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Black Box Explains…Fiber Ethernet adapters vs. media converters.

When running fiber to the desktop, you have two choices for making the connection from the fiber to a PC: a fiber Ethernet adapter or a media converter like our... more/see it nowMicro Mini Media Converter.

Fiber Ethernet adapters:

  • Less expensive.
  • Create no desktop clutter, but the PC must be opened.
  • Powered from the PC—require no separate power provision.
  • Require an open PCI or PCI-E slot in the PC.
  • Can create driver issues that must be resolved.
  • May be required in high-security installations that require a 100% fiber link to the desktop.

  • Media converters:
  • More expensive.
  • No need to open the PC but can create a cluttered look.
  • Powered from an AC outlet or a PC’s USB port.
  • Don’t require an open slot in the PC.
  • Plug-and-play installation—totally transparent to data, so there are no driver problems; install in seconds.
  • The short copper link from media converter to PC may be a security vulnerability.
  • collapse

    Black Box Explains...Link loss.

    Media converters solve the problem of connecting different media types in mixed-media networks. In order to comply with IEEE standards, they implement IEEE data-encoding rules and the Link Integrity Test.

    For... more/see it nowa twisted-pair segment, a link is a signal sent by the converters when the cable is in use. If no Link Integrity Test signal is received, the connected device assumes that the link is lost.

    With fiber cable, a connected device checks a line by monitoring the Link Integrity Test signal from the converter and the power of the light being received. If the light’s power drops below a certain threshold, the link is lost. In either case, link loss usually results from a broken cable, which is the cause of approximately 70% of all LAN problems.

    Link loss is often indicated by an LED on a connected network device. You can also monitor a link with network-management software, such as SNMP, which sends a TRAP (alert) to the management workstation when the link is lost.

    Media converters actually function as two separate Multistation Access Units (MAUs). For example, one monitor is a twisted-pair segment and one monitor is a fiber segment. If a fiber cable is broken and the link is lost, a network manager on the twisted-pair end won’t know there’s a problem until users on the fiber side report it.

    To solve this problem, Black Box® Modular Media Converters feature a unique Link-Loss capability. This enables the link status on one segment to reflect the link status of the other segment. So if the link is lost on the fiber side, the link is disabled on the UTP segment as well. And the converters will send an SNMP TRAP indicating the loss of link to the management workstation. collapse

    Black Box Explains…Media converters that also work as switches.

    Media converters transparently convert the incoming electrical signal from one cable type and then transmit it over another type—thick coax to Thin, UTP to fiber, and so on. Traditionally, media... more/see it nowconverters were purely Layer 1 devices that only converted electrical signals and physical media and didn’t do anything to the data coming through the link.

    Today’s media converters, however, are often more advanced Layer 2 Ethernet devices that, like traditional media converters, provide Layer 1 electrical and physical conversion. But, unlike traditional media converters, they also provide Layer 2 services and route Ethernet packets based on MAC address. These media converters are often called media converter switches, switching media converters, or Layer 2 media converters. They enable you to have multiple connections rather than just one simple in-and-out connection. And because they’re switches, they increase network efficiency.

    Media converters are often used to connect newer 100-Mbps, Gigabit Ethernet, or ATM equipment to existing networks, which are generally 10BASE-T, 100BASE-T, or a mixture of both. They can also be used in pairs to insert a fiber segment into copper networks to increase cabling distances and enhance immunity to electromagnetic interference.

    Rent an apartment…
    Media converters are available in standalone models that convert between two different media types and in chassis-based models that house many media converters in a a single chassis.

    Standalone models convert between two media. But, like a small apartment, they can be outgrown.

    Consider your current and future applications before selecting a media converter. A good way to anticipate future network requirements is to choose media converters that work as standalone devices but can be rackmounted if needed later.

    …or buy a house.
    Chassis-based or modular media converter systems are normally rackmountable and have slots to house media converter modules. Like a well-planned house, the chassis gives you room to grow. These are used when many Ethernet segments of different media types need to be connected in a central location. Modules are available for the same conversions performed by the standalone converters, and they enable you to mix different media types such as 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 100BASE-FX, ATM, and Gigabit modules. Although enterprise-level chassis-based systems generally have modules that can only be used in a chassis, many midrange systems feature modules that can be used individually or in a chassis. collapse

    Black Box Explains…A terminal server by any other name.

    A terminal server (sometimes called a serial server or a console server or a device server) is a hardware device that enables you to connect serial devices across a network.

    Terminal... more/see it nowservers acquired their name because they were originally used for long-distance connection of dumb terminals to large mainframe systems such as VAX™. Today, the name terminal server refers to a device that connects any serial device to a network, usually Ethernet. In this day of network-ready devices, terminal servers are not as common as they used to be, but they’re still frequently used for applications such as remote connection of PLCs, sensors, or automatic teller machines.

