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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…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...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

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...Remote access.

    Remote access is the ability to access a network, a personal computer, a server, or other device from a distance for the purpose of controlling it or to access data.... more/see it nowToday, remote access is usually accomplished over the Internet, although a local IP network, telephone lines, cellular service, or leased lines may also be used. With today’s ubiquitous Internet availability, remote access is increasingly popular and often results in significant cost savings by enabling greater network access and reducing travel to remote sites. Remote access is a very general term that covers a wide range of applications from telecommuting to resetting a distant server. Here are just a few of the applications that fall under the remote access umbrella:

    Remote network access
    A common use for remote access is to provide corporate network access to employees who work at home or are in sales or other traveling positions. This kind of remote access typically uses IPsec VPN tunnels to authenticate and secure connections.

    Remote desktop access
    Remote desktop access enables users to access a computer remotely from another computer and take control of it as if it were local. This kind of remote control requires that special software—which is included with most operating systems—be installed and enabled. It’s often used by those who travel frequently to access their “home” computer, and by network administrators for remote server access. This remote access method has some inherent security concerns and is usually incompatible with firewalls, so it’s important to be aware of its limitations and use adequate security precautions.

    Remote KVM access
    A common application in organizations that maintain servers across multiple sites is server administration through an IP-enabled KVM switch. These IP-addressable switches support one or more servers and have an integral Web server, enabling users to access them over the Internet through a Web browser. Because they’re intended for Internet use, these switches offer authentication and encryption for secure connections.

    Remote power management
    Anyone who’s ever had to get out of bed in the middle of the night to go switch a server off and back on again to reset it can appreciate the convenience of remote power management. Remote power managers have a wide range of capabilities ranging from simple power switching to reboot a device to sophisticated power monitoring, reporting, and management functions.

    Remote environmental security monitoring
    Remote environmental and security monitoring over the Internet is increasingly popular, largely because of the cost savings of using existing network infrastructure rather than a proprietary security system. This application requires IP-addressable hubs that support a variety of sensors ranging from temperature and humidity to power monitors. Some models even support surveillance cameras. collapse

    Black Box Explains...Choosing a wireless antenna.

    Ride the wave.

    One of the most critical components to operating a successful wireless network is having the right antennas. Antennas come in many different shapes and sizes,... more/see it noweach designed for a specific function. Selecting the right antennas for your network is crucial to achieving optimum network performance. In addition, using the right antennas can decrease your networking costs since you’ll need fewer antennas and access points.

    Basically, a wireless network consists of data, voice, and video information packets being transmitted over low-frequency radio waves instead of electrically over copper cable or via light over fiber lines. The antenna acts as a radiator and transmits waves through the air, just like radio and TV stations. Antennas also receive the waves from the air and transport them to the receiver, which is a radio, TV, or in the case of wireless networking, a router or an access point.

    Type cast.

    The type of antennas you use depends on what type of network you’re setting up and the coverage you need. How large is your network? Is it for a home, single office, campus, or larger? Is it point-to-point or multipoint?

    The physical design-walls, floors, etc.- of the building(s) you’re working in also affects the type and number of antennas you need. In addition, physical terrain affects your antenna choices. Obviously, a clear line of sight works best, but you need to consider obstructions such as trees, buildings, hills, and water. (Radio waves travel faster over land than water.) You even need to consider traffic noise in urban settings.

    The ideal shape.

    Let’s take a look at the different types of antennas.

    Isotropic Antenna. First, think of the introduction to the old RKO movies. A huge tower sits on top of the world and emanates circular waves in all directions. If you could actually see the waves, they would form a perfect sphere around the tower. This type of antenna is called an isotropic antenna, and does not exist in the real world. It is theoretical and is used as a base point for measuring actual antennas.

    Go in the right direction.

