Networking equipment can be confusing. There are lots of different terminology and abbreviations that can sometimes make you feel people are speaking a different language. One of the big problems people face is knowing the difference between a switch and a patch panel and which one you need for your network. Both these pieces of equipment look fairly similar and to an untrained eye can look to be doing the same job.
What is the difference between a patch panel and a switch?
Network switches are a piece of hardware that actively filters data and routes it to the intended recipients. They connect all your network devices together including your servers and PCs to allow for data sharing. If you have multiple input ports, it will channel the incoming data to your chosen output port to deliver the correct data to the correct destination.
Switches are much more technical and therefore more expensive than patch panels. They come in all different sizes depending on how much you need to connect to them and are also available at different speeds.
You can have either a managed or unmanaged switch. Unmanaged switches are essentially plug and play and do not require a lot of technical ability to be able to set up. For businesses that require more of a personalised set up the managed switch is probably your better option.
A patch panel is a passive device that does not actively route data. They make life easier when you have multiple connections to manage and are much more neat and tidy than having multiple wires going to your switch. They are effectively a cable management tool that keeps all your cables together and helps to protect them from any damage or accidental knocks. Patch panels come in all different shapes and sizes from small panels with a few extra ports for the home, to much larger panels with hundreds of ports designed for businesses.
By being able to keep all your cables in one place with a patch panel you will have little to no trouble in moving or changing something, it also means you do not need to take all the network down when you want to make any changes.
Does using a patch panel affect speed?
Because patch panels are effectively adding another layer to your networking solution some people may worry that it can slow down data. This is not the case, patch panels have been designed to complement your switch and help with your network management. You can have multiple patch panels set up from the same switch and you will not notice a reduction in speed.
What do I need from a switch and patch panel?
There are a lot of options when it comes to both switches and patch panels. It can be hard to figure out what you need from both items. You will need to do your research if you decide to purchase networking equipment without the guidance of a professional as switches especially are not cheap bits of kit.
You will need to know if the item is easy to use, if you are looking for a switch, is it a plug and play that doesn’t require any setup or is it a managed switch in which case you will probably require an engineer to help with IP routing and LAN or VLAN set up.
You will also need to check the compatibility with your current set-up for use and for speed. If you purchase a slower speed switch on a fast network, you will lose the speeds you are used to.
You will also need to consider growth. Are you planning to grow your business and therefore devices connected to your internet in the future? If so, then you will need to take this into consideration when you are buying patch panels so that you have enough space for your future plans.
Security is now more important than ever with hackers becoming more and more advanced in gaining access to networks. Switches often come with layers of security, but you may want to check what and how your data is protected and if you can change security settings if needed.
In summary, if you are looking at networking equipment for the home you probably do not need to worry about a switch at all. As a business, you will need to consider what you need from your network and its size and scalability. A patch panel cannot replace a switch and vice versa but they do work well together as part of your network solution.
If you need help or guidance with your networking equipment or set up, our team of specialist engineers will be more than happy to help