Switches, routers and firewalls are all essential pieces of equipment needed to run and protect your network. While these components are often confused due to their similar appearance (metal boxes with physical ports and LED status lights) each one serves a specific function. Here is a closer look at the distinguishing features and capabilities of each network device.
What is a Switch?
Switches are intelligent, high-performance hubs. As data is sent back and forth through the switch, it records MAC addresses (unique identification number for network-enabled hardware) for each sender and recipient. In this process, the switch learns which device is connected to which port.
When a switch receives data on one port, it uses its address records to identify where traffic came from and to which device it should be forwarded. This ensures that information is only delivered to relevant computers rather than every device on the network. This is a necessary efficiency for larger networks where bandwidth is at a premium and it enhances the local network security.
What is a Router?
While switches and hubs transmit data within a single network, routers are used to route data between different networks. These devices are positioned at gateways where two networks connect. For example a router could connect your home’s LAN to your ISP’s (internet service provider) network. Routers are far more intelligent than switches and hubs. A typical router provides at least the following services:
- Several Ethernet ports
- A NAT or network address translator which takes the individual IP addresses for all devices on your internal network and translates them into a single public-facing IP address. This singular IP address is then used to connect to the greater Internet. When reply data packets arrive, the NAT translates the public-facing IP address into the device’s specific internal IP.
- DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) assigns a unique IP address to devices on your internal network. This unique address allows your device to connect with the Internet. IP addresses are only assigned for limited periods after which they are renewed or reassigned.
- DNS converts all domain names into IP addresses so that your router knows where to direct outgoing traffic.
What is a Firewall?
Unlike routers and switches, firewalls are network security appliances. While routers (without firewall capabilities) blindly pass traffic between two separate networks, firewalls monitor the traffic and helps block unauthorized traffic coming from the outside trying to get into your network.
A Next-Generation Firewall offers far improved security with in-line deep packet inspection, an intrusion prevention system, TLS/SSL encrypted traffic inspection, website filtering, QoS/bandwidth management, antivirus inspection and third-party identity management integration.
A firewall serves as a gatekeeper to your valuable computer network.
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Our network support experts can help you sort through the many types of routers, switches, and hubs so you can pick the best networking solution for your business. Contact us today to find out how we can help optimize your network infrastructure.