Unmanaged Vs. Managed Ethernet Switches for Today’s Modern Warfare Applications

In today’s modern warfare where survivability and mission success is dependent on data acquisition, analysis and instruction, a growing number of Ethernet-based devices supporting these missions must be connected to the central mission computer, and often to each other. Ethernet switches are needed throughout the military infrastructure as a common means of making such connections. We often get the question from customers on whether they need a managed switch or an unmanaged switch. So, today, we’re going to talk about the basic capabilities of each.

Unmanaged switches are simple connectivity devices that provide no configuration interface, network management or control over data flow. They are generally used for networks in which data prioritization is not a concern and the overall data traffic and number of connected devices are low These switches are plug-and-play and are well suited for smaller or less complex applications such as dismounted soldier or SUAS where devices just need to be able to communicate with each other. Unmanaged switches cannot be configured locally or remotely according to the requirements of a network. Unmanaged switches often come with LED indicators to help you verify that there is connectivity between the port and the Ethernet cable. But that’s it. Functional yet simple.

Today’s managed Ethernet switches provide key features to support today’s applications; primary among these are quality of service, VLANs, spanning tree, and port mirroring. Each application that uses an Ethernet network has inherent requirements for its proper operation.

As examples, digitized audio (voice over IP – VoIP) connections require very little bandwidth, but are sensitive to delay – called latency– and to the variation in delay, called jitter. Video connections are likewise sensitive to latency and jitter and can use significant bandwidth. Managed switches can help ensure that the VOIP or video packets have the low latency and jitter they require by implementing quality of service (QoS). QoS is also known as traffic prioritization and is used to identify important traffic on the network and give it right of way.   In addition, managed switches provide the ability to monitor each device on the network as well as limit the amount of bandwidth any device can use.

Another widely used feature of a managed switch is called virtual local area network, commonly referred to as VLAN.  When implementing VLANs on a managed switch you are, in essence, creating logically separated individual switches on the same switch hardware. That means that devices on one VLAN cannot communicate with devices on another VLAN, without the use of a router.  This is ideal for segregating or isolating networks such as Red and Black or isolating which users on a network have access to which devices.  Along with restricting traffic, VLANs can also be used for to identify data types and apply proper QoS settings for each of them. Managed switches are remotely programmable via Web or command line to allow pre- and dynamic configuration. Multiple switches are used to provide redundancy and to eliminate the possibility of a single point of network failure. The switches are interconnected so that the failure of a switch or link between switches can be automatically rerouted. Switches use spanning tree and other algorithms to implement redundant paths and sometimes balance network traffic.

So if your network is restricted to a few devices and there is no need for prioritizing traffic so it can flow unimpeded, an unmanaged switch would be the ideal choice. On the other hand, a managed switch would be ideally suited for networked devices where certain devices or traffic need to have priority over network bandwidth, be on virtual LANs and bandwidth usage must be monitored.

For MIL-SPEC environments, Techaya has a complete line of both managed and unmanaged, compact and ultra-compact Ethernet switches. Techaya’s rugged, small, light, power-efficient switches are built from the ground-up for the harsh environments of today’s modern warfare applications. Some of our unmanaged switches include:


And our complete line of managed switches include: