Patch Panel vs. Switch

While electronic wizzes are familiar with the peculiar components and elements that comprise a myriad of electrical assemblies, there are still some parts that are often conflated. Patch panels and switches are one example of components that are confused for one another, though they are entirely different elements with respective roles. With this in mind, we will provide a brief overview of patch panels and switches, their roles, and how they work.

One of the major differences between a patch panel and a switch is the work being done by both. A patch panel, often called a fiber optic patch panel or fiber optic enclosure, is a unit of network ports situated together in a single assembly. It is often used to organize fiber cables and is tasked with maintaining everything in a clean wiring closet.

In data centers where there is a plethora of cables, units, wires, and connections being made, patch panels help keep these components in order. Beyond making management easy, patch panels also protect the terminations from being blocked or obstructed. You may also find cable ties and labels affixed to these devices, making identification easy and maintaining everything in place.

Sometimes called “patch bays,” “patch fields,” or “jacket fields,” patch panels vary in size, allowing for their use in both compact and large applications. There are two kinds of patch panels in most data centers: Ethernet patch panels and fiber optic patch panels, each varying in design, methods, and configurations. As such, they provide increased flexibility and prevent the entanglement of cables that are sometimes impossible to break down. Additionally, if something needs to be changed on the panel, you will likely not lose connectivity in the process. More than that, by centralizing all your cables in one place, network administrators have an easier time making adjustments.

Switches, on the other hand, are responsible for completing a myriad of tasks, surpassing the organizational role patch panels have. Commonly referred to as a “network switch,” a switch is an appliance in a data center that connects PCs, servers, and other related devices as a whole to achieve intercommunication and data sharing between different network devices. Moreover, it channels incoming data from multiple input ports to a particular output port in order to deliver data to a desired destination.

Switches are incredible devices that route data where it needs to go on Ethernet, fiber, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), and InfiniBand, though Ethernet is the most common. Switches work by being connected to a device with a particular “MAC” or media access control address. The MAC address is a code in a network interface card (NIC) that is used to identify where the information is sourced from and where it needs to go. Keep in mind that only devices connected to the switch can use this service.

There are many different switches, each varying in size and speed. However, the most common are either a four- or eight-port switch. The first type is an unmanaged switch, often called a “plug and play,” which has easy-to-navigate default settings. Next, manager switches are another type which support simple network management protocol (SNMP) agents, allowing IT experts to easily troubleshoot any problems. Additionally, manager switches support virtual LANs, IP routing, and quality of service settings. Lastly, smart switches are the most technological of the three and lack CLIs, and they do not support telnet access.

It is important to note that patch panels and switches can work together for many applications and are often found alongside one another, but cannot work in the place of one another. When deciding which one you need, you should look at the functionality of each. This can be especially important for individuals who want to keep their information and data safe.

If you find yourself in need of patch panels, switches, or other related components, rely on Just Connectors. Just Connectors is a premier supplier of electrical connector parts, IT hardware, and more, providing customers access to an inventory of over 2 billion new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find parts. Browse our ever-expanding catalogs at your leisure, and we invite you to take advantage of our Instant RFQ service for your benefit. By filling out and submitting an RFQ form, you will be provided with a sourcing solution that best meets your needs in as little as 15 minutes.


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