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What is a smart hub as opposed to one that is not (dumb hub)?

What is a smart hub as opposed to one that is not (dumb hub)?
Five to ten years ago, hubs were the preferred method interconnecting network devices such as PC's, routers, network printers and more. The enormous costs of switches back then prohibited most small size companies and home users to consider buying one.

Hubs on the other hand were a lot cheaper and priced more reasonable, making them the number one choice for most people.

Since the market for hubs was quite big, there were a few different types of hubs introduced, covering different market needs and giving the buyer a wider range of similar products to choose from, depending on what exactly he required.

The term "smart" and "dumb" hub, was born from the different features a hub supported, to help distinguish them from the rest.

I should note to you that the actual terms that exist to differentiate between hubs are:

  1. Passive hubs
  2. Active Hubs
  3. Smart Hubs.

The "dumb" hub term is still used today, but is also incorrect. When someone refers to a hub using this term, they usually mean an "active" hub.

Let's now take a look at these the different type of hubs:

Passive Hubs
These hubs are nothing more than point contacts for the wires that make up the physical network. An example of this would be a punchdown block that is a simple plastic, unpowered box used to plug network cables into it.

Active Hubs
Active hubs are a little smarter than the passive hubs we saw. All You might also come across the term "concentrators" which are basically active hubs, concentrating and strengthening a signal as it enters and exits the hub.

It's also worth noting that today's active hubs are advertised as "hubs" or "repeaters". It is very rare you will see a hub with the word "active" on it!

These hubs usually come in configurations of 4, 8, 16 and 24 ports, providing link and activity leds (lights) to show which devices are currently connected, powered on and transmitting or receiving data.

Lastly, you might be interested knowing that all Ethernet hubs are active hubs.

Smart or Intelligent Hubs
Smart hubs are similar to the previous Active ones we saw, but in addition contain some type of management software to help determine possible network problems and isolate them.

The management software loaded uses protocols such as SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) to communicate with various network devices and obtain real time statistics such as throughput, bandwidth, uptime, routing tables and more.

As one would expect, these features come at a price, making smart hubs a slightly less popular choice for most offices who simply want to connect a few workstations together.

Most of today's switches contain such software built into them, and not only! Some of the fancy models include Web servers, allowing the administrator to manage and configure the switch using his Web browser!

If you require more information on hubs, a simple search on Google.com will provide a wealth of information for you to read!

This was first published in October 2003

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