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I keep hearing that a network should be managed. What's an unmanaged network and what makes it risky?

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  • Are you asking about a managed/unmanaged networking device, or a managed/unmanaged network? Commented May 24, 2015 at 16:04

5 Answers 5

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An unmanaged network is analogous to a car that has no gauges and you never have it serviced -- until it stops working. You don't know if it's going too fast, too slow, is about to run out of gas, etc. The fan belts could be frayed, your tires could be bald, or your brakes could be worn, but you wouldn't know until something bad happens.

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    So, an unmanaged switch has no LEDs, no admin login/no GUI, nothing? Commented May 24, 2015 at 16:02
  • Essentially yes. Maybe a link light.
    – Ron Trunk
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 16:04
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I am answering under the presumption that you are asking about the equipment and not a managed service (i.e. you are paying someone else to manage the network for you).

There are many reasons why managed network equipment is much better than unmanaged equipment.

This borders on being a question that is too broad, but in summary with unmanaged equipment you have no visibility or control.

Here are a couple of basic questions you can answer on a managed network equipment that cannot be answered with unmanaged equipment. Knowing the answers to these questions can allow you to address problems within the network.

  • Can you tell which network links are over (or under) utilized on your network? Can you collect this information over time for trending analysis?
  • Can you tell which interfaces are incrementing errors? What type of errors?

Access to logs and statistics can help you isolate a wide range of problems that you might otherwise be unaware of or faster in cases where you are aware of them. An example would be a switching loop. With managed network equipment, you can more quickly and easily identify which ports are involved based on the statistics. On unmanaged equipment, this is a process of trial and error while manually disconnecting cables, potentially creating further unnecessary disruptions.

As for control, managed network equipment typically give you many additional features to control your network. From the use of VLANs to features like port security and DHCP snooping, you can make your network more secure and resilient to potential problems.

You can also control the performance of the network with features such as QoS, policing and/or shaping.

I could keep citing examples, but hopefully this should be enough to illustrate the differenes.

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  • So a managed network sends network statistics to a central location? Or the managed hardware has an interface?
    – Qgenerator
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 17:10
  • Yes, yes, and yes. It can potentially send a number of different types of data to central locations such as syslog, SNMP traps, or netflow. But for statistics gathering, usually you will poll the network devices via SNMP to collect the data. In addition, a managed switch will normally have a web GUI and/or a CLI reachable over the network.
    – YLearn
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 19:54
  • So, an unmanaged switch has no LEDs, no admin login/no GUI, nothing? Commented May 24, 2015 at 16:03
  • I don't know of a network device that doesn't have LEDs, at least for link. Often the color of the LED can indicate basic information (link speed for example) and I have even seen a few unmanaged devices with LEDs that provide basic stats like utilization. However, they don't provide a CLI or GUI.
    – YLearn
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 16:44
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it would be useful for you to go through the Cisco Prime Infrastructure data sheet for instance. It discusses the 5 management groups (FCAPS) to understand what a typical management platform does. there are aspects if troubleshooting, capacity planning, dynamic performance management, security management, configuration etc.

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Broadcast storms will play tricks on your network and you will never know why. When users complain all they will get is a shrug of the shoulders.

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The term managed switch is entirely meaningless to a network professional yet conveys a type of value to an end user. Basically, it is a marketing term.

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  • You all have drunketh the Kool-aid. Commented May 24, 2015 at 16:09
  • Personally, I don't know many end users that know (or care) if the switch they connect to is managed or unmanaged. However, as a network professional, it makes a great deal of difference to me when someone wants to hire me to troubleshoot their network whether they have managed or unmanaged switches.
    – YLearn
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 21:54

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