmented. And by utilizing variants of the 802.1d spanning-tree protocol, switches help prevent network loops which can disrupt data flow among nodes in a computer network.
Core switches are remarkably simple and easy to understand. At core, these switches facilitate high-speed data transmission, with their main tasks being routing at layer 3 and switching at layer 2 of network infrastructure. The core switch is effectively responsible for packet and frame movement from core switch to core switch, forming the highest tier in the switch hierarchy. It all should run smoothly if configured correctly, meaning core switches will take care of business so operators don’t have to worry about it further down the line.
Distribution switches are critical for any enterprise network, allowing for the distribution of data between core and access tiers. These distribution switches have higher port density due to the need to interconnect many network access tier switches, making them appropriate for larger installations. In addition to connecting different tiers of the network infrastructure, distribution tier switching is also responsible for pushing data up to the core layer, which in turn can select the optimal path to its destination distribution switch. With their unique ability to interconnect while also enabling routing, distribution tier switches are powerful workhorses that form a crucial part of any large-scale enterprise network.
Data center switches provide vast network portfolios that are essential for modern data centers. They not only enable traffic to flow in both north-south and east-west directions, but also enable data center connectivity with a vast range of protocols such as LAN Ethernet and SAN’s Fibre Channel over Ethernet and even legacy Fibre Channel. Moreover, data center-class switches have multiple high availability systems which ensure guaranteed uptime for mission-critical applications. Furthermore, data center class switches have flexibility to be used either in top of the rack or end of the row configuration. Finally, data center class switches can be managed through a single point administration panel for convenient management.