Inquiry CartInquiry Cart
Home - blog

What Factors Should Be Considered When Choosing a Distribution Switch?

January 5, 2024

Understanding Distribution Switches


A distribution switch is an essential component of a network’s architecture, often overlooked but integral to the efficient function and management of the network. It serves as the communication bridge between the access layer and the core layer in a hierarchical network design, ensuring that data traffic flows smoothly and efficiently across the network.


What is a Distribution Switch and its Role in a Network?

A distribution switch, also known as a layer 3 switch, operates at both the network and the data link layers of the OSI model. It plays a pivotal role in managing and controlling data traffic between the network’s subnets and VLANs. Its primary functions include policy-based routing, packet filtering, and inter-VLAN routing, thus ensuring efficient data transmission and minimizing network congestion.


Comparison: Distribution Switch vs. Access Switch

Feature Distribution Switch Access Switch
Layer Operation Operates at layer 2 and 3 Operates at layer 2
Function Inter-VLAN routing, policy-based routing, packet filtering Connects end devices to the network
Complexity More complex due to advanced features Less complex due to limited capabilities

Importance of Distribution Layer in Network Hierarchy

The distribution layer is crucial in a network hierarchy as it forms the backbone for data transfer between different layers. It not only connects the access and core layers but also implements policies for network traffic control and manages packet handling, which significantly impacts the network’s performance and efficiency.


Considering Aggregation and Layer 3 Capabilities

When dealing with distribution switches, it’s essential to consider their aggregation and layer 3 capabilities. Aggregation refers to the process of combining multiple network connections in parallel to increase throughput beyond what a single connection could sustain, providing redundancy in case one of the links fails. Layer 3 capabilities, on the other hand, refer to the ability to route packets based on the IP addresses, which is vital for inter-VLAN communication and for breaking down larger networks into smaller, more manageable segments.


How to Choose the Right Distribution Layer Switch?

Choosing the right distribution layer switch involves considering several factors such as the size of your network, the throughput requirements, the need for redundancy, and the budget. It’s also essential to assess the switch’s ability to handle advanced features like policy-based routing and inter-VLAN routing. Ultimately, the right distribution switch should efficiently meet your network’s specific needs and enhance its performance.

10 Gigabit Core Switches
10 Gigabit Core Switches

Core Switch vs. Distribution Switch


In the realm of network design and architecture, understanding the roles and functions of core and distribution switches is crucial. These switches serve as the backbone of a hierarchical network design, ensuring that data traffic is efficiently managed and directed. While both have their unique roles in the network hierarchy, their functionalities, capabilities, and applications differ significantly, affecting the overall performance and efficiency of the network.


Distinguishing Core Switches and Distribution Switches

Core switches, also known as backbone switches, are high-capacity switches generally positioned within the backbone or physical core of a network. They are primarily responsible for fast and efficient transportation of large amounts of data across the network. Their key role is to provide an aggregation point for multiple distribution switches and ensure a seamless connection with servers, routers, and other major networking devices.


On the other hand, distribution switches serve as the communication link between the access layer and the core layer in a hierarchical network design. They handle policy-based routing, packet filtering, and inter-VLAN routing, managing data traffic between subnets and VLANs to ensure efficient data transmission and minimize network congestion.


Factors to Consider When Selecting Between Core and Distribution Switches

Selecting between core and distribution switches depends on several factors such as:


  • Network Size: Larger networks often need core switches to handle the high volume of data traffic.
  • Traffic Management: If your network requires advanced features like policy-based routing and inter-VLAN routing, a distribution switch may be more suitable.
  • Performance Requirements: Core switches are designed for speed and high capacity, while distribution switches focus more on providing intelligent services.
  • Cost: Core switches are typically more expensive than distribution switches due to their higher capacity and speed.

Layer 2 vs Layer 3 Functionalities in Network Switches

Layer 2 functionality in network switches involves switching and bridging operations, dealing with MAC addresses. On the other hand, Layer 3 functionality involves routing operations, dealing with IP addresses. While both core and distribution switches can operate at Layer 2, only distribution switches typically operate at Layer 3, offering inter-VLAN routing and other advanced features.


