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Black Box Explains... Why go wireless?

• It’s great for communicating in harsh climates or in areas where it’s expensive to run cable. Wireless solutions are well suited for use in military applications, farming, refineries, mining,... more/see it nowconstruction, and field research.
• Because sometimes you just can’t run wire, like in historic buildings or hazmat areas.
• When it’s physically or legally impossible to support conventional hard-wired RS-232 communications, wireless networking may be your only answer.
• It gives you quick, temporary connections at trade shows, and fast reconfigurations—even troubleshooting or remote field testing.
• It provides reliable disaster relief when all else fails! Count on wireless networks to maintain mission-critical links when disaster strikes.
• It’s more affordable, more reliable, and faster than ever before.
• Best of all, no FCC licensing required! collapse


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



...more/see it now
OSI Layer Physical
Component
7-Application Applicaton Software

LAN-Compatible Software
E-Mail, Diagnostics, Word Processing, Database


Network Applications
6-Presentation Data-
Conversion Utilities
Vendor-Specific Network Shells and Gateway™ Workstation Software
5-Session Network Operating System SPX NetBIOS DECnet™ TCP/IP AppleTalk®
4-Transport Novell® NetWare® IPX™ PC LAN LAN Mgr DECnet PC/TCP® VINES™ NFS TOPS® Apple
Share®
3-Network Control
2-Data Link Network E A TR P TR E TR E E E P E P
1-Physical E=Ethernet; TR=Token Ring; A=ARCNET®; P=PhoneNET®

With the rapid development of computer networks over the last decade, high-end switching has become one of the most important functions on a network for moving data efficiently and quickly from one place to another.


Here’s how a switch works: As data passes through the switch, it examines addressing information attached to each data packet. From this information, the switch determines the packet’s destination on the network. It then creates a virtual link to the destination and sends the packet there.


The efficiency and speed of a switch depends on its algorithms, its switching fabric, and its processor. Its complexity is determined by the layer at which the switch operates in the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) Reference Model (see above).


OSI is a layered network design framework that establishes a standard so that devices from different vendors work together. Network addresses are based on this OSI Model and are hierarchical. The more details that are included, the more specific the address becomes and the easier it is to find.


The Layer at which the switch operates is determined by how much addressing detail the switch reads as data passes through.


Switches can also be considered low end or high end. A low-end switch operates in Layer 2 of the OSI Model and can also operate in a combination of Layers 2 and 3. High-end switches operate in Layer 3, Layer 4, or a combination of the two.


Layer 2 Switches (The Data-Link Layer)

Layer 2 switches operate using physical network addresses. Physical addresses, also known as link-layer, hardware, or MAC-layer addresses, identify individual devices. Most hardware devices are permanently assigned this number during the manufacturing process.


Switches operating at Layer 2 are very fast because they’re just sorting physical addresses, but they usually aren’t very smart—that is, they don’t look at the data packet very closely to learn anything more about where it’s headed.


Layer 3 Switches (The Network Layer)

Layer 3 switches use network or IP addresses that identify locations on the network. They read network addresses more closely than Layer 2 switches—they identify network locations as well as the physical device. A location can be a LAN workstation, a location in a computer’s memory, or even a different packet of data traveling through a network.


Switches operating at Layer 3 are smarter than Layer 2 devices and incorporate routing functions to actively calculate the best way to send a packet to its destination. But although they’re smarter, they may not be as fast if their algorithms, fabric, and processor don’t support high speeds.


Layer 4 Switches (The Transport Layer)

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


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


Layer 4 switches also provide an effective wire-speed security shield for your network because any company- or industry-specific protocols can be confined to only authorized switched ports or users. This security feature is often reinforced with traffic filtering and forwarding features.

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Black Box Explains...Layer 3 switching.

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

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

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

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

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


Black Box Explains...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...Wireless Ethernet standards.

IEEE 802.11
The precursor to 802.11b, IEEE 802.11 was introduced in 1997. It was a beginning, but 802.11 only supported speeds up to 2 Mbps. And it supported two entirely different... more/see it nowmethods of encoding—Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) and Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS). This led to confusion and incompatibility between different vendors’ equipment.

IEEE 802.11b
802.11b is comfortably established as the most popular wireless standard. With the IEEE 802.11b Ethernet standard, wireless is fast, easy, and affordable. Wireless devices from all vendors work together seamlessly. 802.11b is a perfect example of a technology that has become both sophisticated and standardized enough to really make life simpler for its users.

The 802.11b extension of the original 802.11 standard boosts wireless throughput from 2 Mbps all the way up to 11 Mbps. 802.11b can transmit up to 200 feet under good conditions, although this distance may be reduced considerably by the presence of obstacles such as walls.

This standard uses DSSS. With DSSS, each bit transmitted is encoded and the encoded bits are sent in parallel across an entire range of frequencies. The code used in a transmission is known only to the sending and receiving stations. By transmitting identical signals across the entire range of frequencies, DSSS helps to reduce interference and makes it possible to recover lost data without retransmission.

IEEE 802.11a
The 802.11a wireless Ethernet standard is new on the scene. It uses a different band than 802.11b—the 5.8-GHz band called U-NII (Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure) in the United States. Because the U-NII band has a higher frequency and a larger bandwidth allotment than the 2.4-GHz band, the 802.11a standard achieves speeds of up to 54 Mbps. However, it’s more limited in range than 802.11b. It uses an orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) encoding scheme rather than FHSS or DSSS.

IEEE 802.11g
802.11g is an extension of 802.11b and operates in the same 2.4-GHz band as 802.11b. It brings data rates up to 54 Mbps using OFDM technology.

Because it's actually an extension of 802.11b, 802.11g is backward-compatible with 802.11b—an 802.11b device can interface directly with an 802.11g access point. However, because 802.11g also runs on the same three channels as 802.11b, it can crowd already busy frequencies.

Super G® is a subset of 802.11g and is a proprietary extension of the 802.11g standard that doubles throughput to 108 Mbps. Super G is not an IEEE approved standard. If you use it, you should use devices from one vendor to ensure compatibility. Super G is generally backwards compatible with 802.11g.

802.11n
80211n improves upon 802.11g significantly with an increase in the data rate to 600 Mbps. Channels operate at 40 MHz doubling the channel width from 20 MHz. 802.11n operates on both the 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz bands. 802.11n also added multiple-input multiple-output antennas (MIMO).

MIMO
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 transmits 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


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...How to maximize your wireless range.

There are four simple rules that enable you to transmit wireless communications up to their maximum range:
• Try to keep a direct line between the transmitter and receiver.
• Minimize... more/see it nowthe number of walls and ceilings between the transmitter and receiver. Such obstructions reduce the range.
• If there are obstructions, be sure the wireless signal passes through drywall or open doorways and not other materials.
• Keep the transmitter and receiver at least 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 m) away from electrical devices or appliances, especially those that generate extreme RF noise. collapse


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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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...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

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