Network Cabling Advice
Issues with Multiple Switches
We don’t recommend adding small network switches in lieu of running new data cable. These switches will destabilize networks, leading to failures and productivity loss. They also increase cybersecurity risks. (The rationale for installing extra switches is to use their data ports as an alternative to running additional cabling.)
During site visits, we often discover multiple switches (each with four, five or eight ports) placed in offices or warehouses because cable installation seemed difficult, time consuming or expensive. These switches are placed on the floor, office shelving or near a wall with a patch cord connecting the switch’s port to a nearby data jack. These switches created “network hops” or barriers within the network design. Eventually your IT teams or contractors will spend more time troubleshooting the resulting network issues, IP-address conflicts and other problems.
How Switches Work
A network switch receives data packets before forwarding them to the correct endpoint. When data goes through a switch, it’s written to a buffer and examined to determine the packet’s exit port. If the switch doesn’t know where the data should go, it creates a broadcast message to make that determination. Extra network switches will cause too many of these broadcasts to occur. The result is poor network communication, like struggling to hear conversations during a loud concert.
To prevent such bottlenecks, connect the network server to a core switch. From there connect to your endpoints. For large enterprises, the best practice is connecting the server to a core switch; the core switch is then connected to a limited number of edge switches (also called access modes or service modes), which connect to end users. Our recommendation: no more than two network switches between the end user (PC device) and the network server. The best practice is running additional data cabling from the core switch to these work areas.
Labor represents the bulk of data-cabling costs. By including cabling early in the construction schedule for your building project, you manage labor more effectively. Plus, you get a reliable network reflecting an intelligent design relative to your building’s layout, etc. When construction is over, your employees will depend on the building’s voice and data networks year after year. This makes cabling equally important with painting, drywall and other trades. We want to be scheduled from the get-go with all trades. This ensures you get the best designed network without cost overruns.
Let’s say new flooring is underway and our crews arrive to install cabling above the ceiling. Our team may not have permission to be on newly installed floors. Or, it’s impossible to be on ladders while flooring is underway. They may have to return 24-hours later to do the cabling. Another consideration is the location of your data center or closet within a new building. Ideally, they should be installed in areas that afford shorter cable runs to end users. If we become involved midway through construction (or some later phase), we could be forced to install them at locations that don’t make sense in terms of cost savings, network performance or efficiencies.
Inexpensive, Nonbrand Product
They may look similar from the exterior covering, but not all network cabling is equal in terms of what’s happening inside. The same goes for jacks, connectors and other components. Low-quality cabling or networking products can jeopardize reliability. In fact, only one bad cable or connector can spark a crash. And consider that a single crash may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, in terms of loss revenue, the importance of quality product becomes obvious.
For example, you select an inexpensive connector to keep costs down. Yet it corrodes in a few short years because its made with insufficient gold plating. It becomes useless and a liability to your network, especially if several were installed. We recommend using cabling and connector equipment made — and lab-tested — by the same manufacturer. You get performance, engineering qualities, warranties and some peace of mind.
We’re partners with best-in-class manufacturers, including:
Cable for Future Needs
Perhaps your organization has provisioned 100 Mbps (megabits per second) network connections to the desktop for now, even though 1 Gbps (gigabits per second) capability has become standard. However, if your organization is planning a new location, will you rely on yesterday’s cabling capacity or install product whose bandwidth fulfills present and future needs? Consider reasonably high-end cable for new installations. You can lower costs while supporting network performance and ROI. Refer to Category Cabling in our Glossary of Terms page to compare bandwidth capacities.
Why Patch Panels?
A standard patch panel is a device used for data-cable terminations and administration. This device has patch jack-ports to which data cables are terminated. Patch cables connect to the front of the jack ports, dressed and then connect to network switch ports. The patch panel’s jack ports typically feature 12-, 24- or 48- port patch panels.
Why use a patch panel? Data cables manufactured with solid copper wires are designed to be stationary, even during trouble shooting and/or relocations. On the other hand, patch cords are manufactured with stranded cable, which is layered strands of copper designed for moving the patch cords around during troubleshooting and frequent relocations.
Research has led to the current design called the flex patch panel. Flex means that it offers the most flexibility and is the least expensive because the plastic panel structure is open, allowing data-cable jack ports, fiber-optic ports, coaxial ports, speaker-wire ports, intrusion-alarm ports, etc. Patch panels incorporated with patch cords are far easier to service, administer and test cabling infrastructure. A patch panel is the standard; it enables better organization and management of the entire network.
Rather than using a patch panel, some organizations working with small data network applications will attempt to save money and terminate RJ-45 modular plugs to data cable’s ends and connect the cables directly to ports on network switches. What is incorrect with this? Mainly, the data cables’ solid copper construction limits movement. Trouble shooting and relocations will cause the solid copper to break inside the cable’s jacket. Your network may experience intermittent and/or full outages due to broken copper pairs.
Voice vs. Data Cabling
Twisted pair cabling (known as copper cabling) used to be expensive. Therefore, companies were selective in using the different types of twisted pairs, relative to either voice or data applications. Since voice required only single pair, this less-expensive type was deployed, while data enjoyed the bulk of the budget.
However, with Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone systems becoming the norm, the installation of any telephone-only cable no longer makes sense. This cabling will become abandoned before return on investment is realized. If it’s not possible to run new or multiple cables, you can still use an existing data cable for the right VoIP equipment. Use the device’s built-in ethernet switch to make this possible, but only if this alternative becomes necessary.
Use a Qualified Contractor
Why use a qualified cabling contractor like Advanced Global Communications? The risks are simply too great for any organization devoted to safety, performance and professionalism. You potentially risk of injury (leading to death or major injury from falling off a ladder), legal ramifications and telling the world your culture reflects carelessness.
Qualified contractors understand local codes and ordinances pertaining to which type of cabling is supposed to go where. In most cases, installing PVC-jacketed cabling in a building’s ‘return’ air-handling spaces, known as plenum air, is prohibited. When burned or exposed to extreme heat, PVC emits toxins and harmful particulates. This poisonous mix is dangerous to anyone nearby or those responding to an emergency. Compliance failures could mean severe fines, reputational damage or ripping out existing cabling for replacement with compliant lines. Better to have peace of mind by calling a qualified contractor.
* Sources: 2020 interviews with Advanced Global Communications internal staff, BICSI’s Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual, 11th edition. Fluke Networks blog, 101 Series: Stranded vs Solid Patch Cords, Aug. 21, 2019.