One question we’re asked every day, is which of the POE switch types to go with: a managed POE switch, a smart POE switch, or unmanaged POE switch? In this article, we’ll break through the complexity surrounding this decision making process.

Just as a disclaimer, we tend to recommend a managed because you gain a lot more control and flexibility over your network over the life of the switch. Things change in business, half the battle is anticipating and preparing.

So here’s our advice: Always buy managed if you have the budget.

Now, here are simple explanations to help you to understand which switch is the best fit for your particular deployment.

The 3 Main POE Switch Types

Once you understand the distinct capabilities of each of the three POE switch types: unmanaged, managed and web-smart your decision becomes much easier.

The Unmanaged POE Switch

Used for: home networks /small business offices or shops

Benefits: plug-and-play, affordable and simple

These switches can’t be modified or managed, so no need to enable or disable interfaces. They’re great for companies without IT admins and junior technologists. They don’t offer any security features, but if you’re using it in your home or a small network of fewer than 5-10 computers, they provide ample support.

If a business handles sensitive information such as an accounting firm or a bank, we recommend going with something more secure.

The Smart or Hybrid POE Switch

Used for: business applications such as VoIP and smaller networks

Benefits: offers no-frills management, security features and costs less than managed

Smart switches are comparable to managed switch, but with limited capabilities that can be accessed from the Internet. You don’t need highly-trained staff to set up or run. Their interface is more simplified than what managed switches offer.

They do offer options like Quality of Service (QoS) and VLANs.

They are great for VoIP phones, small VLANs, and workgroups for places like labs. Smart switches let you configure ports and set up virtual networks, but don’t have the sophistication to allow monitoring, troubleshooting, or remote-accessing to manage network issues.

The Managed POE Switch

Used for: enterprise networks and data centers

Benefits: offer full management capabilities and security features

Managed switches provide high-levels of network security, control, and management. They’re ideal for operations that require off-site round-the-clock monitoring and remotel-access control capabilities.

Managed switches cost the most, but they are well worth the investment and pay for themselves over time. The scalability of these switches allows networks room to grow.

Advanced functions include:

  • prioritizing user traffic
  • partitioning a network
  • connecting different types of networks
  • monitoring traffic as it passes through the system.

Managed switches can optimize a network’s speed and resource utilization. Admins manage resources through a text-based command-line interface, so some advanced knowledge is required to set up and run.

3 Types of Network Switches InfographicEach of these switches does offer benefits for the right situation, but when you are thinking about long-range expansion, managed is your best bet.

Now that you understand the features and capabilities of the 3 types of switches more fully, it is time to move on to the right buying strategy for your unique situation.

Another frequently asked question is the number ports to get.

Rule of thumb: Think growth.

Think where your or your client’s organization will be in terms of network size and device-support infrastructure in the next 5 to 10 years.

Additional Considerations for Choosing from the POE Switch Types


1. How many ports do I need?

Switches offer anywhere from 4-port to 54-port models. This decision boils down to the number of users/devices your network supports. Keep in mind, we are in the ramp up phase of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The larger the network, the greater number of ports you’ll need.

Are there enough interfaces to support the company/network when it grows?

You’ll want to select a switch that has more interfaces than you actually need. It’s better to have it and not need it rather than need it and not have it. This recommendation includes L2 features for managed switches.

Employee population growth isn’t the only factor driving network size. Display screens, digital signage, wireless access points, heating and cooling systems, SMART lighting, security systems, and even appliances like refrigerators are all in the process of coming online.

Here are other factors to consider in the form of questions we get on a regular basis to help narrow down your decision further.

Ports Comparison

2. How much speed will my POE switch provide?

Will 10/100 interfaces be enough?

Most computers and network equipment are built with Gigabit interfaces, and it is becoming the standard. This issue can also fall under scalability as well if the company/network does not grow, but the demand for faster links is required.
speed comparison

3. What type of redundancy will I need for my network?

Should I purchase a 16-port switch or should I go with 2 of the 8-port units?

This question is very common and can be subjective based on the urgency of uptime, financial budget, network management and space involved. If most variables are not a problem, then, by all means, go with 2 switches rather than a single switch.

If the entire network depends on a single switch and the unit experiences a catastrophic failure, the whole network would be down. If one of the 2 switches fail, only half the network is down but still able to limp along until there is a replacement.

As mentioned earlier, if you are serving clients with servers that will be managing financial or personal data, redundancy is a critical ingredient to the success of that operation.
redundancy comparison

4. What level of technical support will I need?

How easy is it to configure the switch and is there a local support team in my country if I run into any issues?

Make sure you have technical support options in place. Not being able to get support when you need it is the deal breaker for some companies, as projects may only allow a small window of time to configure/troubleshoot devices.

If configuration/troubleshooting a switch exceeds the time allowed, you may need to consider contacting alternative technical support resources within your country. Be forewarned, outsourced support centers may not work due to time zone differences and language barriers.

Understand the level of support you’re getting ahead of time and plan accordingly. It’ll save hassle and improve uptime.

support comparison

Deciding What POE Switch To Purchase

The role of IT is changing, which is yet another reason why the managed switch is so desirable. IT admins are doing more than setting up computers these days. They may be required to monitor building systems and need remote access for speedy responses when emergencies arise.

Here are a few final thoughts on making a purchase that will more than meet your need and make you and your team look good to clients.

Pennywise may end up being pound foolish. When an IT network holds intellectual property and customer data, don’t be tempted to skimp. It’s worth it to spend a little extra to protect the most vital assets of a business.

Sixty percent of businesses that lose their data go out of business within one year.

Redundancy can keeps organizations on solid ground. A good switch is an essential part of a solid network. That’s why data centers rely upon redundancy and managed switches so heavily.

PLANET is ready to help you purchase your next switch. Feel like you need a little direction, don’t hesitate to reach out. We can provide you with a custom quote.