Three criteria for choosing unmanaged Ethernet switches

Ensure all devices and Ethernet nodes in a system are connected so operators receive the critical data they need to maintain operations.

By Control Engineering Europe January 4, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

Ensuring all devices and Ethernet nodes in a system are connected so operators receive the critical data they need to maintain operations is a tricky task. One solution is to deploy more managed Ethernet switches, which would allow users to manage network transmissions and set related parameters according to needs. Although managed Ethernet switches offer greater control and granularity, maintaining multiple managed switches takes a lot of time and effort.

Further, increasing the number of manageable network nodes may increase configuration and maintenance efforts, so careful network planning and design are essential so that networks are not outgrown too quickly. Alternatively, using unmanaged switches at some network nodes may also improve overall network efficiency and reduce maintenance efforts.

Three criteria for choosing unmanaged Ethernet switches

Industrial operators often regard unmanaged Ethernet switches as simply network hubs for connecting field data to IP networks. When industrial operations are up and running, operators may even forget that they have unmanaged Ethernet switches on their networks. However, when more and more devices are connected to generate business insights, industrial operators may become overwhelmed by unexpected network instability. To satisfy increasing complex network requirements, unmanaged Ethernet switches need additional features. Here are some key criteria to help users choose which unmanaged switches best suit Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications.

1. Plan for expansion: The basic requirement for ensuring a network can support a growing number of connected devices is to use unmanaged switches that have a sufficient number of ports and enough bandwidth for high volumes of data. Unmanaged switches are usually installed in space-limited cabinets so using a compact yet high port density solution can also save trouble on future expansion. Another consideration is network speed and transmission distance. Today, there are various types of data, such as video streaming, that use a lot of bandwidth and affect overall transmission speed. Unmanaged switches with Gigabit ports or fibre ports can ensure sufficient network speed for data uplinks, now and in the future.

2. Prioritize packets at each node: Quality of Service (QoS) is a common function used to ensure that critical data is always sent with high priority. Without QoS, critical data may be delayed during transmission if the network is congested. QoS is usually supported by managed switches or certain controlling equipment, such as PLC devices, but is rarely seen on unmanaged switches. With growing demand on network nodes to transmit multiple data types from field sites, it seems reasonable to also have this function on unmanaged switches to ensure that critical data can be transmitted in time without spending extra effort and money to deploy managed switches at every node.

When choosing unmanaged switches, check if they have QoS or similar functions that can prioritize critical data control so that  networks can be kept simple and avoiding the need to spend too much time and effort on operating managed switches with unnecessary functions.

3. Verify reliability for any environment: Choosing unmanaged switches that have industry certifications for a specific application requirements is the simplest way to verify reliability. However, not all industrial applications require certifications. Nonetheless, two commonly seen environmental conditions should be considered – extreme temperatures and high electromagnetic interference. Unmanaged switches featuring wide operating temperature and redundant power inputs can ensure network operation stays up and running under harsh conditions. In the event of an emergency, such as a power or port failure during operation, the unmanaged switches should also be able to send alerts to operators so that they can respond immediately.

Using the three aforementioned criteria to evaluate the options can help users find the right unmanaged switches for an industrial application.

– This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe’s website. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

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