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Black Box Explains... Bridges

If you work with legacy networks, you have doubtlessly encountered bridges. Bridges perform the same function as today’s switches in that they connect multiple network segments to create one homogenous... more/see it nownetwork, while keeping each segment isolated from the others.

Bridges operate on MAC-layer addresses and are protocol independent, so they transfer data between workstations without understanding the protocol. Since they don’t have to understand the protocol, they require little or no configuration.

Once you connect the bridge to the network, it automatically learns the addresses of all connected nodes and then creates an internal address table of this information.

When the bridge sees a packet, it checks the packet’s destination address against its internal list. If the address indicates the packet needs to be forwarded, the bridge passes the packet to the appropriate segment. If a bridge doesn’t know where a packet belongs—for example, when a station is first powered on—it passes on the packet.

Bridges can also distinguish between local data and remote data, so data traveling from one workstation to another in the same network doesn’t have to cross the bridge.

Although they are no longer in general use, Black Box stocks bridges for use as replacement parts in legacy networks. Replacing bridges with bridges rather than switches is often preferable because bridges are generally available with the BNC and AUI interfaces often found in older networks. Also, some bridges are able to link to other protocols such as RS-530 and X.21, enabling you to use these media to establish Ethernet network connections. collapse


Black Box Explains...T1 and E1.

If you manage a heavy-traffic data network and demand high bandwidth for high speeds, you need digital super-fast T1 or E1.

Both T1 and E1 are foundations of global communications. Developed... more/see it nowmore than 35 years ago and commercially available since 1983, T1 and E1 go virtually anywhere phone lines go, but they’re much faster. T1, used primarily in the U.S., sends data up to 1.544 Mbps; E1, used primarily in Europe, supports speeds to 2.048 Mbps. No matter where you need to connect—North, South, or Central America, Europe, or the Pacific Rim—T1 and E1 can get your data there fast!

T1 and E1 are versatile, too. Drive a private, point-to-point line; provide corporate access to the Internet; enable inbound access to your Web Server—even support a voice/data/fax/video WAN that extends halfway around the world! T1 and E1 are typically used for:
• Accessing public Frame Relay networks or Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTNs) for voice or fax.
• Merging voice and data traffic. A single T1 or E1 line can support voice and data simultaneously.
• Making super-fast LAN connections. Today’s faster Ethernet speeds require the very high throughput provided by one or more T1 or E1 lines.
• Sending bandwidth-intensive data such as CAD/CAM, MRI, CAT-scan images, and other large files.

Scaling T1
Basic T1 service supplies a bandwidth of 1.536 Mbps. However, many of today’s applications demand much more bandwidth. Or perhaps you only need a portion of the 1.536 Mbps that T1 supplies. One of T1’s best features is that it can be scaled up or down to provide just the right amount of bandwidth for any application.

A T1 channel consists of 24 64-kbps DS0 (Digital Signal [Zero]) subchannels that combine to provide 1.536 Mbps throughput. Because they enable you to combine T1 lines or to use only part of a T1, DS0s make T1 a very flexible standard.

If you don’t need 1.536 Mbps, your T1 service provider can rent you a portion of a T1 line, called Fractional T1. For instance, you can contract for half a T1 line—768 kbps—and get the use of DS0s 1–12. The service provider is then free to sell DS0s 13–24 to another customer.

If you require more than 1.536 Mbps, two or more T1 lines can be combined to provide very-high-speed throughput. The next step up from T1 is T1C; it offers two T1 lines multiplexed together for a total throughput of 3.152 on 48 DS0s. Or consider T2 and get 6.312 Mbps over 96 DS0s by multiplexing four T1 lines together to form one high-speed connection.

Moving up the scale of high-speed T1 services is T3. T3 is 28 T1 lines multiplexed together for a blazing throughput of 44.736 Mbps, consisting of 672 DS0s, each of which supports 64 kbps.

Finally there’s T4. It consists of 4032 64-kbps DS0 subchannels for a whopping 274.176 Mbps of bandwidth—that’s 168 times the size of a single T1 line!

These various levels of T1 service can by implemented simulta-neously within a large enterprise network. Of course, this has the potential to become somewhat overwhelming from a management standpoint. But as long as you keep track of DS0s, you always know exactly how much bandwidth you have at your disposal.

T1’s cousin, E1, can also have multiple lines merged to provide greater throughput. collapse


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...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


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.

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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…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...Media converters.



Media converters interconnect different cable types such as twisted pair, fiber, and coax within an existing network. They are often used to connect newer Ethernet equipment to legacy cabling.... more/see it nowThey can also be used in pairs to insert a fiber segment into copper networks to increase cabling distances and enhance immunity to electromagnetic interference (EMI).


Traditional media converters are purely Layer 1 devices that only convert electrical signals and physical media. They don’t do anything to the data coming through the link so they’re totally transparent to data. These converters have two ports—one port for each media type. Layer 1 media converters only operate at one speed and cannot, for instance, support both 10-Mbps and 100-Mbps Ethernet.


Some media converters are 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—in other words, they’re really switches. This kind of media converter often has more than two ports, enabling you to, for instance, extend two or more copper links across a single fiber link. They also often feature autosensing ports on the copper side, making them useful for linking segments operating at different speeds.


Media converters are available in standalone models that convert between two different media types and in chassis-based models that connect many different media types in a single housing.




Rent an apartment

Standalone converters convert between two media. But, like a small apartment, they can be outgrown. Consider your current and future applications before selecting a media converter. Standalone converters are available in many configurations, including 10BASE-T to multimode or single-mode fiber, 10BASE-T to Thin coax (ThinNet), 10BASE-T to thick coax (standard Ethernet), CDDI to FDDI, and Thin coax to fiber. 100BASE-T and 100BASE-FX models that connect UTP to single- or multimode fiber are also available. With the development of Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbps), media converters have been created to make the transition to high-speed networks easier.




...or buy a house.

Chassis-based or modular media converters are normally rackmountable and have slots that 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 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 100BASE-FX, and Gigabit modules may also be mixed.

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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.
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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

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