    The primary advantage of terminal servers is that they save you the cost of running separate RS-232 devices. By using a network, you can connect serial devices even over very long distances—as far as your network stretches. It’s even possible to connect serial devices across the Internet. A terminal server connects the remote serial device to the network, and then another terminal server somewhere else on the network connects to the other serial device.

    Terminal servers act as virtual serial ports by providing the appropriate connectors for serial data and also by grouping serial data in both directions into Ethernet TCP/IP packets. This conversion enables you to connect serial devices across Ethernet without the need for software changes.

    Because terminal servers send data across a network, security is a consideration. If your network is isolated, you can get by with an inexpensive terminal server that has few or no security functions. But if you’re using a terminal server to make network connections across a network that’s also an Internet subnet, you should look for a terminal server that offers extensive security features. collapse

    Black Box Explains...MIMO wireless.

    Multiple-Input/Multiple-Output (MIMO) is a part of the new IEEE 802.11n wireless standard. It’s a technique that uses multiple signals to increase the speed, reliability, and coverage of wireless networks. It... more/see it nowtransmits multiple datastreams simultaneously, increasing wireless capacity to up to 100 or even 250 Mbps.

    This wireless transmission method takes advantage of a radio transmission characteristic called multipath, which means that radio waves bouncing off surfaces such as walls and ceilings will arrive at the antenna at fractionally different times. This characteristic has long been considered to be a nuisance that impairs wireless transmission, but MIMO technology actually exploits it to enhance wireless performance.

    MIMO sends a high-speed data stream across multiple antennas by breaking it into several lower-speed streams and sending them simultaneously. Each signal travels multiple routes for redundancy.

    To pick up these multipath signals, MIMO uses multiple antennas and compares signals many times a second to select the best one. A MIMO receiver makes sense of these signals by using a mathematical algorithm to reconstruct the signals. Because it has multiple signals to choose from, MIMO achieves higher speeds at greater ranges than conventional wireless hardware does. collapse

    Non-standard PoE

    Because Power over Ethernet (PoE) delivers power over the same cable as data, it’s popular for powering devices such as VoIP phones, wireless access points, and security cameras. It often... more/see it nowleads to significant savings by eliminating the need to install a separate power outlet.

    Most PoE today is standards-based IEEE 802.3af or the newer higher-powered IEEE 802.3at PoE, which are very safe because power source equipment (PSE) doesn’t add power to the data line unless it detects a compatible powered device (PD) connected to the other end of the cable. This protects devices that do not support PoE. PSEs and PDs also negotiate power requirements, so a PD never receives too much power. Both PSEs and PDs have power supplies and regulators isolated from ground to minimize shock hazard.

    But here’s where it gets complicated…
    Because most PoE available today is standards-based 802.3af or 802.3at, it’s easy to forget that there are versions of PoE that are NOT standards based. Some of these non-standards-based versions of PoE feature power injectors that inject power without checking compatibility—and that can be very bad news for an innocent network device.

    Non-standard PoE tends to fall into three categories: proprietary PoE, high-wattage proprietary PoE, and passive PoE.

    Proprietary PoE.
    Before the ratification of the 802.3af standard in 2003, PoE was a free-for-all with many vendors offering their own method of delivering power over data lines. Some vendors still offer their own proprietary PoE. These proprietary solutions offer varying degrees of communication between PSE and PD. Our Black Box® Wireless Point-to-Point Ethernet Extender Kit (LWE100A-KIT) uses Prorietary PoE in the form of 12 VDC running at 12 W, which is well below the 48 VDC and 15.4 W provided by standard 802.3af.

    High-wattage Proprietary PoE.
    Many vendors offer high-wattage PoE solutions designed to deliver from 50 watts to 100 or even 200 watts per port. High-wattage proprietary PoE is often used with high-powered outdoor wireless radios.

    Passive PoE.
    Passive PoE injects power into an Ethernet cable on Pins 4 and 5 with negative return on Pins 7 and 8 and absolutely no communication between PSE and PD. This method was once a very common “home brew” method of transferring power over data cable and is still commonly used in telecomm applications.

    Document and label.
    There’s nothing wrong with PoE that’s not standards based—these power methods work as well as 802.3af/at PoE to power network devices. You do, however, need to be aware of what kind of Power over Ethernet you have and what it will work with. Good network documentation and labeling are the keys that enable you to know that, for instance, that power injector is a high-wattage proprietary injector that will fry the IP camera you’re about to connect. Proper documentation, which is good practice in any case, becomes absolutely vital when you have components that may damage other components.

    Black Box Explains...Ethernet.

    If you have an existing network, there’s a 90% chance it’s Ethernet. If you’re installing a new network, there’s a 98% chance it’s Ethernet—the Ethernet standard is... more/see it nowthe overwhelming favorite network standard today.

