What is a Managed Switch?
A managed switch allows you to control the individual ports
of your switch. Features of course vary with manufacturers and models, but
even the most basic will have the ability to turn the port on or off
and control its link speed and duplex settings. That control
is for security; it prevents someone just walking in and connecting to
your lan through an unused port.
Beyond that, you might be able to specify a particular MAC
address that is allowed to connect. That prevents someone from
replacing machines with their own. You might be able to set login
authentication, also. You may be able to designate
certain ports as "high priority"; for example the ports your
servers are on. Setting bandwidth limits, monitoring port
traffic and of course logging are also features.
VLANS (Virtual LANS) are a popular option. This allows you
to set a broadcast domain on certain ports, so that broadcast
traffic isn't passed on to the other ports. This can also isolate
machines from each other for security purposes.
Link aggregation ties together multiple ports, allowing two
switches to be connected more than once for higher throughput
between them. The switch may support Spanning Tree, which lets
you have multiple paths for redundancy without having to worry about looping.
These switches may also have snmp agents that will report status
to snmp monitors. Nowadays they usually have a web interface for
configuration in addition to the traditional command line method.
Older models might require access through a serial console, but
more recent devices will have the web interface.
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