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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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Black Box Explains...Media converters that are really switches.

A media converter is a device that converts from one media type to another, for instance, from twisted pair to fiber to take advantage of fiber’s greater range. A traditional... more/see it nowmedia converter is a two-port Layer 1 device that performs a simple conversion of only the physical interface. It’s transparent to data and doesn't “see” or manipulate data in any way.

An Ethernet switch can also convert one media type to another, but it also creates a separate collision domain for each switch port, so that each packet is routed only to the destination device, rather than around to multiple devices on a network segment. Because switches are “smarter” than traditional media converters, they enable additional features such as multiple ports and copper ports that autosense for speed and duplex.

Switches are beginning to replace traditional 2-port media converters, leading to some fuzziness in terminology. Small 4- or 6-port Ethernet switches are very commonly called media converters. In fact, anytime you see a “Layer 2” media converter or a media converter with more than two ports, it’s really a small Ethernet switch. collapse


Black Box Explains…Energy-Efficient Ethernet.

The IEEE 802.3az Ethernet standard, ratified in 2010, provides a standardized way for some Ethernet devices to reduce power consumption. Energy-Efficient Ethernet devices have a low-power idle (LPI) mode that... more/see it nowcan cut power use by 50% or more during periods of low data activity. Because energy-efficient Ethernet devices scale down power consumption when the load is lower, they save both the energy used to power processors and the energy used to cool them.

These energy savings are currently available for 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T, and 10GBASE-T Ethernet as well as some backplane Ethernet. 802.3az can be found on most types of network equipment, including NICs, switches, routers, and media converters. Because these devices are totally backwards compatible with other Ethernet devices, all you need to do to reap energy savings is to swap out devices. collapse


Black Box Explains...Single-strand fiber WDM.

Traditional fiber optic media converters perform a useful function but don’t really reduce the amount of cable needed to send data on a fiber segment. They still require two strands... more/see it nowof glass to send transmit and receive signals for fiber media communications. Wouldn’t it be better to combine these two logical communication paths within one strand?

That’s exactly what single-strand fiber conversion does. It compresses the transmit and receive wavelengths into one single-mode fiber strand.

The conversion is done with Wave-Division Multiplexing (WDM) technology. WDM technology increases the information-carrying capacity of optical fiber by transmitting two signals simultaneously at different wavelengths on the same fiber. The way it usually works is that one unit transmits at 1310 nm and receives at 1550 nm. The other unit transmits at 1550 nm and receives at 1310 nm. The two wavelengths operate independently and don’t interfere with each other. This bidirectional traffic flow effectively converts a single fiber into a pair of “virtual fibers,” each driven independently at different wavelengths.

Although most implementations of WDM on single-strand fiber offer two channels, four-channel versions are just being introduced, and versions offering as many as 10 channels with Gigabit capacity are on the horizon.

WDM on single-strand fiber is most often used for point-to-point links on a long-distance network. It’s also used to increase network capacity or relieve network congestion. collapse


Black Box Explains...How fiber is insulated for use in harsh environments.

Fiber optic cable not only gives you immunity to interference and greater signal security, but it’s also constructed to insulate the fiber’s core from the stress associated with use in... more/see it nowharsh environments.

The core is a very delicate channel that’s used to transport data signals from an optical transmitter to an optical receiver. To help reinforce the core, absorb shock, and provide extra protection against cable bends, fiber cable contains a coating of acrylate plastic.

In an environment free from the stress of external forces such as temperature, bends, and splices, fiber optic cable can transmit light pulses with minimal attenuation. And although there will always be some attenuation from external forces and other conditions, there are two methods of cable construction to help isolate the core: loose-tube and tight-buffer construction.

In a loose-tube construction, the fiber core literally floats within a plastic gel-filled sleeve. Surrounded by this protective layer, the core is insulated from temperature extremes, as well as from damaging external forces such as cutting and crushing.

In a tight-core construction, the plastic extrusion method is used to apply a protective coating directly over the fiber coating. This helps the cable withstand even greater crushing forces. But while the tight-buffer design offers greater protection from core breakage, it’s more susceptible to stress from temperature variations. Conversely, while it’s more flexible than loose-tube cable, the tight-buffer design offers less protection from sharp bends or twists. collapse


Black Box Explains...NEBS Level 3.

