Understanding Network Equipment: Routers vs. Modems vs. Switches

The most common types of networking equipment are routers, modems, and switches. This article will go through the difference between each, and how they can be incorporated into any environment. 

Many different types of network equipment exist to help ensure computer systems can communicate efficiently and without issues. Whether you are putting together a home network, or managing a major data center, it’s important to understand the role each piece of network equipment plays.

Modems vs Routers

modems, routers and switches

People often times confused modems and routers for one another because they sit next to each other in home environments. Modems and routers typically each have Ethernet ports as well, unless they are wireless. The fact is, however, they play two very distinct roles in a network. 

A modem is part of the data link layer (layer 2) and connects an internal network to the external Internet. This device essentially brings the Internet to a home network or facility’s network. Thus, modems can communicate across multiple networks. There are different types of modems based on the type of Internet service or network that it’s connected with. The old modems that made the high-pitched noises, for example, were specifically for connecting to telephone lines. There are also cable modems, fiber optic modems, and more. 

A router, on the other hand, is part of the network layer (layer 3) and passes data between various devices. Routers pass through internet brought from the Modem and use it to connect various devices across a specific network. Data that enters a router and is either sent through ethernet ports or WiFi to devices demanding data.Today, you will often find modems and routers in one physical device. 

To learn more about modems vs routers, you can check out this comprehensive guide on the main differences and how they both help you save money on your internet bill.

Do You Need a Modem and a Router?

Most data centers will need to have at least one router and one modem. Large scale facilities can have hundreds of routers, and multiple modems. You will also need a router in order to get a WiFi connection, which most businesses and homes have. 

The only time data centers don’t need a modem is if the network never has to exit to the Internet or another network through a different cable medium. Considering the internet’s importance today, this would almost never happen. Almost all telecommunications or IT facilities, big or small, need to access the Internet.

How do you connect a Modem and a Router?

Modems will connect directly to a router in a very straightforward manner: running a cable (most commonly an Ethernet cable) from the “Internet Out” port on the modem to the “Internet” or “Connection In” port on the router. 

In situations where the router and modem are integrated, this will already be hard-wired inside the device.  With this 2-in-1 device, all you have to do is plug-in a coaxial cable to an outlet in your home or business that provides internet. If you want devices to be directly connected, you will then need to run Ethernet cables to a switch or said devices.

Switches vs Routers

A switch is also part of the network layer (layer 3) and connects multiple devices together. To best understand what a switch is, simply consider a power strip. A power strip is a piece of equipment with multiple outlets for devices to plug into in order to use electricity. A switch is very similar, except in this case, instead of providing power, it provides outlets for a network.

In most data center environments, a switch will have dozens of individual devices connected to it. These devices could be computers, printers, phones, servers, or other equipment. The switch then connects to one or more routers so that all of the devices can either communicate with each other through the switch or get sent-out through the router to another part of the network. 

Since switches are the most uncommon networking products on this list, watch this video to make a bit more sense of them:

Modems vs Switches

Modems and switches share the lest common ground of the three pieces of networking equipment. Rarely do these products connect to each other, or communicate directly. In almost all cases, they will have a router in between them.

When the router and modem are integrated into one device, the switch can connect directly to it. Even then, however, the traffic goes through the router portion before being sent to the internal modem. Traffic from a switch will only need to go to the modem when it comes out of your network. While both modems and switches are very common network devices, they are much less intertwined than a modem and a router. 

How to Rack Mount Network Equipment

Small Server Enclosure
Small server enclosure for home or business networking

Whether you use modems, routers, switches, or a combination of all of these items, it is important to ensure they are installed properly and kept safe. In most situations, the best way to do this is to mount them in a server rack.

Most commercial network equipment is designed so that rails can be mounted on the sides, which allows them to slide right into a standard server rack. It is also possible to mount this equipment directly into the rack using standard mounting screws or rack shelves.

Depending on the size and layout of your data center, it is typically best to place internal network equipment (routers and switches) close to the equipment it connects. This allows you to use shorter network cables, and also makes installation and troubleshooting easier. Of course, there are many times when these items are used to connect devices that are very far apart, in which case having them centrally located makes sense. No matter where you mount your network equipment, it will help ensure your company network can communicate effectively and reliably.

Networking Equipment: Routers vs. Modems vs. Switches - RackSolutions
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Networking Equipment: Routers vs. Modems vs. Switches - RackSolutions
Routers, modems and switches are essential components to home and business networking equipment. Here, we compare the differences in these components.
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