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Black Box Explains... GBICs

A Gigabit Interface Converter (GBIC) is a transceiver that converts digital electrical currents to optical signals and back again. GBICs support speeds of 1 Gbps or more and are typically... more/see it nowused as an interface between a high-speed Ethernet or ATM switch and a fiber backbone. GBICs are hot-swappable, so switches don’t need to be powered down for their installation. collapse


Black Box Explains...DIN rails.

A DIN rail is an industry-standard metal rail, usually installed inside an electrical enclosure, which serves as a mount for small electrical devices specially designed for use with DIN rails.... more/see it nowThese devices snap right onto the rails, sometimes requiring a set screw, and are then wired together.

Many different devices are available for mounting on DIN rails: terminal blocks, interface converters, media converter switches, repeaters, surge protectors, PLCs, fuses, or power supplies, just to name a few.

DIN rails are a space-saving way to accommodate components. And because DIN rail devices are so easy to install, replace, maintain, and inspect, this is an exceptionally convenient system that has become very popular in recent years.

A standard DIN rail is 35-mm wide with raised-lip edges, its dimensions outlined by the Deutsche Institut für Normung, a German standardization body. Rails are generally available in aluminum or steel and may be cut for installation. Depending on the requirements of the mounted components, the rail may need to be grounded. collapse


Black Box Explains...Gigabit Ethernet.

As workstations and servers migrated from ordinary 10-Mbps Ethernet to 100-Mbps speeds, it became clear that even greater speeds were needed. Gigabit Ethernet was developed for an even faster Ethernet... more/see it nowstandard to handle the network traffic generated on the server and backbone level by Fast Ethernet. Gigabit Ethernet delivers an incredible 1000 Mbps (or 1 Gbps), 100 times faster than 10BASE-T. At that speed, Gigabit Ethernet can handle even the traffic generated by campus network backbones. Plus it provides a smooth upgrade path from 10-Mbps Ethernet and 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet at a reasonable cost.

Compatibility
Gigabit Ethernet is a true Ethernet standard. Because it uses the same frame formats and flow control as earlier Ethernet versions, networks readily recognize it, and it’s compatible with older Ethernet standards. Other high-speed technologies (ATM, for instance) present compatibility problems such as different frame formats or different hardware requirements.

The primary difference between Gigabit Ethernet and earlier implementations of Ethernet is that Gigabit Ethernet almost always runs in full-duplex mode, rather than the half-duplex mode commonly found in 10- and 100-Mbps Ethernet.

One significant feature of Gigabit Ethernet is the improvement to the Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) function. In half-duplex mode, all Ethernet speeds use the CSMA/CD access method to resolve contention for shared media. For Gigabit Ethernet, CSMA/CD has been enhanced to maintain the 200-meter (656.1-ft.) collision diameter.

Affordability and adaptability
You can incorporate Gigabit Ethernet into any standard Ethernet network at a reasonable cost without having to invest in additional training, cabling, management tools, or end stations. Because Gigabit Ethernet blends so well with your other Ethernet applications, you have the flexibility to give each Ethernet segment exactly as much speed as it needs—and if your needs change, Ethernet is easily adaptable to new network requirements.

Gigabit Ethernet is the ideal high-speed technology to use between 10-/100-Mbps Ethernet switches or for connection to high-speed servers with the assurance of total compatibility with your Ethernet network.

When Gigabit Ethernet first appeared, fiber was crucial to running Gigabit Ethernet effectively. Since then, the IEEE802.3ab standard for Gigabit over Category 5 cable has been approved, enabling short stretches of Gigabit speed over existing copper cable. Today, you have many choices when implementing Gigabit Ethernet:

1000BASE-X
1000BASE-X refers collectively to the IEEE802.3z standards: 1000BASE-SX, 1000BASE-LX, and 1000BASE-CX.

1000BASE-SX
The “S“ in 1000BASE-SX stands for “short.“ It uses short wavelength lasers, operating in the 770- to 860-nanometer range, to transmit data over multimode fiber. It’s less expensive than 1000BASE-LX, but has a much shorter range of 220 meters over typical 62.5-µm multimode cable.

1000BASE-LX
The “L“ stands for “long.“ It uses long wavelength lasers operating in the wavelength range of 1270 to 1355 nanometers to transmit data over single-mode fiber optic cable. 1000BASE-LX supports up to 550 meters over multimode fiber or up to 10 kilometers over single-mode fiber.

1000BASE-CX
The “C“ stands for “copper.“ It operates over special twinax cable at distances of up to 25 meters. This standard never really caught on.

