Different Types of Switches
It can become a confusing chore having to wade through the different types of switches. First you have to decide what type of network you would like to employ. As of today, there are two main types of networks that are used at the prosumer and enterprise level: Fiber channel and Ethernet. There is a drastic cost difference between the two, and it is quite normal to run standard Ethernet switches with a Fiber trunk connecting the switches to increase the bandwidth/speed capacity between them. The target audience for this article is the regular consumer, and as such, regular Ethernet switches will be discussed from this point on. After deciding what type of network you're going to build, you have to pick the type of switch you would like to use. For the sake of simplicity, there are three types of network switches that are important to this topic: unmanaged, intelligent/smart and fully managed.
An unmanaged switch is the most basic, and it's what most consumers will buy, as it requires the least amount of set-up and is also the least expensive. An unmanaged switch is just that, unmanaged. They are not configurable and have all of their programming built in. It is ready to work straight out of the box. Many consumers shopping for a network switch are mainly looking to expand the amount of devices that they can connect. An unmanaged switch is perfect in this situation since it requires the least amount of investment with regards to both expense and time.
An intelligent/smart switch is the middle ground between the unmanaged and fully managed switches. They offer limited customization, but do possess the granular control abilities that a fully managed switch has. These are great if you're looking for a bit more control over your network and how it operates. Depending on the switch, you can set up different options like Quality of Service (QoS) and VLANs, which can be useful if you have VoIP-enabled phones in your house, or if you just want to segregate different portions of your network from each other. These are still valid choices for the regular consumer, as they are generally easy to use and you can glean a bit more information off of them on how your network is configured compared to unmanaged switches.
At the top of the range is the fully managed switch. Most of these come with every option currently available to a network engineer. They offer granular control, such as port security, access control lists (ACLs) and greater VLAN ability. A consumer will most likely not purchase one of these because they require time and knowledge to set up properly, and the features they offer are more at home in an enterprise environment. Plus, they're expensive.