This document provides guidelines on best practices for selecting the
right quantity and size of managed network switches for particular
Application Guidelines: Frequently Asked Questions
How do network switches work?
In the early days of networking, wired Ethernet network devices were
interconnected through a device called a “hub”, where a
wired frame would come in on one port and be broadcast out to all other
ports. While relatively simple, this technology caused a lot of noise and
consumed a lot of excess capacity on wired networks, as all messages were
broadcast to all devices connected to a hub, regardless of their intended
With network switches, each switch port creates a point-to-point link with
the device it is connected to. The network switch maintains a database of
MAC addresses indicating what devices are connected on individual ports.
When a frame enters the switch on a particular port, the switch examines
the source MAC address and destination MAC address. The source MAC address
is used to update the database to indicate that the client is accessible
on that port. If the destination MAC address is already in the database as
being connected to a different switch port, the frame is only forwarded
out along the indicated port. If the destination MAC address is not in the
database, or if is a broadcast message (e.g. DHCP request), the packet is
sent out all other ports as is done in a hub.
What are the differences between unmanaged, smart, and managed network
An unmanaged switch maintains its database but is inaccessible via
any interface (e.g. web, CLI, SNMP, etc.). It is simply present on the
network to route frames to appropriate ports. Unmanaged switches are also
incapable of handling any type of advanced Layer 2 features, including
A managed switch has a full set of OSI Layer 2 features used for
managing the wired traffic on a network. It is addressable via an IP
address and can generally be accessed via both a web interface (e.g. http
or https) and a CLI (e.g. telnet or SSH). Managed switches are capable of
supporting a long list of industry- standard OSI Layer 2 features,
including but not limited to the following:
- Viewable dynamic MAC address table (i.e. the switch port database)
- Link Aggregation with Link Aggregation Control Protocol (LACP)
- Spanning Tree Protocol (STP)
- Access Control Lists (ACLs)
- Logging (local and remote)
- Port mirroring
- Cable and other diagnostics
A smart switch is a limited managed switch, which is typically less
expensive than a managed switch but also typically only supports a subset
of features found on a managed switch. Smart switches will typically only
have a web interface and support a limited set of VLANs. However,
unlike managed switches, there is no industry standard for the term
“smart switch”, and what constitutes a “smart
switch” can vary widely both between vendors and between different
switch models from the same vendor.
It is best
to use managed switches on the LAN side of a network. This
ensures that the full set of OSI Layer 2 features are available, and to
facilitate troubleshooting by enabling network devices can be monitored
and managed remotely. Unmanaged switches should generally be
Every model of network switch currently
manufactured and sold by EnGenius is a full managed switch with all
of the industry-standard OSI Layer 2 features available. For marketing
purposes only, EnGenius uses the term “smart switch” and
even “managed smart switch” for particular switch models so
as to competitively position them against other vendors.1
What are the differences between non-PoE, PoE, and PoE+?
A non-PoE switch is a switch that provides network connectivity
only, and does not supply DC power to connected devices. These switches
are suitable when there are a large number of non-powered network devices
on the network, such as PCs and laptops. Such switches are commonly
deployed in offices, as well as in hotels, student housing, assisted
living, and other multi-dwelling unit (MDU) environments where there is a
wired Ethernet wall jack in each unit.
Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) switches provide both DC power and data
connectivity over a single Ethernet wire. These are extremely useful for
connecting powered network devices to a network, as only one cable needs
to be run to the device, as opposed to separate cables for data and for
power. Per the IEEE standards, switches are able to detect whether a
connected device is powered or not, and will therefore only provide power
to devices that are not being powered by an alternate power connection.
When using managed Power-over-Ethernet switches, the connected device can
also be rebooted remotely by turning off and on the power on the Ethernet
port, which is very useful when doing network troubleshooting.
A PoE switch conforms to the IEEE 802.3af standard, which provides
48V up to 15.4 W per port. PoE (802.3af) is sufficient for powering older
generation access points (i.e. pre-802.11ac) and for most other powered
network devices, such as IP cameras, VoIP phones, access control locks,
1 The version 1 hardware of the EGS2108P, EGS2110P, and EGS5110P switches
had limited OSI Layer 2 capabilities, and had therefore been marketed
correctly as smart switches. The version 2 hardware of these switch
models, available as of January 2016, are full managed switches,
although are still marketed as “smart” switches.
