All of you out there use switches. And a lot of you, I know you’re out there, use unmanaged ones because “Gee John”, they’re awful cheap.

But disclaimer time first. This is another place where I just don’t have a dog in the hunt. Don’t care what switch you use. Knock your brains out. Get one of those really expensive, high end, gold plated, can never fail switches. Or get yourself the 99? ones that come with wriggle’s gum. [Alright for those of you that like to email me about every little thing, Wrigley’s ISN’T including switches with packs of gum – YET].

But in the immortal words of Carl Henning, junior deputy sheriff of Profinet International, either “get a managed switch” or regret is later.

I heard this today and guess what, Carl is right. Carl is right about most things but on this he is even more right.

What’s a Managed and an Unmanaged switch? An unmanaged switch is like your dog. Dogs are pretty easy to care for. They need water, food and a little exercise. Simple and uncomplicated. Just like I like it.

An unmanaged switch doesn’t have any configuration. There isn’t any options. There isn’t any additional data available. It is a basic switch; look at an incoming packet, see where the packet is headed and ship it out the port that has the destination.

A managed switch is more like your girlfriend. Lots of options. Lots of possibilities. The only difference – besides the obvious physical ones – is that that your girlfriend’s options and configuration changes on a regular basis.

A managed switch has options and a mechanism to allow you to get to a menu where you can configure the switch to your liking. Some weird ones have a serial interface (and they’re in the Ethernet business) and a command line interface. Others use a web server which I personally like.

You can do all sorts of cool things with a managed switch. You can setup VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), set priorities on different ports, setup ranges…etc. The list is really endless.

The diagnostic features are the ones that you will really like. Two in particular are my favorite.

The first is port mirroring. With mirroring you can tell the switch to dump all the traffic on one port on another port. Why would you want to do that? Simple, when you are having trouble with something and want to diagnose network traffic, there is no other way to listen to the traffic. I mean, on what port are you going to put the analyzer?

The second is diagnostics. Different switches keep all sorts of valuable statistics on your network traffic. This becomes really important when you are trying to optimize your traffic.

There’s a bunch of other reasons but if you are using our ASCII to Logix product, Modbus TCP to BACnet or any of our other Ethernet products please do yourself a favor; ignore all the weird things going on in the world for a few moments and run out and get yourself a Managed Switch.

You’ll be happier and so will your vendors.