Supporting Link Aggregation and Collapsed Core Design

Both core and distribution switches can support link aggregation, which involves combining multiple network connections in parallel to increase throughput and provide redundancy. This feature is especially important in ensuring network reliability and efficiency.


In a collapsed core design, the core and distribution layers are combined into a single layer, simplifying the network architecture. This design is often used in smaller networks where a separate core layer is not necessary or cost-effective.


Understanding Traffic Flow from Access Devices to Core Switches

Understanding the traffic flow in a network is key to optimizing its performance. In a typical network hierarchy, data traffic flows from access devices (such as workstations and servers) to access switches. These switches then forward the traffic to distribution switches, which apply various policies and perform functions like packet filtering and inter-VLAN routing. The traffic is then directed to the core switches, which transport the data across the network at high speed. This hierarchical flow ensures efficient management and control of data traffic, minimizing congestion and maximizing network performance.

Industrial Switches
Industrial Switches

How do you choose the Right Distribution Switch?


Choosing the appropriate distribution switch is a crucial task in network design and management. The selection directly influences the efficiency, flexibility, and reliability of your network. A well-chosen distribution switch can significantly enhance data traffic control, improve network performance, and support the growing demands of your business. This article will guide you through the key considerations for selecting a distribution switch, the benefits of layer 3 distribution switches, and how to ensure that your network switches support the required functionalities.


Key Considerations for Selecting a Distribution Switch

Selecting a distribution switch requires careful evaluation of several factors. First, assess the size and complexity of your network. Larger, more complex networks may require switches with higher capacity and advanced features. Second, consider the throughput requirements of your network. If your network handles a large volume of data traffic, you’ll need a switch with high-speed data transmission capabilities. Third, evaluate the need for redundancy to maintain network availability in case of a switch failure. Lastly, keep in mind your budget constraints while ensuring that you do not compromise on essential features and capabilities.


Benefits of Layer 3 Distribution Switches

Layer 3 distribution switches, also known as multilayer switches, operate at both the network and data link layers of the OSI model. They offer several benefits over traditional layer 2 switches. These switches can perform routing tasks, manage IP traffic, and support policy-based interactions, leading to improved network performance. Layer 3 switches are also capable of inter-VLAN routing, which allows for better control and management of data traffic between different VLANs in your network.


Utilizing Access Control and Security Policies with Distribution Switches

Distribution switches also play a vital role in implementing access control and security policies within your network. They can be configured to control who has access to the network and what resources they can access. This ability to enforce policies helps protect your network from unauthorized access and potential security threats. Moreover, distribution switches can also support advanced security features such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) snooping and IP Source Guard, further enhancing your network’s security.


Scalability and Support for Multiple Access Switches

Scalability is another important factor to consider when selecting a distribution switch. As your business grows, so will your network. Therefore, it’s essential to choose a switch that can support multiple access switches and accommodate the increasing number of network devices. A scalable distribution switch allows for easy network expansion without significant disruptions or high costs.


Ensuring Network Switches Support the Required Functionalities

Finally, ensure that your chosen distribution switch supports the functionalities required by your network. This may include support for advanced features like Quality of Service (QoS), link aggregation, and multicast routing, among others. The switch should also be compatible with your existing network infrastructure and devices. By ensuring that your distribution switch meets these requirements, you can optimize your network’s performance and efficiency, thus maximizing the return on your investment.

Industrial Ethernet Switch
Industrial Ethernet Switch

Frequently Asked Questions


Q: What is a distribution switch in the context of a hierarchy Ethernet network?

A distribution switch forms a crucial part of a three-layer hierarchy Ethernet network. It is situated between the core and access layers, tasked with the key responsibility of aggregating data traffic from the access layer and directing it towards the core layer.

Q: What factors should be considered when choosing a distribution switch?

Considerations when selecting a distribution switch include the volume of traffic transitioning from the access layer to the core layer, support for layer 3 switching, and the comprehensive network design.

