Network switch

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Avaya ERS 2550T-PWR, a 50-port Ethernet switch 2550T-PWR-Front.jpg
Avaya ERS 2550T-PWR, a 50-port Ethernet switch

A network switch (also called switching hub, bridging hub, officially MAC bridge [1] ) is a computer networking device that connects devices on a computer network by using packet switching to receive, process, and forward data to the destination device.

Computer network collection of autonomous computers interconnected by a single technology

A computer network is a digital telecommunications network which allows nodes to share resources. In computer networks, computing devices exchange data with each other using connections between nodes. These data links are established over cable media such as wires or optic cables, or wireless media such as Wi-Fi.

Packet switching a method of grouping data which is transmitted over a digital network into packets

Packet switching is a method of grouping data that is transmitted over a digital network into packets. Packets are made of a header and a payload. Data in the header are used by networking hardware to direct the packet to its destination where the payload is extracted and used by application software. Packet switching is the primary basis for data communications in computer networks worldwide.

Contents

A network switch is a multiport network bridge that uses hardware addresses to process and forward data at the data link layer (layer 2) of the OSI model. Some switches can also process data at the network layer (layer 3) by additionally incorporating routing functionality. Such switches are commonly known as layer-3 switches or multilayer switches. [2]

The data layer, or layer 2, is the second layer of the seven-layer OSI model of computer networking. This layer is the protocol layer that transfers data between adjacent network nodes in a wide area network (WAN) or between nodes on the same local area network (LAN) segment. The data link layer provides the functional and procedural means to transfer data between network entities and might provide the means to detect and possibly correct errors that may occur in the physical layer.

OSI model Model with 7 layers to describe communications systems

The Open Systems Interconnection model is a conceptual model that characterizes and standardizes the communication functions of a telecommunication or computing system without regard to its underlying internal structure and technology. Its goal is the interoperability of diverse communication systems with standard protocols. The model partitions a communication system into abstraction layers. The original version of the model defined seven layers.

In the seven-layer OSI model of computer networking, the network layer is layer 3. The network layer is responsible for packet forwarding including routing through intermediate routers.

Switches for Ethernet are the most common form of network switch. The first Ethernet switch was introduced by Kalpana in 1990. [3] Switches also exist for other types of networks including Fibre Channel, Asynchronous Transfer Mode, and InfiniBand.

Ethernet computer networking technology

Ethernet is a family of computer networking technologies commonly used in local area networks (LAN), metropolitan area networks (MAN) and wide area networks (WAN). It was commercially introduced in 1980 and first standardized in 1983 as IEEE 802.3, and has since retained a good deal of backward compatibility and been refined to support higher bit rates and longer link distances. Over time, Ethernet has largely replaced competing wired LAN technologies such as Token Ring, FDDI and ARCNET.

Kalpana, a computer-networking equipment manufacturer located in Silicon Valley, operated during the 1980s and 1990s. Its co-founders, Vinod Bhardwaj, an entrepreneur of Indian origin, and Larry Blair named the company after Bhardwaj's wife, Kalpana, whose name means "imagination" in Sanskrit. Charles Giancarlo was Kalpana's vice president of products and corporate development, became its General Manager, and went on to roles at Cisco Systems and Silver Lake Partners.

Fibre Channel (FC) is a high-speed data transfer protocol providing in-order, lossless delivery of raw block data, primarily used to connect computer data storage to servers. Fibre Channel is mainly used in storage area networks (SAN) in commercial data centers. Fibre Channel networks form a switched fabric because they operate in unison as one big switch. Fibre Channel typically runs on optical fiber cables within and between data centers, but can also run on copper cabling.

Unlike less advanced repeater hubs, which broadcast the same data out of each of its ports and let the devices decide what data they need, a network switch forwards data only to the devices that need to receive it. [4]

Overview

Cisco small business SG300-28 28-port Gigabit Ethernet rackmount switch.jpg
Internals of a Cisco small business SG300-28 28-port Gigabit Ethernet rackmount switch.jpg
Cisco small business SG300-28 28-port Gigabit Ethernet rackmount switch and its internals

A switch is a device in a computer network that connects other devices together. Multiple data cables are plugged into a switch to enable communication between different networked devices. Switches manage the flow of data across a network by transmitting a received network packet only to the one or more devices for which the packet is intended. Each networked device connected to a switch can be identified by its network address, allowing the switch to direct the flow of traffic maximizing the security and efficiency of the network.

A network packet is a formatted unit of data carried by a packet-switched network. A packet consists of control information and user data, which is also known as the payload. Control information provides data for delivering the payload, for example: source and destination network addresses, error detection codes, and sequencing information. Typically, control information is found in packet headers and trailers.

A network address is an identifier for a node or host on a telecommunications network. Network addresses are designed to be unique identifiers across the network, although some networks allow for local, private addresses or locally administered addresses that may not be unique. Special network addresses are allocated as broadcast or multicast addresses. These too are not unique.

