Choosing Layer 2 vs. Layer 3 Switches for Your Network Configuration

Ask the Engineer

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Jack Kauter Published: May 11, 2022

Jack Kauter and Park Place Technologies Network Engineer, Randall Greer, discuss a question from Abbotsford Police Department about whether to use layer 2 vs. layer 3 inter-switch links between the distribution and access layer switches of their network in this month’s Ask the Engineer.


Jack: Hi guys it’s time for another episode of Ask the Engineer. Joining me today is network engineer at Park Place, Randall Greer. Randall, how’s it going?

Randall: Fantastic!

Difference Between Layer 2 and Layer 3 Switch

Jack: That’s great to hear. Randall, today’s question was submitted by one of our viewers, Graham, from Abbotsford Police Department in Canada. Now Graham is in the process of redesigning his network from the ground up and is considering layer 2 versus layer 3 inter-switch links between the distribution and access layer switches.

Randall from your experience, what are you seeing for the most part for medium sized businesses today?

Randall: You know I’m seeing that it there… There’s two aspects to it. The first is, you know, who’s going to be deploying it, what… what their skill level is. And, then what are the actual features and uptimes that you’re looking for.

What Is a Layer 2 Switch?

If you’re looking for something that’s relatively easy to set up and you don’t mind a convergence that will take more than a few seconds, then doing layer two is a fine choice.

  • Easy to set up
  • Convergence takes several seconds

What Is a Layer 3 Switch?

However, if you need more advanced features like equal cost multi-pathing, advanced QOS or you want to faster convergence, which we can get around about 50 milliseconds, then layer three would be the way to go. The caveat there–that layer three is a bit more complex to manage.

  • Equal cost multi-pathing
  • 50 millisecond convergence
  • Complex to manage
  • Advanced QOS

How Experience Effects Layer 2 vs. Layer 3 Switching

Jack: You mentioned experience that well, how can you tell me… Can you tell me a bit more about how experience comes into play?

Randall: Yeah, the there… There is some complexity in managing a layer three network. You have to manage a routing protocol on top of it. Whereas on the layer two network, that’s by default going to be managed by some flavor of spanning tree depending on what vendor you go with. But by and large, if you’re doing layer two, it’s mostly plug and play unless you turn on some advanced features for optimization, but you can just plug it in and it’ll work. Whereas if you want to layer three network, you really got to plan it out and know what you’re doing with regard to IP addressing, what routing protocol to use and whether or not you’re going to use advanced features like VFP.

Jack: We’ve had some great insights and wonderful comparisons between layer two and layer three. Thanks for parting with your knowledge there, Randall, And Graham, who submitted the question. We hope that helps. If anyone has any follow up questions or something new to ask our engineers, you can do so by reaching directly out to us. In the meantime, we’ll see you next time on Ask the Engineer.

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About the Author

Jack Kauter,
As an Online Marketing and Analytics Manager, Jack is responsible for Digital Marketing initiatives with a primary focus on EMEA and APAC. His responsibilities extend to supporting the Sales team, orchestrating campaigns, generating leads and more.