Gigabit over CAT5—1000BASE-TX
The 802.3ab specification, or 1000BASE-TX, enables you to run IEEE-compliant Gigabit Ethernet over copper twisted-pair cable at distances of up to 100 meters of CAT5 or higher cable.

Gigabit Ethernet uses all four twisted pairs within the cable, unlike 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX, which only use two of the four pairs. It works by transmitting 250 Mbps over each of the four pairs in 4-pair cable. collapse


Black Box Explains…SFP compatibility.

Standards for SFP fiber optic media are published in the SFP Multi-Source Agreement, which specifies size, connectors, and signaling for SFPs, with the idea that all SFPs are compatible with... more/see it nowdevices that have appropriate SFP slots. These standards, which also extend to SFP+ and XFP transceivers, enable users to mix and match components from different vendors to meet their own particular requirements.

However, some major manufacturers, notably Cisco®, HP®, and 3Com®, sell network devices with SFP slots that lock out transceivers from other vendors. Because the price of SFPs—especially Gigabit SFPs and 10GBASE SFP+ and XFP transceivers—can add significantly to the price of a switch, this lock-out scheme raises hardware costs and limits transceiver choices.

Many vendors don’t advertise that SFP slots on their devices don’t accept standard SFPs from other vendors. This can lead to unpleasant surprises when a device simply refuses to communicate with an SFP.

Another game that some vendors play is to build devices that accept open-standard SFPs, but refuse to support those devices when SFPs from another vendor are used with them.

The only way around this “lock-in” practice is to only buy network devices that accept standard SFPs from all vendors and to buy from vendors that support their devices no matter whose SFPs are used with them. Questions? Call our FREE Tech Support at 724-746-5500. collapse


Black Box Explains...Layer 3 switching.

In the last decade, network topologies have typically featured routers along with hubs or switches. The hub or switch acts as a central wiring point for LAN segments while the... more/see it nowrouter takes care of higher-level functions such as protocol translation, traffic between LAN segments, and wide-area access.

Layer 3 switching, which combines Layer 2 switching and Layer 3 IP routing, provides a more cost-effective way of setting up LANs by incorporating switching and routing into one device. While a traditional Layer 2 switch simply sends data along without examining it, a Layer 3 switch incorporates some features of a router in that it examines data packets before sending them on their way. The integration of switching and routing in a Layer 3 switch takes advantage of the speed of a switch and the intelligence of a router in one economical package.

There are two basic types of Layer 3 switching: packet-by-packet Layer 3 (PPL3) and cut-through Layer 3.

PPL3 switches are technically routers in that they examine all packets before forwarding them to their destinations. They achieve top speed by running protocols such as OSPF (Open Shortest Path First) and by using cache routing tables. Because these switches understand and take advantage of network topology, they can blow the doors off traditional routers with speeds of more than 7,000,000 (that’s seven million!) packets per second.

Cut-through Layer 3 switching relies on a shortcut for top speed. Cut-through Layer 3 switches, rather than examining every packet, examine only the first in a series to determine its destination. Once the destination is known, the data flow is switched at Layer 2 to achieve high speeds. collapse


Black Box Explains...LAN switches.



Rush hour-all day, every day.

Applications such as document imaging, video/multimedia production, and intranetworking are very demanding. They generate huge data files that often must be transferred... more/see it nowbetween stations based on strict timing requirements. If such traffic is not transmitted efficiently, you end up with jerky video, on-screen graphics that take forever to load, or other irritating, debilitating problems.


These problems arise because in traditional LANs, only one network node transmits data at a time while all other stations listen. This works in conventional, server-based LANs where multiple workstations share files or applications housed on a central server. But if a network has several servers, or if it supports high-bandwidth, peer-to-peer applications such as videoconferencing, the one-station-at-a-time model just doesn’t work.


Ideally, each LAN workstation should be configured with its own dedicated LAN cable segment. But that’s neither practical nor affordable. A far more reasonable solution is a network designed to provide clear paths from each workstation to its destination on demand, whether that destination is another workstation or server.


These vehicles clear the lanes.

Unlike bridges and routers, which process data packets on an individual, first-come, first-served basis, switches maintain multiple, simultaneous data conversions among attached LAN segments.


From the perspective of an end-user workstation, a switched circuit appears to be a dedicated connection-a direct, full-speed LAN link to an attached server or other remote LAN node. Although this technique is somewhat different from what a LAN bridge or router does, switching hubs are based on similar technologies.




Which route will you choose?