The EWS1200 line of non-PoE switches are full managed switches, but
are marketed as “managed smart switches” to compete against
other vendor’s smart switches.
A PoE+ switch conforms to the IEEE 802.3at standard, which provides
48V up to 30 W per port. PoE+ (802.3at) is required for 802.11ac access
points because of the large number of radio chains required for MIMO and
It is best
practice to not fully load a PoE (802.3af) or PoE+ (802.3at) switch, to ensure
that the total power
budget of the switch is
not exceeded. EnGenius generally recommends a
“3/4 rule”, meaning that a network design should plan on
only using ¾ of the ports for powered network devices, as follows,
with remaining ports being reserved for non-powered network devices,
backhaul to other infrastructure (e.g. other switches or routers), or
- 8 port PoE/PoE+: Only 6 ports should be used for powered network devices
- 24 port PoE+: Only 18 ports should be used for powered network devices
- 48 port PoE+: Only 36 ports should be used for powered network devices
Most PoE and PoE+ switch models come with some non-PoE ports for backhaul,
consisting of either Ethernet ports and/or SFP ports (for mini-GBIC fiber
modules). On EnGenius switches, any standard third party SFP module (1
Gbps) can be used. For a detailed explanation of SFP modules, please read
the following blog:
For EnGenius switches, what is the difference between “EWS”
switches and “EGS” switches?
In terms of managed switch functionality, the corresponding EWS and EGS
switch models are identical.
The EnGenius Neutron™ line of managed access points all have
“EWS” in their model name. EWS switches contain an embedded
network controller that is capable of centrally managing and controlling
EWS access points on the same wired network. Each EWS switch is capable of
controlling up to 50 EWS access points that span the local wired network.
In the future, EWS switches shall also be remotely manageable from
ezMaster™, EnGenius’s cloud controller platform. Note that
the embedded controller in an EWS switch can be disabled when not in use,
and the EWS switch will continue to function as a normal managed switch.
How do you determine the number and size (port count) of switches needed
for a project?
The telecom wiring in a property is divided into “verticals”
and “horizontals”. The distinction is actually not about the
orientation of the cable run, but rather to distinguish backhaul cabling
used to interconnect switches in different telecom closets (verticals) vs.
cabling that connects a telecom closet to endpoints on the network, such
as wall jacks in units, access points, cameras, etc. (horizontals). This
terminology is based on a high-rise building, where each floor has a
telecom closet on each floor that are vertically stacked floor-to-floor,
with endpoints on each floor connected horizontally to the telecom closet
on that floor.
Every property must have one telecom closet which contains the Internet
bandwidth circuit from the provider and the router for the network. This
closet is referred to as the main distribution frame (MDF). For smaller
properties, there may only be the one telecom closet, and all endpoint
devices are “home run” from this closet to their desired
locations. (In such a scenario, there are no “verticals” but
there will be “horizontals”). As Ethernet
wiring has a distance limitation of 100 meters / 328 feet, it is usually
necessary and convenient for larger properties to establish additional
telecom closets, and have the endpoints connected to these intermediate
locations. These additional telecom closets are referred to as
intermediate distribution frames (IDFs). In a high-rise building, IDFs are
commonly stacked in the same location on each floor and are located either
on every floor or every third floor. Larger facilities will even have
multiple IDFs on the same floor. In multi-building environments, each
building usually has a telecom closet, so each building is an IDF. The
IDF(s) require some type of backhaul connection to the MDF, typically
using either Ethernet, fiber, or wireless point-to-(multi)point links.
Accordingly, the number and size of the network switches required
ultimately depends on the number of MDF and IDFs as well as the number of
“horizontals”, i.e. the number of powered network devices
and unpowered network devices connected into each telecom closet.
What is link aggregation?