    Ethernet was developed by Xerox®, DEC®, and Intel® in the mid-1970s as a 10-Mbps (Megabits per second) networking protocol—very fast for its day—operating over a heavy coax cable (Standard Ethernet).

    Today, although many networks have migrated to Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) or even Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbps), 10-Mbps Ethernet is still in widespread use and forms the basis of most networks.

    Ethernet is defined by international standards, specifically IEEE 802.3. It enables the connection of up to 1024 nodes over coax, twisted-pair, or fiber optic cable. Most new installations today use economical, lightweight cables such as Category 5 unshielded twisted-pair cable and fiber optic cable.

    How Ethernet Works

    Ethernet signals are transmitted from a station serially, one bit at a time, to every other station on the network.

    Ethernet uses a broadcast access method called Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) in which every computer on the network “hears” every transmission, but each computer “listens” only to transmissions intended for it.

    Each computer can send a message anytime it likes without having to wait for network permission. The signal it sends travels to every computer on the network. Every computer hears the message, but only the computer for which the message is intended recognizes it. This computer recognizes the message because the message contains its address. The message also contains the address of the sending computer so the message can be acknowledged.

    If two computers send messages at the same moment, a “collision” occurs, interfering with the signals. A computer can tell if a collision has occurred when it doesn’t hear its own message within a given amount of time. When a collision occurs, each of the colliding computers waits a random amount of time before resending the message.

    The process of collision detection and retransmission is handled by the Ethernet adapter itself and doesn’t involve the computer. The process of collision resolution takes only a fraction of a second under most circumstances. Collisions are normal and expected events on an Ethernet network. As more computers are added to the network and the traffic level increases, more collisions occur as part of normal operation. However, if the network gets too crowded, collisions increase to the point where they slow down the network considerably.

    Standard (Thick) Ethernet (10BASE5)

    • Uses “thick” coax cable with N-type connectors for a backbone and a transceiver cable with 9-pin connectors from the transceiver to the NIC.
    • Both ends of each segment should be terminated with a 50-ohm resistor.
    • Maximum segment length is 500 meters.
    • Maximum total length is 2500 meters.
    • Maximum length of transceiver cable is 50 meters.
    • Minimum distance between transceivers is 2.5 meters.
    • No more than 100 transceiver connections per segment are allowed.
    Thin Ethernet (ThinNet) (10BASE2)

    • Uses "Thin" coax cable.
    • The maximum length of one segment is 185 meters.
    • The maximum number of segments is five.
    • The maximum total length of all segments is 925 meters.
    • The minimum distance between T-connectors is 0.5 meters.
    • No more than 30 connections per segment are allowed.
    • T-connectors must be plugged directly into each device.
    Twisted-Pair Ethernet (10BASE-T)

    • Uses 22 to 26 AWG unshielded twisted-pair cable (for best results, use Category 4 or 5 unshielded twisted pair).
    • The maximum length of one segment is 100 meters.
    • Devices are connected to a 10BASE-T hub in a star configuration.
    • Devices with standard AUI connectors may be attached via a 10BASE-T transceiver.
    Fiber Optic Ethernet (10BASE-FL, FOIRL)

    • Uses 50-, 62.5-, or 100-micron duplex multimode fiber optic cable (62.5 micron is recommended).
    • The maximum length of one 10BASE-FL (the new standard for fiber optic connections) segment is 2 kilometers.
    • The maximum length of one FOIRL (the standard that preceded the new 10BASE-FL) segment is 1 kilometer.

    Black Box Explains...Virtual LANs (VLANs).

    True to their name, VLANs are literally “virtual“ LANs—mini subLANs that, once configured, can exist and function logically as single, secure network segments, even though they may be part of... more/see it nowa much larger physical LAN.

    VLAN technology is ideal for enterprises with far-reaching networks. Instead of having to make expensive, time-consuming service calls, system administrators can configure or reconfigure workstations easily or set up secure network segments using simple point-and-click, drag-and-drop management utilities. VLANs provide a way to define dynamic new LAN pathways and create innovative virtual network segments that can range far beyond the traditional limits of geographically isolated workstation groups radiating from centralized hubs.

    For instance, using VLAN switches, you can establish a secure VLAN made up of select devices located throughout your enterprise (managers’ workstations, for example) or any other device that you decide requires full access to the VLAN you’ve created.

    According to Cisco, a VLAN is a switched network logically segmented by functions, project teams, or applications regardless of the physical location of users. You can assign each switch port to a different VLAN. Ports configured in the same VLAN share broadcasts; ports that don’t belong to the VLAN don’t share the data.

    VLAN switches group users and ports logically across the enterprise—they don’t impose physical constraints like in a shared-hub architecture. In replacing shared hubs, VLAN switches remove the physical barriers imposed by each wiring closet.