    Now let’s turn to real-world antennas. There are many types of antennas that emit radio waves in different directions, shapes, and on different planes. Think of the spherical isotropic antenna. If squeezed from the sides, it will become shaped like a wheel and will concentrate waves on a vertical plane. If squeezed from the top, it will flatten out like a pancake and radiate waves on a horizontal plane. Thus, there are two basic types of antennas: directional and omnidirectional.

    Directional antennas.

    Directional antennas, primarily used in point-to-point networks, concentrate the waves in one direction much like a flashlight concentrates light in a narrow beam. Directional antennas include backfire, Yagi, dish, panel, and sector.

    Backfire. This small directional antenna looks like a cake pan with a tin can in the middle. It’s designed to be compact, often under 11" in diameter, making it unobtrusive and practical for outdoor use. These antennas also offer excellent gain, and can be used in both point-to-point or point-to-multipoint systems.

    Yagi. The Yagi-Uda (or Yagi) antenna is named for its Japanese inventors. The antenna was originally intended for radio use and is now frequently used in 802.11 wireless systems.

    A Yagi antenna is highly directional. It looks like a long fishbone with a central spine and perpendicular rods or discs at specified intervals. Yagi antennas offer superior gain and highly vertical directionality. The longer the Yagi, the more focused its radiation is. Many outdoor Yagi antennas are covered in PVC so you can’t see the inner structure.

    Yagi antennas are good for making point-to-point links in long narrow areas (for instance, connecting to a distant point in a valley) or for point-to-point links between buildings. They can also be used to extend the range of a point-to-multipoint network.

    Parabolic or Dish. These antennas look like a circular or rectangular concave bowl or "dish". The backboard can be solid or a grid design. Parabolic grid designs are excellent for outdoor use since the wind blows right through them. The concave nature of this dish design focuses energy into a narrow beam that can travel long distances, even up to several miles. This makes parabolic antennas ideal for point-to-point network connections. Since they generate a narrow beam in both the horizontal and vertical planes, offer excellent gain, and minimize interference, they’re ideal for long-distance point-to-point networks.

    Panel or Patch. These antennas are often square or rectangular, and they’re frequently hung on walls. They’re designed to radiate horizontally forward and to the side, but not behind them. Sometimes they’re called "picture-frame" antennas.

    Panel antennas are ideal in applications where the access point is at one end of a building. They’re good for penetrating a single floor of a building, and for small and medium-size homes and offices. Since they might not have much vertical radiation, they might not be a good choice for multifloor applications.

    Because panel antennas can be easily concealed, they’re a good choice when aesthetics are important.

    Sector. A sector antenna can be any type of antenna that directs the radio waves in a specific area. They are often large, outdoor flat-panel or dish-type antennas mounted up high and tilted downward toward the ground. These antennas are often used in sprawling campus settings to cover large areas.

    Omnidirectional antennas.

    Omnidirectional antennas provide the widest coverage possible and are generally used in point-to-multipoint networks. Their range can be extended by overlapping circles of coverage from multiple access points. Most omnidirectional antennas emanate waves in a fan-shaped pattern on a horizontal plane. Overall, omnidirectional antennas have lower gain than directional antennas. Examples of omnidirectional antennas include: integrated, blade, and ceiling.

    Integrated. Integrated antennas are antennas that are built into wireless networking devices. They may be embedded in PC card client adapters or in the covers or body of laptops or other devices, such as access points. Integrated antennas often do not offer the same reception as external antennas and might not pick up weak signals. Access points with integral antennas must often be moved or tilted to get the best reception.

    Blade. These small, omnidirectional antennas are often housed in long, thin envelopes of plastic. They are most often used to pick up a signal in a low-signal or no-signal spot. You usually will see them on the walls of cubicles, mounted on desktops, or even hung above cubicles to catch signals. They’re basically an inexpensive signal booster.