Switching hubs that use bridging technologies are called Layer 2 switches-a reference to Layer 2 or the Data-Link Layer of the OSI Model. These switches operate using the MAC addresses in Layer 2 and are transparent to network protocols. Switches that use routing technologies are known as Layer 3 switches, referring to Layer 3—the Network Layer—of the OSI Model. These switches, like routers, represent the next higher level of intelligence in the hardware hierarchy. Rather than passing packets based on MAC addresses, these switches look into the data structure and route it based on the network addresses found in Layer 3. They are also dependent on the network protocol.


Layer 2 switches connect different parts of the same network as determined by the network number contained with the data packet. Layer 3 switches connect LANs or LAN segments with different network numbers.


If you’re subdividing an existing LAN, obviously you’re dealing with only one network and one network number, so you can install a Layer 2 switch wherever it will segment network traffic the best, and you don’t have to reconfigure the LAN. However, if you use a Layer 3 switch, you’ll have to reconfigure the segments to ensure that each has a different network number.


Similarly, if you’re connecting existing networks, you have to examine the currently configured network numbers before adding a switch. If the network numbers are the same, you need to use a Layer 2 switch. If they’re different, you must use a Layer 3 switch.


When dealing with multiple existing networks, you’ll find they usually use different network numbers. In this case, it’s preferable to use a Layer 3 switch (or possibly even a full-featured router) to avoid reconfiguring the network.


But what if you’re designing a network from scratch and can choose either type of switch? Your decision should be based on the expected complexity of your LAN. Layer 3 routing technology is well suited for complex networks. Layer 2 switches are recommended for smaller, less complex networks.

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The difference between unmanaged, managed, and Web-smart switches

With regard to management options, the three primary classes of switches are unmanaged, managed, and Web smart. Which you choose depends largely on the size of your network and how... more/see it nowmuch control you need over that network.

Unmanaged switches are basic plug-and-play switches with no remote configuration, management, or monitoring options, although many can be locally monitored and configured via LED indicators and DIP switches. These inexpensive switches are typically used in small networks or to add temporary workgroups to larger networks.

Managed switches support Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) via embedded agents and have a command line interface (CLI) that can be accessed via serial console, Telnet, and Secure Shell. These switches can often be configured and managed as groups. More recent managed switches may also support a Web interface for management through a Web browser.

These high-end switches enable network managers to remotely access a wide range of capabilities including:

  • SNMP monitoring.
  • Enabling and disabling individual ports or port Auto MDI/MDI-X.
  • Port bandwidth and duplex control.
  • IP address management.
  • MAC address filtering.
  • Spanning Tree.
  • Port mirroring to monitor network traffic.
  • Prioritization of ports for quality of service (QoS).
  • VLAN settings.
  • 802.1X network access control.
  • IGMP snooping.
  • Link aggregation or trunking.

  • Managed switches, with their extensive management capabilities, are at home in large enterprise networks where network administrators need to monitor and control a large number of network devices. Managed switches support redundancy protocols for increased network availability.

    Web-smart switches—sometimes called smart switches or Web-managed switches—have become a popular option for mid-sized networks that require management. They offer access to switch management features such as port monitoring, link aggregation, and VPN through a simple Web interface via an embedded Web browser. What these switches generally do not have is SNMP management capabilities or a CLI. Web-smart switches must usually be managed individually rather than in groups.

    Although the management features found in a Web-smart switch are less extensive than those found in a fully managed switch, these switches are becoming smarter with many now offering many of the features of a fully managed switch. Like managed switches, they also support redundancy protocols for increased network availability.

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    Black Box Explains...Ethernet hubs vs. Ethernet switches.

    Although hubs and switches look very similar and are connected to the network in much the same way, there is a significant difference in the way they function.

    What is a... more/see it nowhub?
    An Ethernet hub is the basic building block of a twisted-pair (10BASE-T or 100BASE-TX) Ethernet network. Hubs do little more than act as a physical connection. They link PCs and peripherals and enable them to communicate over a network. All data coming into the hub travels to all stations connected to the hub. Because a hub doesn’t use management or addressing, it simply divides the 10- or 100-Mbps bandwidth among users. If two stations are transferring high volumes of data between them, the network performance of all stations on that hub will suffer. Hubs are good choices for small- or home-office networks, particularly if bandwidth concerns are minimal.

    What is a switch?
    An Ethernet switch, on the other hand, provides a central connection in an Ethernet network in which each connected device has its own dedicated link with full bandwidth. Switches divide LAN data into smaller, easier-to-manage segments and send data only to the PCs it needs to reach. They allot a full 10 or 100 Mbps to each user with addressing and management features. As a result, every port on the switch represents a dedicated 10- or 100-Mbps pathway. Because users connected to a switch do not have to share bandwidth, a switch offers relief from the network congestion a shared hub can cause.