Network Equipment Building System (NEBS) standards set requirements for telco equipment. The standards are maintained by Telcordia Technologies, Inc., formerly Bellcore. Bellcore Special Report, SR-3580 defines three distinct functional levels... more/see it nowof NEBS compliance. The third of these levels, NEBS Level 3, is the most stringent, certifying carrier-class equipment intended for long-term use in variable environments.

NEBS Level 3 certifies that a piece of equipment can be safely used in an extreme environment. To become certified at NEBS Level 3, a device must meet strict physical, electrical, and environmental requirements to prove it will operate safely and reliably in extreme conditions. It must pass a series of tests that include extreme heat, humidity, fire, earthquakes (Zone 4), light, and noise. collapse


Black Box Explains...Multimode vs. single-mode Fiber.

Multimode, 50- and 62.5-micron cable.
Multimode cable has a large-diameter core and multiple pathways of light. It comes in two core sizes: 50-micron and 62.5-micron.

Multimode fiber optic cable can be... more/see it nowused for most general data and voice fiber applications, such as bringing fiber to the desktop, adding segments to an existing network, and in smaller applications such as alarm systems. Both 50- and 62.5-micron cable feature the same cladding diameter of 125 microns, but 50-micron fiber cable features a smaller core (the light-carrying portion of the fiber).

Although both can be used in the same way, 50-micron cable is recommended for premise applications (backbone, horizontal, and intrabuilding connections) and should be considered for any new construction and installations. Both also use either LED or laser light sources. The big difference between the two is that 50-micron cable provides longer link lengths and/or higher speeds, particularly in the 850-nm wavelength.

Single-mode, 8–10-micron cable.
Single-mode cable has a small, 8–10-micron glass core and only one pathway of light. With only a single wavelength of light passing through its core, single-mode cable realigns the light toward the center of the core instead of simply bouncing it off the edge of the core as multimode does.

Single-mode cable provides 50 times more distance than multimode cable. Consequently, single-mode cable is typically used in long-haul network connections spread out over extended areas, including cable television and campus backbone applications. Telcos use it for connections between switching offices. Single-mode cable also provides higher bandwidth, so you can use a pair of single-mode fiber strands full-duplex for up to twice the throughput of multimode fiber.

Specification comparison:

50-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber

850-nm Wavelength:
Bandwidth: 500 MHz/km;
Attenuation: 3.5 dB/km;
Distance: 550 m;

1300-nm Wavelength:
Bandwidth: 500 MHz/km;
Attenuation: 1.5 dB/km;
Distance: 550 m

62.5-/125-Miron Multimode Fiber

850-nm Wavelength:
Bandwidth: 160 MHz/km;
Attenuation: 3.5 dB/km;
Distance: 220 m;

1300-nm Wavelength:
Bandwidth: 500 MHz/km;
Attenuation: 1.5 dB/km;
Distance: 500 m

8–10-Micron Single-Mode Fiber

Premise Application:
Wavelength: 1310 nm and 1550 nm;
Attenuation: 1.0 dB/km;

Outside Plant Application:
Wavelength: 1310 nm and 1550 nm;
Attenuation: 0.1 dB/km 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... SNMP.

SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) management is the standard for LAN management, particularly in mission-critical applications. The standard is controlled by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It was designed... more/see it nowto manage network configuration, performance, faults, accounting, and security.

An SNMP agent must be present at the device level (a router or a hub, for example), either built into the unit or as a proxy agent, and is accessed through a remote terminal. SNMP does not follow a polling protocol. It waits to receive data from the remote device or sends data based on operator commands.

By using one common set of standards, SNMP enables network administrators to manage, monitor, and control their SNMP-compliant network equipment with one management system and from one management station. If a network device goes down, it|s possible to both pinpoint and troubleshoot the problem more efficiently. And a network administrator isn’t limited to equipment from just one vendor when using an SNMP program. 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

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