Q: How does a distribution switch differ from an access layer switch?

Distribution switches operate at a higher network hierarchy layer than access layer switches. They handle the gathering and routing of traffic from the access layer to the core layer.

Q: What is the role of a distribution switch compared to a core layer switch?

Distribution switches aggregate and route traffic from the access layer to the core, while core layer switches interconnect various distribution switches and provide high-speed connectivity.

Q: Should a distribution switch support layer 3 switching?

Absolutely, supporting layer 3 switching is vital for a distribution switch to effectively manage traffic routing within the network, especially when dealing with multiple VLANs and inter-subnet communication needs.

Q: What are the primary considerations when deploying a distribution switch in a collapsed core layer design?

In a collapsed core layer design, a distribution switch must be capable of processing high traffic volumes and seamlessly integrating with the core layer switch. Its role in routing network traffic is pivotal.

Q: How does a distribution switch stand out from a layer 2 switch?

A distribution switch differs from a layer 2 switch by offering layer 3 routing capabilities. It makes routing decisions based on IP addresses and subnets, while a layer 2 switch forwards based on MAC addresses.

Q: What is the significance of choosing distribution switches that support access control lists (ACLs)?

Opting for distribution switches that support access control lists (ACLs) boosts security and improves traffic management. It allows for the control and filtering of traffic based on pre-determined criteria at the network’s edge.

Q: How should distribution switches be selected to handle gigabit Ethernet traffic effectively?

The capacity to handle gigabit Ethernet traffic and support high-speed data transmission should guide the selection of distribution switches. This ensures seamless throughput and performance for network users.

Q: In what scenarios would a company opt for a distribution switch as opposed to an aggregation switch?

Companies generally prefer distribution switches in hierarchical network designs, where interconnecting multiple access switches and routing traffic to a core layer is crucial. Aggregation switches are more common in flatter network topologies with less defined hierarchy.



Here is a list of ten relevant and reliable sources that provide information about “What Factors Should Be Considered When Choosing a Distribution Switch?”


  1. Cisco: Understanding Layer 2, 3, and 4 Protocols (Link) This article from Cisco, a leading manufacturer of networking equipment, explains the different networking protocols and their roles in a network. It’s particularly useful for understanding the technical aspects of distribution switches.
  2. Network Computing: How to Choose the Right Network Switch (Link) This article provides a comprehensive guide on choosing the right network switch. It discusses key considerations such as port density, power over Ethernet capabilities, and stackability.
  3. TechTarget: How to Buy the Right Switch for Your Network (Link) TechTarget offers a detailed guide on choosing the right switch for your network. The article discusses factors such as performance requirements, total cost of ownership, and vendor support.
  4. IEEE Xplore: Performance Analysis of Distribution Switches in a Network (Link) This academic paper provides an in-depth performance analysis of distribution switches in a network. It’s valuable for understanding the technical performance metrics of distribution switches.
  5. Juniper Networks: Understanding Switching and Forwarding Modes (Link) Juniper Networks, another leading manufacturer of networking equipment, provides an informative article on switching and forwarding modes. It helps understand the different functionalities of distribution switches.
  6. Network World: Network Switches 101: The Different Types of Networking Switches and Where They’re Used (Link) This article provides a basic overview of the different types of network switches, including distribution switches, and their applications.
  7. Dell Technologies: Network Switching Explained (Link) Dell Technologies offers a simple explanation of network switching, which is crucial for understanding the role of distribution switches in a network.
  8. ScienceDirect: Network Switch (Link) This entry from ScienceDirect provides a scholarly perspective on network switches, with a focus on their technical aspects.
  9. Aruba Networks: Choosing the Right Switch for your Business (Link) This guide from Aruba Networks discusses the considerations for choosing the right switch for your business, including scalability, security, and cost.
  10. ZDNet: How to Choose a Switch for Your SMB (Link) ZDNet’s article provides practical advice on choosing a network switch for small to medium-sized businesses, discussing factors like budget, future-proofing, and ease of management.