    What to consider when selecting an Ethernet hub:
    • Stackability. Select a stackable hub connected with a special cable so you can start with one hub and add others as you need more ports. The entire stack functions as one device.
    • Manageability. Choose an SNMP-manageable hub if you have a large, managed network.

    What to consider when selecting an Ethernet switch:
    • Manageability. Ethernet switches intended for large managed networks feature built-in management, usually SNMP.
    • OSI Layer operation. Most Ethernet switches operate at “Layer 2,” which is for the physical network addresses (MAC addresses). Layer 3 switches use network addresses, and incorporate routing functions to actively calculate the best way to send a packet to its destination. Very advanced Ethernet switches, often known as routing switches, operate on OSI Layer 4 and route network traffic according to the application.
    • Modular construction. A modular switch enables you to populate a chassis with modules of different speeds and media types. Because you can easily change modules, the modular switch is an adaptable solution for large, growing networks.
    • Stackability. Some Ethernet switches can be connected to form a stack of two or more switches that functions as a single network device. This enables you to start with fewer ports and add them as your network grows. collapse


    Black Box Explains...SFP, SFP+, and XFP transceivers.

    SFP, SFP+, and XFP are all terms for a type of transceiver that plugs into a special port on a switch or other network device to convert the port to... more/see it nowa copper or fiber interface. These compact transceivers replace the older, bulkier GBIC interface. Although these devices are available in copper, their most common use is to add fiber ports. Fiber options include multimode and single-mode fiber in a variety of wavelengths covering distances of up to 120 kilometers (about 75 miles), as well as WDM fiber, which uses two separate wavelengths to both send and receive data on a single fiber strand.

    SFPs support speeds up to 4.25 Gbps and are generally used for Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet applications. The expanded SFP standard, SFP+, supports speeds of 10 Gbps or higher over fiber. XFP is a separate standard that also supports 10-Gbps speeds. The primary difference between SFP+ and the slightly older XFP standard is that SFP+ moves the chip for clock and data recovery into a line card on the host device. This makes an SFP+ smaller than an XFP, enabling greater port density.

    Because all these compact transcievers are hot-swappable, there’s no need to shut down a switch to swap out a module—it’s easy to change interfaces on the fly for upgrades and maintenance.

    Another characteristic shared by this group of transcievers is that they’re OSI Layer 1 devices—they’re transparent to data and do not examine or alter data in any way. Although they’re primarily used with Ethernet, they’re also compatible with uncommon or legacy standards such as Fibre Channel, ATM, SONET, or Token Ring.

    Formats for SFP, SFP+, and XFP transceivers have been standardized by multisource agreements (MSAs) between manufacturers, so physical dimensions, connectors, and signaling are consistent and interchangeable. Be aware though that some major manufacturers, notably Cisco, sell network devices with slots that lock out transceivers from other vendors. collapse


    Black Box Explains...Layer 2, 3, and 4 switching.

    The Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model provides a layered network design framework that establishes a standard so that devices from different vendors work together.

    Layer 2 (The Data-Link Layer)
    Layer 2... more/see it nowswitches operate using physical network addresses. Physical addresses, also known as link-layer, hardware, or MAC-layer addresses, identify individual devices. Most hardware devices are permanently assigned this number during the manufacturing process.

    Switches operating at Layer 2 are very fast because they’re just sorting physical addresses, but they usually aren’t very smart.

    Layer 3 (The Network Layer)
    Layer 3 switches use network or IP addresses that identify locations on the network. Physical addresses identify devices; network addresses identify locations. A location can be a LAN workstation, a location in a computer’s memory, or even a packet of data traveling through a network.

    Network addresses are hierarchical. The more details included, the more specific the address becomes and the easier it is to find.

    Switches operating at Layer 3 are smarter than Layer 2 devices and incorporate routing functions to actively calculate the best way to send a packet to its destination. However, because Layer 3 Switches take the extra time to read more details of a network address, they are sometimes much slower than Layer 2 Switches.

    Layer 4 (The Transport Layer)
    Layer 4 of the OSI Model coordinates communications between systems. Layer 4 identifies which application protocols (HTTP, SNTP, FTP, etc.) are included with each packet and uses this information to hand off the packet to the appropriate higher-layer software. Layer 4 switches make packet forwarding decisions based not only on the MAC address and IP address, but also on the application a packet belongs to.

    Because Layer 4 devices enable you to establish priorities for network traffic based on application, you can assign a high priority to packets belonging to vital in-house applications, such as Peoplesoft®, with different forwarding rules for low-priority packets, such as generic HTTP-based Internet traffic.

    Layer 4 switches also provide an effective wire-speed security shield for your network. collapse

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