Office Switch Technology Explained
A switch is a device that is often found in Australian offices to provide network communications between computer terminals and peripherals. Essentially, they can be thought of as at the fulcrum of a data cabling installation—like a spider sitting in the middle of a web—picking up on any data packets that are sent out and forwarding them on to where they need to be. As such, they should be regarded as transceivers, only incredibly fast ones that deal with thousands of pieces of information per second.
These days, Ethernet cabling is used in most offices, which allows items like computers, video conferencing equipment and printers to access central services, such as servers. The term 10/100 switching refers to the rate that information is sent over modern data cables. When a switch receives a packet of internet protocol (IP) information from a device, it should relay it across the network at the same rate. Depending on the type of data cables that have been installed by a commercial electrician or an IT company, this could be at speeds of up to 10Gbs per second. Category 5e and category 6 cables tend to be the fastest. Devices are usually plugged into a switch over a structured cabling network with RJ-45 patch leads. Therefore, the front of a switch usually has 24 or 48 RJ-45 ports that are ready to accept them.
Not all switches offer connectivity via fibre optics, but many do. Switch makers sometimes offer a couple of fibre ports with their products so that networks can be connected together. For example, a switch that is serving the ground floor requirements of a business might be connected to another floor's switch with a fibre optic cable. This allows for incredibly fast data flows between the switches, effectively making two separate local area networks (LANs) together to make one. Fibre optic connections can be much longer than normal Ethernet ones and offer greater bandwidth, so they tend to be used in situations where satellite offices are in operation.
As well as hard-wired connections, the latest switch products are able to provide Wi-Fi functionality. In the past, network engineers commonly installed two products: a switch for wired connections and a Wi-Fi hub for wireless ones. However, the trend with network manufacturers is to integrate these two systems into single products nowadays. Unlike a simple home wireless hub, a switch will keep a record of the MAC addresses of any devices it is connected with which can be beneficial in managed network applications.