Link aggregation is a feature available in managed switches to have
multiple physical ports act as a single virtual port with the aggregated
capacity of all of the physical ports. It is commonly deployed for
backhaul between the MDF and IDF(s) in networks requiring very high local
data capacity, such as when using storage area networks (SANs) or in
networks consisting of several surveillance IP cameras streaming data to a
network video recorder (NVR) or in the MDF. An example application is
shown in Figure 1. An aggregated link can also serve to provide redundancy
(at reduced capacity) in case one of the connections should be broken.
Figure 1: Example of Link Aggregation to connect a switch to a storage
area network (SAN).
On any EnGenius switch, a link aggregation group (LAG) can be established
under L2 Features Link Aggregation Port Trunking,
as shown in Figure 2. Up to eight link aggregation groups can be defined
on a particular switch, and are referred to as “trunk
groups” with port numbers t1 – t8. A physical port can be a
member of only one trunk group. The ports that make up a group need not be
sequential, though it is often convenient to use sequential ports from a
wiring perspective. There is also no limit as to how many physical ports
can be aggregated into a single group, until one physically runs out of
ports on the switch.
There are two modes defined for establishing a trunk group. In
“static” mode, the ports are always considered part of the
trunk group, and the switch will always load balance outbound traffic on
the trunk port across all of the physical ports. In “LACP”
mode, the switch uses Link Aggregation Control Protocol (LACP) to
periodically verify that each physical link is established end-to-end, so
LACP must be running on both sides of the link (i.e. both switches
connected via an aggregated link). It is best practice to use LACP mode to establish an aggregated link between two switches.
Figure 2: Setting up a link aggregation group on an EnGenius managed
What is spanning tree protocol (STP)?
As mentioned above, a switch maintains a database of MAC addresses and
ports. When there is a wiring loop in the network, there are multiple
physical paths between switches and endpoint devices, meaning that a
switch will see the same MAC address on multiple ports.2 This
generally causes a broadcast storm, where the same message for a device
will loop through the network repeatedly, eventually filling up the RAM on
the switch and causing the switch to slow down significantly or simply
Physical wiring loops in the network can often occur accidentally during a
service operation. Wiring loops are also often desirable from a redundancy
standpoint, to ensure that the loss of a single cable or switch in the
network does not take down everything downstream in the network.
Spanning tree protocol (STP) is a feature in managed switches that is
designed to detect network loops and block redundant paths. The simple
explanation of the protocol is that it calculates a cost function for each
path through the network and then only allows the least-cost path to
operate, discarding all incoming traffic on higher cost paths. Should the
least-cost path fail (e.g. a physical cable gets disconnected), the
algorithm immediately falls back to the next least-cost path.
This is shown in Figure 3.
The STP algorithm allows a priority number to be set for each switch in
the network (and even each port on a switch), where a smaller priority
number indicates a lower cost for that switch so that a desired path can
be established. For the algorithm to work, one switch must have the lowest
cost, and this switch is designated the “root bridge.” In
most network topologies, the root bridge should be the switch in the MDF
connected directly to the LAN port of the router. If the priorities are
not specified (i.e. all switches are left on their default priority values
of 32768), the STP algorithm will automatically designate the switch on
the network with the smallest numerical MAC address as the root bridge.
2 This is not an issue for aggregated links, as the switch is aggregating
the multiple physical links into a single virtual trunk port, and thus
only sees one connection.
Figure 3: Generic image of spanning tree blocking a loop in the
It is best
to have spanning tree protocol enabled on all networks. On any
EnGenius managed switch, rapid spanning tree protocol is enabled by
default. The priority of each switch can be set manually under L2 Feature
STP CIST Instance Settings, as shown in Figure
4. It is generally only necessary to change the default on the core
switch in the MDF. In networks consisting of several switches in a complex
tree topology, it can be desirable to lower the priorities on some of the
intermediate core switches.
Figure 4: Setting up spanning tree protocol (STP) on an EnGenius
EnGenius Switch Models by Application and Capabilities
The following table summarizes the EnGenius switch product line, based on
technology generation, MIMO capability. Switch models
shown in green are those commonly recommended for most applications.