A switch is more intelligent than an Ethernet hub, which simply retransmits packets out of every port of the hub except the port on which the packet was received, unable to distinguish different recipients, and achieving an overall lower network efficiency.

Ethernet hub device for connecting multiple Ethernet devices together and making them act as a single network segment

An Ethernet hub, active hub, network hub, repeater hub, multiport repeater, or simply hub is a network hardware device for connecting multiple Ethernet devices together and making them act as a single network segment. It has multiple input/output (I/O) ports, in which a signal introduced at the input of any port appears at the output of every port except the original incoming. A hub works at the physical layer of the OSI model. A repeater hub also participates in collision detection, forwarding a jam signal to all ports if it detects a collision. In addition to standard 8P8C ("RJ45") ports, some hubs may also come with a BNC or an Attachment Unit Interface (AUI) connector to allow connection to legacy 10BASE2 or 10BASE5 network segments.

An Ethernet switch operates at the data link layer (layer 2) of the OSI model to create a separate collision domain for each switch port. Each device connected to a switch port can transfer data to any of the other ports at any time and the transmissions will not interfere. [lower-alpha 1] Because broadcasts are still being forwarded to all connected devices by the switch, the newly formed network segment continues to be a broadcast domain. Switches may also operate at higher layers of the OSI model, including the network layer and above. A device that also operates at these higher layers is known as a multilayer switch.

Segmentation involves the use of a switch to split a larger collision domain into smaller ones in order to reduce collision probability, and to improve overall network throughput. In the extreme case (i.e. micro-segmentation), each device is located on a dedicated switch port. In contrast to an Ethernet hub, there is a separate collision domain on each of the switch ports. This allows computers to have dedicated bandwidth on point-to-point connections to the network and also to run in full-duplex mode. Full-duplex mode has only one transmitter and one receiver per collision domain, making collisions impossible.

The network switch plays an integral role in most modern Ethernet local area networks (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 device such as a residential gateway to access small office/home broadband services such as DSL or cable Internet. In most of these cases, the end-user device contains a router and components that interface to the particular physical broadband technology. User devices may also include a telephone interface for Voice over IP (VoIP).

Role in a network

Switches are most commonly used as the network connection point for hosts at the edge of a network. In the hierarchical internetworking model and similar network architectures, switches are also used deeper in the network to provide connections between the switches at the edge.

In switches intended for commercial use, built-in or modular interfaces make it possible to connect different types of networks, including Ethernet, Fibre Channel, RapidIO, ATM, ITU-T G.hn and 802.11. This connectivity can be at any of the layers mentioned. While the layer-2 functionality is adequate for bandwidth-shifting within one technology, interconnecting technologies such as Ethernet and token ring is performed more easily at layer 3 or via routing. [6] Devices that interconnect at the layer 3 are traditionally called routers, so layer 3 switches can also be regarded as relatively primitive and specialized routers. [7]

Where there is a need for a great deal of analysis of network performance and security, switches may be connected between WAN routers as places for analytic modules. Some vendors provide firewall, [8] [9] network intrusion detection, [10] and performance analysis modules that can plug into switch ports. Some of these functions may be on combined modules. [11]

Through port mirroring, a switch can create a mirror image of data that can go to an external device such as intrusion detection systems and packet sniffers.

A modern switch may implement power over Ethernet (PoE), which avoids the need for attached devices, such as a VoIP phone or wireless access point, to have a separate power supply. Since switches can have redundant power circuits connected to uninterruptible power supplies, the connected device can continue operating even when regular office power fails.

Layer-specific functionality

A modular network switch with three network modules (a total of 24 Ethernet and 14 Fast Ethernet ports) and one power supply. Smartswitch6000.jpg
A modular network switch with three network modules (a total of 24 Ethernet and 14 Fast Ethernet ports) and one power supply.

Modern commercial switches use primarily Ethernet interfaces. The core function of an Ethernet switch is to provide a multiport layer 2 bridging function. Many switches also perform operations at other layers. A device capable of more than bridging is known as a multilayer switch. Switches may learn about topologies at many layers and forward at one or more layers.

Layer 1

A layer 1 network device transfers data, but does not manage any of the traffic coming through it, an example is Ethernet hub. Any packet entering a port is repeated to the output of every other port except for the port of entry. Specifically, each bit or symbol is repeated as it flows in. A repeater hub can therefore only receive and forward at a single speed. [12] Since every packet is repeated on every other port, packet collisions affect the entire network, limiting its overall capacity.

By the early 2000s, there was little price difference between a hub and a low-end switch. [13] Hubs remained useful for a time for specialized applications, such supplying a copy of network traffic to a packet analyzer. A network tap may also be used for this purpose and many network switches now have a port mirroring feature that provides the same functionality.