    Ceiling Dome. These are sometimes also called ceiling blister antennas. They look somewhat like a smoke detector and are designed for unobtrusive use in ceilings, particularly drop ceilings. Ceiling dome antennas often have a pigtail for easy connection to access points. They’re excellent for use in corporate environments where wide coverage over a cube farm is needed.

    Wave basics.

    To better understand wireless antennas and networking, there are some basic measurements and terms that need to be discussed.

    Gain. One of the primary measurements of antennas is gain. Gain is measured as dBi, which is how much the antenna increases the transmitter’s power compared to the theoretical isotropic antenna, which has a gain of 0 dBi. dBi is the true gain the antenna provides to the transmitter’s output. Gain is also reciprocal-it’s the same transmitting and receiving. Higher gain means stronger sent and received signals. An easy way to remember gain basics is that every 3 dB of gain added doubles the effective power output of an antenna. The more an antenna concentrates a signal, the higher the gain it will have.

    You can actually calculate the gains and losses of a system by adding up the gains and losses of its parts in decibels.

    Frequency and Wavelength. Electromagnetic waves are comprised of two components: frequency and wavelength.

    Frequency is how many waves occur each second. Wavelength is the distance between one peak of a wave and the next peak. Lower frequencies have longer wavelengths; higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths. For example, the frequency of AM radio is 1 MHz with a wavelength of about 1000 feet. FM radios operate at a much higher frequency of 100 MHz and have a wavelength of about 100 feet.

    The two most common frequencies for wireless networking are 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz. Both are very high frequencies with very short wavelengths in the microwave band. The 2.4-GHz frequency has a wavelength of about 5 inches.

    Beamwidth. Consider an antenna to be like a flashlight or spotlight. It reflects and directs the light (or radio waves) in a particular direction. Beamwidth actually measures how energy is focused or concentrated.

    Polarization. This is the direction in which the antenna radiates wavelengths, either vertically, horizontally, or circularly. Vertical antennas have vertical polarization and are the most common. For optimum performance, it is important that the sending and receiving antennas have the same polarization.

    VSWR and Return Loss. Voltage Standing Wave Ratio (VSWR) measures how well the antenna is matched to the network at the operating frequency being used. It indicates how much of the received signal won’t reach either the transceiver or receiver. Return loss measures how well matched an antenna is to the network. Typical VSWR numbers are 1:1.2 or 1:1.5. A typical return loss number is 20.



    xDSL, a term that encompasses the broad range of digital subscriber line (DSL) services, offers a low-cost, high-speed data transport option for both individuals and businesses, particularly in areas without... more/see it nowaccess to cable Internet.

    xDSL provides data transmission over copper lines, using the local loop, the existing outside-plant telephone cable network that runs right to your home or office. DSL technology is relatively cheap and reliable.

    SHDSL can be used effectively in enterprise LAN applications. When interconnecting sites on a corporate campus, buildings and network devices often lie beyond the reach of a standard Ethernet segment. Now you can use existing copper network infrastructure to connect remote LANS across longer distances and at higher speeds than previously thought possible.

    There are various forms of DSL technologies, all of which face distance issues. The quality of the signals goes down with increasing distance. The most common will be examined here, including SHDSL, ADSL, and SDSL.

    SHDSL (also known as G.SHDSL) (Single-Pair, High-Speed Digital Subscriber Line) transmits data at much higher speeds than older versions of DSL. It enables faster transmission and connections to the Internet over regular copper telephone lines than traditional voice modems can provide. Support of symmetrical data rates makes SHDSL a popular choice for businesses for PBXs, private networks, web hosting, and other services.

    Ratified as a standard in 2001, SHDSL combines ADSL and SDSL features for communications over two or four (multiplexed) copper wires. SHDSL provides symmetrical upstream and downstream transmission with rates ranging from 192 kbps to 2.3 Mbps. As a departure from older DSL services designed to provide higher downstream speeds, SHDSL specified higher upstream rates, too. Higher transmission rates of 384 kbps to 4.6 Mbps can be achieved using two to four copper pairs. The distance varies according to the loop rate and noise conditions.

