As with hubs, Ethernet implementations of network switches support either 10/100 Mbit/s or 10/100/1000 Mbit/s ports Ethernet standards. Large switches may have 10 Gbit/s ports. Switches differ from hubs in that they can have ports of different speed.
The network switch, packet switch (or just switch) plays an integral part in most Ethernet local area networks or LANs. Mid-to-large sized LANs contain a number of linked managed switches. Small office, home office (SOHO) applications typically use a single switch, or an all-purpose converged device such as gateway access to small office/home office broadband services such as DSL router or cable, Wi-Fi router. In most of these cases, the end user device contains a router and components that interface to the particular physical broadband technology, as in the Linksys 8-port and 48-port devices. User devices may also include a telephone interface to VoIP.
In the context of a standard 10/100 Ethernet switch, a switch operates at the data-link layer of the OSI model to create a different collision domain per switch port. If you have 4 computers A/B/C/D on 4 switch ports, then A and B can transfer data between them as well as C and D at the same time, and they will never interfere with each others' conversations. In the case of a "hub" then they would all have to share the bandwidth, run in half-duplex and there would be collisions and retransmissions. Using a switch is called micro-segmentation. It allows you to have dedicated bandwidth on point to point connections with every computer and to therefore run in full duplex with no collisions.
Role of switches in networksNetwork switch is a marketing term rather than a technical one. Switches may operate at one or more OSI layers, including physical, data link, network, or transport (i.e., end-to-end). A device that operates simultaneously at more than one of these layers is called a multilayer switch, although use of the term is diminishing.
In switches intended for commercial use, built-in or modular interfaces make it possible to connect different types of networks, for example Ethernet, Fibre Channel, ATM, and 802.11. This connectivity can be at any of the layers mentioned. While Layer 2 functionality is adequate for speed-shifting within one technology, interconnecting technologies such as Ethernet and token ring are easier at Layer 3.
Interconnection of different Layer 3 networks is done by routers. If there are any features that characterize "Layer-3 switches" as opposed to general-purpose routers, it tends to be that they are optimized, in larger switches, for high-density Ethernet connectivity.
In some service provider and other environments where there is a need for much analysis of network performance and security, switches may be connected between WAN routers as places for analytic modules. Some vendors provide firewall, network intrusion detection, and performance analysis modules that can plug into switch ports. Some of these functions may be on combined modules.
In other cases, the switch is used to create a mirror image of data that can go to an external device. Since most switch port mirroring provides only one mirrored stream, network hubs can be useful for fanning out data to several read-only analyzers, such as intrusion detection systems and packet sniffers.
Why Would we Need a Router?
For most home users, they may want to set-up a LAN (local Area Network) or WLAN (wireless LAN) and connect all computers to the Internet without having to pay a full broadband subscription service to their ISP for each computer on the network. In many instances, an ISP will allow you to use a router and connect multiple computers to a single Internet connection and pay a nominal fee for each additional computer sharing the connection. This is when home users will want to look at smaller routers, often called broadband routers that enable two or more computers to share an Internet connection. Within a business or organization, you may need to connect multiple computers to the Internet, but also want to connect multiple private networks — and these are the types of functions a router is designed for.
Routers for Home & Small Business:
Not all routers are created equal since their job will differ slightly from network to network. Additionally, you may look at a piece of hardware and not even realize it is a router. What defines a router is not its shape, color, size or manufacturer, but its job function of routing data packets between computers. A cable modem which routes data between your PC and your ISP can be considered a router. In its most basic form, a router could simply be one of two computers running the Windows 98 (or higher) operating system connected together using ICS (Internet Connection Sharing). In this scenario, the computer that is connected to the Internet is acting as the router for the second computer to obtain its Internet connection.
Going a step up from ICS, we have a category of hardware routers that are used to perform the same basic task as ICS, albeit with more features and functions. Often called broadband or Internet connection sharing routers, these routers allow you to share one Internet connection between multiple computers.