How Much Do You Know About Virtual Stack and Physical Stack?

In recent years, stack has escalated and developed from a premium feature to a core element for a Gigabit Ethernet switch. As a stack switch, it is stacked on top of the other switch and allows you to manage multiple switches as an entirety. In addition, it is well established as a stable and standards-based connectivity technology to achieve efficient management of bandwidth-hungry applications. When it comes to the stack mode, there are virtual stack and physical stack. Different stack mode owns different characteristics accordingly. In this article we will explore the meaning of virtual stack vs physical stack and dig into their differences as well.

What Is Virtual Stack?

Virtual stack is a technology that provides centralized management for up to 10,000 switch ports. Unlike traditional physical stack, virtually stacked switches do not require a physical connection. It means that they can be in different physical locations and work with different switch models so as to simplify large scale and distributed environments. Take Cisco Meraki switch as an example, it is configured via the cloud without worrying about the geographical dispersion of switches, ensuring the management will not become a complicated task.

What Is Physical Stack?

Physical stack means that all the switches will be literally stacked in the same location by being interconnected with cables so that they could be managed wholly. Here we take FS S3900-24T4S 24-port stackable 10GbE switch as an example to illustrate the physical stack. S3900-24T4S comes with 1 console port, 24 Gigabit ports, and 4 10G uplinks. A single S3900-24T4S switch can provide 128Gbps switching capacity to your network. With physical stacking technology, 6 S3900-24T4S switches can be stacked as a whole system to boost your network to 768Gbps total capacity. What is more, operators can easily control all the stacked switches with the console port and add or remove a Gigabit switch without affecting the other switches in this stacking system.

Virtual Stack vs Physical Stack

For high performance and management convenience in a network, switches can be virtually or physically stacked together and managed as a single entity. Basically, virtual stack is just admin GUI and configuration which is considered as a single ‘thing’ to manage. While physical stack is a ‘true’ stack and has faster performance between switches due to a special stacking cable. However, for stacking traditional switches, there are expensive stacking modules, special cables and the limit of switches that you can manage through a single logical interface. This limitation makes the network management unnecessarily laborious and expensive. If switches can be grouped together into virtual stack by using tags, switches can be managed as a logical entity regardless of how physically dispersed those switches may be.


For this article, you may have a basic understanding about what is stacking and the two different stacking modes: virtual stack and physical stack. If you are looking for higher performance stack mode, the physical stack is your best choice. While if you care more about the cost and management convenience, the virtual stack will win this battle. Nowadays, more and more copper and fiber switch are endowed with stack ability. For high-quality stack switch with copper or fiber, FS is your choice.