    For higher-bandwidth symmetric links, newer G.SHDSL devices for 4-wire applications support 10-Mbps rates at distances up to 1.3 miles (2 km). Equipment for 2-wire deployments can transmit up to 5.7 Mbps at the same distance.

    SHDSL (G.SHDSL) is the first DSL standard to be developed from the ground up and to be approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as a standard for symmetrical digital subscriber lines. It incorporates features of other DSL technologies, such as ADSL and SDS, and is specified in the ITU recommendation G.991.2.

    Also approved in 2001, VDSL (Very High Bitrate DSL) as a DSL service allows for downstream/upstream rates up to 52 Mbps/16 Mbps. Extenders for local networks boast 100-Mbps/60-Mbps speeds when communicating at distances up to 500 feet (152.4 m) over a single voice-grade twisted pair. As a broadband solution, VDSL enables the simultaneous transmission of voice, data, and video, including HDTV, video on demand, and high-quality videoconferencing. Depending on the application, you can set VDSL to run symmetrically or asymmetrically.

    VDSL2 (Very High Bitrate DSL 2), standardized in 2006, provides a higher bandwidth (up to 30 MHz) and higher symmetrical speeds than VDSL, enabling its use for Triple Play services (data, video, voice) at longer distances. While VDSL2 supports upstream/downstream rates similar to VDSL, at longer distances, the speeds don’t fall off as much as those transmitted with ordinary VDSL equipment.

    ADSL (Asymmetric DSL) provides transmission speeds ranging from downstream/upstream rates of 9 Mbps/640 kbps over a relatively short distance to 1.544 Mbps/16 kbps as far away as 18,000 feet. The former speeds are more suited to a business, the latter more to the computing needs of a residential customer.

    More bandwidth is usually required for downstream transmissions, such as receiving data from a host computer or downloading multimedia files. ADSL’s asymmetrical nature provides more than sufficient bandwidth for these applications.

    The lopsided nature of ADSL is what makes it most likely to be used for high-speed Internet access. And the various speed/distance options available within this range are one more point in ADSL’s favor. Like most DSL services standardized by ANSI as T1.413, ADSL enables you to lease and pay for only the bandwidth you need.

    SDSL (Symmetric DSL) represents the two-wire version of HDSL—which is actually symmetric DSL, albeit a four-wire version. SDSL is also known within ANSI as HDSL2.

    Essentially offering the same capabilities as HDSL, SDSL offers T1 rates (1.544 Mbps) at ranges up to 10,000 feet and is primarily designed for business applications.


    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...RS-232.

    RS-232, also known as RS-232C and TIA/EIA-232-E, is a group of electrical, functional, and mechanical specifications for serial interfaces between computers, terminals, and peripherals. The RS-232 standard was developed by... more/see it nowthe Electrical Industries Association (EIA), and defines requirements for connecting data communications equipment (DCE)—modems, converters, etc.—and data terminal equipment (DTE)—computers, controllers, etc.) devices. RS-232 transmits data at speeds up to 115 Kbps and over distances up to 50 feet (15.2 m).

    The standard, which is functionally equivalent to ITU V.24/V.28, specifies the workings of the interface, circuitry, and connector pinning. Both sync and async binary data transmission fall under RS-232. Although RS-232 is sometimes still used to transmit data from PCs to peripheral devices, the most common uses today are for network console ports and for industrial devices.

    Even though RS-232 is a “standard,” you can’t necessarily expect seamless communication between two RS-232 devices. Why? Because different devices have different circuitry or pinning, and different wires may be designated to perform different functions.

    The typical RS-232 connector is DB25, but some PCs and other data communication devices have DB9 connectors and many newer devices have RJ-45 RS-232 ports. To connect 9-pin PC ports or RJ-45 to devices with 25-pin connectors, you will require a simple adapter cable. collapse

    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

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