by September 5, 2008 0 comments

Which is that one element of your IT infrastructure which you don’t upgrade
for years? Did we say any prizes for guessing? Yes, it’s your structured
cabling. This is one of the IT Infrastructure components with the longest life.
However, with so many new standards and technologies coming up, we expect the
situation to change unless you make your cabling future proof. In this buying
guide we try and help you plan it.

For Datacenters
For a data center you shouldn’t think below 10G but plan such a way that you
can upgrade to 100G smoothly whenever required and available. The reason for
doing this is pretty simple. Today, in a data center there are essentially three
different key areas where we see structured cabling: backplane, server to server
connectivity and storage area connectivity. And all these three interconnects
require faster data transfer than what a client can demand; so that they can
handle requests from multiple clients (which is what servers are supposed to

Today a client can demand up to 1Gbps of transfer, and the main stream
network connection speed is 1Gbps in the industry. However, that doesn’t resolve
the confusion. When we talk about 10G networks we have two contenders for it:
10G Ethernet over Copper and 10G Fiber Optic.

10G: Copper Vs Fiber
This is like an endless war. Sometimes, we see copper winning over fiber due
to cost benefits and sometimes we see fiber gaining the upper hand due to its
efficiency. To be frank, there is no single answer to decide this battle, which
is good for today’s data centers.

But yes, what we can clearly say is that fiber is going to be the winner in
future because of the plethora of benefits it offers over copper. Given below
are some key benefits of fiber over copper:

  1. Immunity from electrical disturbance and lighting. This is because neither
    light nor glass reacts with electricity.
  2. Safer, because it’s more difficult to tap a Fiber optic line than copper.
  3. Cheaper for larger deployments, as it requires lesser numbers of
    amplifiers as compared to copper. A fiber optic wire can transmit data only
    upto 85 KM without losing it.
  4. They are lighter and thinner than copper, hence easier to manage.
  5. They are also highly upgradeable because today we use fractions of
    bandwidth available in fiber optic cables.

After reading all this, you would be wondering, why people even use copper.
These are transition days for the cabling industry, so copper still offers value
for money. Let’s take a look:

  1. It’s backward compatible. The key reason for people still using copper is
    that they can just throw all their old hardware (servers, workstations,
    switches, routers, etc) just because these devices don’t support fiber. And
    that’s why it becomes a major investment for an enterprise to migrate
    completely from copper to fiber.
  2. The fiber optic devices (switches, network cards, etc) are still pretty
    expensive and it doesn’t make sense for an enterprise to go for fiber optic
    unless and until they need that level of reliability and bandwidth.

So, what’s the final verdict? Well if you are in the process of building a
new data center, then you must your back plane should be made of fiber optics.
If you are going to buy all new hardware equipment for your data center, then
also it’s an opportunity for you to migrate to fiber optics. Go with all fiber
optics supported devices and have a full fiber optics structured cabling done.
This will save you a lot in the long run.

But, if you already have a data center in place and are planning to upgrade
its backplane or overall bandwidth, then you might think of just upgrading the
backplane to fiber optics, and continue to use upgraded copper cabling in your
data center. This will ensure that your existing devices without fiber optics
support do not become obsolete. And the good news for you is that copper is not
going to die very soon, a lot of effort is going into extending the performance
of copper by as much as possible. In the next five years we expect to see 100 G

Unified Cabling
Usually, the tendency in the industry is to have separate structured cabling
for different types of networks. We generally try to have a separate network
(mostly FO) for our storage networks, an Ethernet 10G network for server to
server connectivity and a separate network for Real time protocols which are
used for communication (Audio and Video) over IP.

Structured Cabling Standard
  • Cat 1: Currently unrecognized by
    TIA/EIA. Previously used for POTS telephone communications, ISDN and
    doorbell wiring.
  • Cat 2: Currently unrecognized by
    TIA/EIA. Previously was frequently used on 4 Mbit/s token ring networks.
  • Cat 3: Currently defined in TIA/EIA-568-B,
    used for data networks using frequencies up to 16 MHz. Historically
    popular for 10 Mbit/s Ethernet networks.
  • Cat 4: Currently unrecognized by
    TIA/EIA. Provided performance up to 20 MHz, and was frequently used on 16
    Mbit/s token ring networks.
  • Cat 5: Currently unrecognized by
    TIA/EIA. Provided performance of up to 100 MHz, and was frequently used on
    100 Mbit/s Ethernet networks. May be unsuitable for 1000BASE-T Gigabit
  • Cat 5e: Currently defined in TIA/EIA-568-B.
    Provides performance of up to 100 MHz, and is frequently used for both 100
    Mbit/s and Gigabit Ethernet networks.
  • Cat 6: Currently defined in TIA/EIA-568-B.
    Provides performance of up to 250 MHz, more than double Category 5 and 5e.
  • Cat 6a: Currently defined in ANSI/TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10.
    Provides performance of up to 500 MHz, double that of category 6. Suitable
    for 10GBase-T.
  • Cat 7: An informal name applied to
    ISO/IEC 11801 Class F cabling. This standard specifies four
    individually-shielded pairs (STP) inside an overall shield. Designed for
    transmission at frequencies up to 600 MHz.

This might be good for getting better performance, but is not at all good for
your pocket. And that’s why the industry is talking about migrating to an
infrastructure which has single cabling architecture running throughout the
entire building. The approach is actually pretty simple. While constructing the
entire building, you go with the best possible cable selection. Let’s say Cat
6A. To achieve speeds from 10Mbps to 10Gbps is in your hand. All you need to do
is deploy the right device at the end and you get the required speed for that
device. For the converging communication mediums, which use real time protocols,
you can get smart switching devices which are available from all the renowned
network device vendors and which can differentiate between normal packets and
RTP packets, and can set the priority based on it. This makes communications

For your network
You might think that why any standard production network would require 10G
or for that matter even a 1Gbps network. Ya, you are right, today the standard
applications which we use across the enterprise wide LAN is something which can
be easily handled by 100Mbps or at max by 1Gbps networks, and if you have
converged all your communication channels to the same network, such as Voice,
Video, etc, then you might opt for a Gbps network.

It may look perfectly fine, but what about the future? The demands on
networks are growing everyday. People are focusing towards desktop
virtualization, high definition communication, convergence of communication
channels, and sharing rich multimedia content over the network. Such
applications are true bandwidth hoggers in your LAN, outside the data center,
and it requires more bandwidth than a 100 Mbps network can provide. And you
never know what development would happen there and where the consumption levels
would reach. So, it’s better to be ready for the future.

To make things clear, I’ll give you an example. In our office, built around 8
years back, we used to have a mix of 10 Mbs and 100 Mbps networks, and such an
arrangement fulfilled the needs of the organization very well. But a couple of
years back we realized that bandwidth was short for certain applications and we
need to upgrade it to a mix of 1 Gbps and 100 Mbps networks.
What saved us a lot of hassles at the time of upgrade was that the team which
planned the structured cabling at that time was wise enough to deploy Cat5e
across the building instead of the regular Cat 3 cable that could only support
10 Mbps bandwidth.

At that time nobody had ever imagined that 1Gbs could be required for a
regular production network but today this is for real. As the planning was done
correctly, we saved a huge amount of time, downtime and even money. The point
which I make here is that while planning your cabling requirements, no matter
whether you plan an upgrade or a new deployment, please try to visualize your
needs over a long period of time and get cables with the maximum possible
bandwidth. So, if you are planning for a deployment for your production network,
think about and evaluate Cat 6A and not Cat 5e.

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