Distribution Switch vs Access Switch

It has been known to us that a hierarchical internetworking model contains core layer, distribution layer and access layer. In this hierarchical model, network switch is accordingly implemented in different network layer. A core switch, also known as a tandem switch, is a high-capacity device generally located within the backbone or physical core of a network. It serves as the gateway to a wide area network (WAN) or Internet so as to provide the final aggregation point for the network. Therefore, a backbone core layer switch is usually a fiber switch for advanced optical connection. Then what are the distribution switch and access switch? Given its function, what are their difference? This article may help you to cue in on the in-depth understanding of distribution vs access switch.

hierarchical internetworking model for distribution switch vs access Switch vs core switch

Figure: hierarchical internetworking model – core layer, distribution layer and access layer

Distribution Switch vs Access Switch: What Are They?

Distribution switch and access switch perform their respective duties in each hierarchy and work in accordance with relevant principles.

  • Distribution Switch

A distribution switch is a distribution layer switch which plays an important role of bridge and link between the core layer switch and the access layer switch. This is also the reason why a distribution switch is called an aggregation switch. In addition, distribution switch ensures the packets are properly routed between subnets and VLANs in enterprise. This layer switch is also called the workgroup layer switch.

  • Access Switch

In hierarchical internetworking model, the access layer is the lowest level and most fundamental layer in all these three layers. An access layer switch is usually a Layer 2 switch and facilitates the connection of end node devices to the network. In generally, it is not a high-powered switch when compared with those at the distribution layer.

Distribution Switch vs Access Switch

In terms of functions, distribution switch normally owns certain functions that the access switch also has. And distribution switch usually supports higher performance and is mainly responsible for routing and policy-based network connectivity, including:

Packet Filtering: It processes packets and manages the transmission of packets based on its source and destination information to create network borders.

QoS: Distribution switch can read packets and prioritize delivery based on the policies that users set.

Application Gateways: This function creates protocol gateways to and from different network architectures.

An access switch allows users to connect to the network. On this account, access switch is normally endowed with the supportable features of port security, VLANs, Fast Ethernet/Gigabit Ethernet and etc.

Port Security: It is the ability that the access switch can decide how many or what specific devices are allowed to connect to the access switch. It is a first line of defense for a network.

VLANs: It is an essential component for a converged network. Access layer switches allow users to set the VLANs for the end node devices on network.

Fast Ethernet/Gigabit Ethernet: According to the performance requirements of your network, there are Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet switch ports for an access switch. Fast Ethernet permits up to 100Mbps of traffic per switch port. And it is adequate for data traffic on most business.


To sum up, the access switch provides connecting devices the access to the network. It is the basic device in the access layer. The distribution switch acts as an aggregation point for all the access layer switches and supports more high-end features. They are interrelated and different from each other in the aspects of hierarchy and function. Now 10GbE switch has become a favorite in current data centers distribution and access layers. If you are looking for 10GbE access switch or 10GbE distribution switch, FS is a good choice.

Related articles:

How to Choose the Right Distribution Switch?

How to Choose the Right Access Layer Switch?