    To learn more about smart networking with VLANs, call the experts in our Local Area Network Support group at 724-746-5500, press 1, 2, 4. collapse

    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.


    Black Box Explains...Designing your wireless network.

    Setting up wireless devices that belong to the 802.11 family is relatively simple, but you do have to pay attention to a few simple factors.

    Ad-hoc or infrastructure... more/see it nowmode?

    The 802.11 wireless standards support two basic configurations: ad-hoc mode and infrastructure mode.

    In ad-hoc mode, wireless user devices such as laptop computers and PDAs communicate directly with each other in a peer-to-peer manner without the benefit of access points.

    Ad-hoc mode is generally used to form very small spontaneous networks. For instance, with ad-hoc mode, laptop users in a meeting can quickly establish a small network to share files.

    Infrastructure mode uses wireless access points to enable wireless devices to communicate with each other and with your wired network. Most networks use infrastructure mode.

    The basic components of infrastructure mode networks include:

    • The radios embedded or installed within the wireless devices themselves. Many notebook computers and other Wi-Fi-compliant mobile devices, such as PDAs, come with the transmitters built in. But for others, you need to install a card-type device to enable wireless communications. Desktop PCs may also need an ISA or a PCI bus adapter to enable the cards to work.
    • The access point, which acts as a base station that relays signals between the 802.11 devices.
    One or many access points?

    Access points are standalone hardware devices that provide a central point of communication for your wireless users. How many you need in your application depends on the number of users and the amount of bandwidth required by each user. Bandwidth is shared, so if your network has many users who routinely send data-heavy multimedia files, additional access points may be required to accommodate the demand.

    A small-office network with fewer than 15 users may need just 1 access point. Larger networks require multiple points. If the hardware supports it, you can overlap coverage areas to allow users to roam between cells without any break in network coverage. A user’s wireless device picks up a signal beacon from the strongest access point to maintain seamless coverage.

    How many access points to use also depends on your operating environment and the required range. Radio propagation can be affected by walls and electrical interference that can cause signal reflection and fading. If you’re linking mobile users indoors-where walls and other obstructions impede the radiated signal-the typical maximum range is 150 feet. Outdoors, you can get greater WLAN range-up to 2000 feet (depending on your antenna type) where there’s a clear line of sight!

    For optimal speed and range, install your wireless access point several feet above the floor or ground and away from metal equipment or large appliances that may emit interference.

    Battle of the bands.

    In addition to sharing bandwidth, users also share a band. Most IEEE 802.11 or 802.11b devices function in the 2.4-2.4835-GHz band. But these frequencies are often congested, so you may want to use devices that take advantage of the IEEE 802.11a 5.725-5.825-GHz band.

    No matter what frequency you use, you’ll want to isolate your users from outsiders using the same frequency. To do this, assign your users a network identifier, such as an Extended Service Set Identifier (ESSID), as well as distinct channels.

    Web and wired network links.

    The access point links your wireless network to your wired network, enabling your wireless users to access shared data resources and devices across your LAN enterprise. Some access points even feature capabilities for routing traffic in one or both directions between a wired and wireless network.

    For Internet access, connect a broadband router with an access point to an Internet connection over a broadband service such as DSL, cable modem, or satellite.

    For connecting network printers, you can dedicate a computer to act as a print server or add a wireless print server device; this enables those on your wireless network to share printers.

    When to use external antennas.

    If you plan to install access points, you can boost your signal considerably by adding external antennas. Various mounting configurations and high- and low-gain options are available.

    You can also use add-on antennas to connect nodes where the topology doesn’t allow for a clear signal between access points. Or use them to link multiple LANs located far apart.

    Additional external antennas are also useful to help overcome the effects of multipath propagation in which a signal takes different paths and confuses the receiver. It’s also helpful to deploy antennas that propagate the signal in a way that fits the environment. For instance, for a long, narrow corridor, use an antenna that focuses the RF pattern in one direction instead of one that radiates the signal in all directions.

    Plan ahead with a site survey.

    A site survey done ahead of time to plot where the signal is the strongest can help you identify problem areas and avoid dead spots where coverage isn’t up to par or is unreliable. For this, building blueprints are helpful in revealing potential obstructions that you might not see in your physical site walkthrough.

    To field test for a clear signal path, attach an antenna to an access point or laptop acting as the transmitter at one end. Attach another antenna to a wireless device acting as a receiver at the other end. Then check for interference using RF test equipment (such as a wireless spectrum analyzer) and determine whether vertical or horizontal polarization will work best.

    Need help doing this? Call us. We even offer a Site Survey Kit that has a variety of antennas included. Great for installers, the kit enables you to test a variety of antennas in the field before placing a larger antenna order.


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