Layer 2

A layer 2 network device is a multiport device that uses hardware addresses, MAC address, to process and forward data at the data link layer (layer 2)

A switch operating as a network bridge may interconnect devices in a home or office. The bridge learns the MAC address of each connected device. Bridges also buffer an incoming packet and adapt the transmission speed to that of the outgoing port. While there are specialized applications, such as storage area networks, where the input and output interfaces are the same bandwidth, this is not always the case in general LAN applications. In LANs, a switch used for end user access typically concentrates lower bandwidth and uplinks into a higher bandwidth.

Interconnect between switches may be regulated using spanning tree protocol (STP) that disables links so that the resulting local area network is a tree without loops. In contrast to routers, spanning tree bridges must have topologies with only one active path between two points. Shortest path bridging is a layer 2 alternative to STP allows all paths to be active with multiple equal cost paths. [14] [15]

Layer 3

A layer-3 switch can perform some or all of the functions normally performed by a router. Most network switches, however, are limited to supporting a single type of physical network, typically Ethernet, whereas a router may support different kinds of physical networks on different ports.

A common layer-3 capability is awareness of IP multicast through IGMP snooping. With this awareness, a layer-3 switch can increase efficiency by delivering the traffic of a multicast group only to ports where the attached device has signalled that it wants to listen to that group.

Layer-3 switches typically support IP routing between VLANs configured on the switch. Some layer-3 switches support the routing protocols that routers use to exchange information about routes between networks.

Layer 4

While the exact meaning of the term layer-4 switch is vendor-dependent, it almost always starts with a capability for network address translation,[ citation needed ] and may add some type of load distribution based on TCP sessions or advanced QoS capabilities. [16]

The device may include a stateful firewall, a VPN concentrator, or be an IPSec security gateway.

Layer 7

Layer-7 switches may distribute the load based on uniform resource locators (URLs), or by using some installation-specific technique to recognize application-level transactions. A layer-7 switch may include a web cache and participate in a content delivery network (CDN). [17] [ not in citation given ]

Types

A rack-mounted 24-port 3Com switch 24-port 3Com switch.JPG
A rack-mounted 24-port 3Com switch

Form factors

Switches are available in many form factors, including stand-alone, desktop units which are typically intended to be used in a home or office environment outside a wiring closet; rack-mounted switches for use in an equipment rack or an enclosure; DIN rail mounted for use in industrial environments; and small installation switches, mounted into a cable duct, floor box or communications tower, as found, for example, in fibre to the office infrastructures.

Rack-mounted switches may be standalone units, stackable switches or large chassis units with swappable line cards.

Configuration options

Unmanaged switches have no configuration interface or options. They are plug and play. They are typically the least expensive switches, and therefore often used in a small office/home office environment. Unmanaged switches can be desktop or rack mounted.

Managed switches have one or more methods to modify the operation of the switch. Common management methods include: a command-line interface (CLI) accessed via serial console, telnet or Secure Shell, an embedded Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) agent allowing management from a remote console or management station, or a web interface for management from a web browser. Examples of configuration changes that one can do from a managed switch include: enabling features such as Spanning Tree Protocol or port mirroring, setting port bandwidth, creating or modifying virtual LANs (VLANs), etc. Two sub-classes of managed switches are smart and enterprise managed switches.

Smart (or intelligent) switches are managed switches with a limited set of management features. Likewise "web-managed" switches are switches which fall into a market niche between unmanaged and managed. For a price much lower than a fully managed switch they provide a web interface (and usually no CLI access) and allow configuration of basic settings, such as VLANs, port-bandwidth and duplex. [18]

Enterprise managed (or fully managed) switches have a full set of management features, including CLI, SNMP agent, and web interface. They may have additional features to manipulate configurations, such as the ability to display, modify, backup and restore configurations. Compared with smart switches, enterprise switches have more features that can be customized or optimized, and are generally more expensive than smart switches. Enterprise switches are typically found in networks with larger number of switches and connections, where centralized management is a significant savings in administrative time and effort. A stackable switch is a version of enterprise-managed switch.

Typical management features

A couple of managed D-Link Gigabit Ethernet rackmount switches, connected to the Ethernet ports on a few patch panels using Category 6 patch cables (all equipment is installed in a standard 19-inch rack) 19-inch rackmount Ethernet switches and patch panels.jpg
A couple of managed D-Link Gigabit Ethernet rackmount switches, connected to the Ethernet ports on a few patch panels using Category 6 patch cables (all equipment is installed in a standard 19-inch rack)

Traffic monitoring

It is difficult to monitor traffic that is bridged using a switch because only the sending and receiving ports can see the traffic.

Methods that are specifically designed to allow a network analyst to monitor traffic include:

These monitoring features are rarely present on consumer-grade switches. Other monitoring methods include connecting a layer-1 hub or network tap between the monitored device and its switch port. [20]

See also

Notes

  1. In half duplex mode, each switch port can only either receive from or transmit to its connected device at a certain time. In full duplex mode, each switch port can simultaneously transmit and receive, assuming the connected device also supports full duplex mode. [5]

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References

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