Switch vs Router? How to Decide What Your Business Needs

switch vs router

Switch vs router? It is difficult for many business owners to determine which device is right for their location. Routers and switches look similar, but perform different functions within your network. To further complicate matters, many network specialists will use the terms interchangeably.

To determine which you need, or if you need both, it helps to understand the difference between the two devices, their primary utility within your business network, and how they work separately as well as together.

The Difference Between a Switch & a Router

An ethernet switch makes it possible for all of your devices to connect and communicate. That includes your computers, printers, IP phones, point-of-sale register, servers and more—any devices that need to operate within your Local Area Network (LAN). If you’ve ever opened a document on the computer in your office and then printed it on a printer at the other end of the office, you have benefited from an ethernet switch. A switch acts like a subway station for your internal network, transferring packets of data from one device to another. Simply put, you cannot build a network for your business without switches.

There are two kinds of switches: managed and unmanaged. Unmanaged switches merely provide ethernet devices with network connections, essentially serving as basic connection ports that require no configuration.. Unmanaged switches typically provide additional ports of connectivity in office desk and conference room environments. Managed switches offer much more customization, device transparency, and security for your network, some of which even provide a real-time network topology overview and status of every device plugged into the switch!

Switches build a network within a layered architecture. The first layer, known as the “edge layer” provides connectivity for your devices. For smaller businesses, this layer of “routing switches” may connect directly to your router, which in turn connects your business to the internet. For others, these switches connect to aggregation switches, enabling your network to scale.

If a switch is a subway station, then a router is like the terminal at Times Square, where multiple subway lines converge and passengers can enter or exit the system as well as transfer between lines. A router allows the devices on your internal network to connect to the internet, and to each other. It connects the small network made up by one switch to other networks, expanding the network’s coverage and capacity. A router also decides which devices have priority on your network, and which switches information will travel through on its journey from Point A to Point B.

You can build a LAN without a router using switches, but the LAN will not be able to access additional networks, or the internet, without a router.

The Role of the Firewall in you LAN

A firewall may sound like something out of a fantasy-action movie, but the reality is more mundane. A firewall is a security device that monitors traffic within your network and safeguards your organization from malicious cyber attacks. The firewall can route packets of data, as well as block data packets from external sources like the internet.

Most routers come with basic firewall features, but if your business handles sensitive data an additional firewall may be necessary to protect your network and your data.

It’s Not a Competition: Switch vs Router for Your Business

With the dependency of the internet to conduct daily business such as online transactions, connecting to SaaS or cloud-based applications, and even credit card processing, most companies will need a router.

Ready to talk to someone? Reach out to Stratus today to speak with a consultant that will help you find the right switch or router solution for your organization.