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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: M1 connectors.

In 2001, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) approved the M1 Display Interface System for digital displays. The M1 system is a versatile and convenient system designed for computer displays,... more/see it nowspecifically digital projectors. M1 supports both analog and digital signals.

M1 is basically a modified DVI connector that can support DVI, VGA, USB and IEEE-1394 signals. The single connector replaces multiple connectors on projectors. An M1 cable can also be used to power accessories, such as interface cards for PDAs.

There are three primary types of M1 connectors:
–M1-DA (digital and analog). This is the most common connector, and it supports VGA, USB and DVI signals.
–M1-D (digital) supports DVI signals.
–M1-A (analog) supports VGA signals.

The M1 standard does not cover any signal specifications or detailed connector specifications. collapse

Black Box Explains...Fiber optic attenuators.

Attenuators are used with single-mode fiber optic devices and cable to filter the strength of the fiber optic signal. Depending on the type of attenuator attached to the devices at... more/see it noweach end of the fiber optic cable, you can diminish the strength of the light signal a variable amount, measured in decibels (dB).

Why would you want to filter the strength of the fiber optic signal? Single-mode fiber is designed to carry a fiber optic signal long distances—as much as 70 kilometers (or 43.4 miles). Fiber devices send this signal with great force to ensure that the signal, and your data, arrive at the other end intact.

But when two fiber devices connected with single-mode fiber cable are close to each other, the signal may be too strong. As a result, the light signal reflects back down the fiber cable. Data can be corrupted and transmissions can be faulty. A signal that is too strong can even damage the attached equipment.

Because it’s probably not feasible to move your fiber equipment farther apart, the easiest solution is to attach an attenuator to each fiber device. Just as sunglasses filter the strength of sunlight, attenuators filter the strength of the light signal transmitted along single-mode fiber cable. Within the attenuator, there’s doping that reduces the strength of the signal passing through the fiber connection and minute air gaps where the two fibers meet. Fiber grooves may also be intentionally misaligned by several microns—but only enough to slow the fiber optic signal to an acceptable rate as it travels down the cable.

Before selecting an attenuator, you need to check the type of adapter on your fiber devices. Attenuators typically fit into any patch panel equipped with FC, SC, or LC adapters that contain either PC or APC contacts. In addition to the type of adapter, you also need to determine the necessary attenuation value, such as 5 or 10 dB. This value varies, depending on the strength of fiber optic signal desired. collapse

Black Box Explains...NEMA 12 certification.

The National Electrical Manufacturers’ Association (NEMA) specifies guidelines for cabinet certifications. NEMA 12 cabinets are constructed for indoor use to provide protection against certain contaminants that might come in contact... more/see it nowwith the enclosed equipment. The NEMA 12 designation means a particular cabinet has met the guidelines, which include protection against falling dirt, circulating dust, lint, fibers, and dripping or splashing non-corrosive liquids. Protection against oil and coolant seepage is also a prerequisite for NEMA 12 certification.

Organizations with mission-critical equipment benefit from a NEMA 12 cabinet. Certain environments put equipment at a higher risk than others. For example, equipment in industrial plants is subject to varying degrees of extreme temperature. Even office buildings generate lots of dust and moisture, which is detrimental to equipment. NEMA 12 enclosures help to ensure that your operation suffers from as little downtime as possible. collapse


S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) is a type of digital audio transfer file format developed primarily by Sony and Philips. It enables the transfer of digital audio without converting it... more/see it nowto and from analog, which can degrade the signal.

S/PDIF is typically used to connect consumer audio equipment over short distances. The connector is found on equipment such as a DAT (Digital Audio Tape) device, home theater amplifiers, etc. S/PDIF is based on the professional AES3 interconnect standard.

S/PDIF signals are carried over two types of cables. The first is a 75-ohm coaxial cable with orange RCA connectors. The second is a fiber cable with TOSLINK connectors. collapse

Black Box Explains... Fan-out kits.

Furcating is the process of adding protective tubing to each fiber within a loose-tube cable. It can be a headache-inducing task if you don’t have the right tools. If you... more/see it nowbend the cable or buffer tubes past their recommended bend radius, or if you allow them to kink, you’ll end up with substandard cable connections and splices that can break down over time. And, if the cable is outdoors, it can become exposed to the elements. The end result: a damaged cable without optimal transmission performance.

That’s why a fan-out kit is an absolute must during furcation. These kits enable you to branch out the fragile fiber strands from a buffer tube into protective tubing so you can add a connector. And, you can do it without using splicing hardware, trays, and pigtails.

To separate the fibers, use the kit’s fan-out assembly, which is color-coded to match the fiber color scheme. The assembly protects the cable’s bend radius. It also eliminates excessive strain on the fibers by isolating them from tensile forces.

Several types of fan-out kits are available for both indoor and outdoor cross-connects. The outdoor kits include components that compensate for wider temperature fluctuations. Some kits are used to terminate loose-tube cables with 6 or 12 fibers per buffer tube. Others enable you to furcate and terminate more than 200 loose-tube cable fibers, sealing the cable sheath and providing a moisture barrier at the point of termination. These kits require no additional hardware.

Although it’s recommended that you terminate loose-tube cable at a patch panel, that might not always be possible. For this, there are “spider“ type fan-out kits, which affix a stronger tubing to the bare fiber. The tubing is typically multilayered, consisting of a FEP inner tube that holds the individual fiber, an aramid yarn strength member, and an outer protective PVC jacket. Once you strip back the cable jacket, you thread the fibers into the fan-out inserts. collapse

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.


Black Box Explains... SCSI termination

Passive termination
This is the oldest method of termination. A passive terminator sits on the bus to minimize reflections at the end of the cable. Passive terminators simply provide impedance close... more/see it nowto that of the cable. The terminator is “passive” because it doesn’t do any work to regulate power for termination; it relies on the interface card to provide steady power.

Active termination
This is a more stable form of terminating SCSI cables. Active terminators control the impedance at the end of the SCSI bus by using a voltage regulator, not just the power supplied by the interface card.

Forced-perfect termination
Of all SCSI terminators, this is the most complex. A cable with a forced-perfect terminator can actually change its impedance to compensate for variations along the bus. Forced-perfect terminators force the impedance of the cable to match each device through diode switching and biasing. collapse

Black Box Explains...Token Ring Cabling

The original Token Ring specifications called for shielded twisted-pair (STP) cable using either a DB9 connector or a unique square connector called the IBM data connector. Later, Token Ring was... more/see it nowadapted to use conventional unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable with RJ-45 connectors. The most common kinds of Token Ring cabling in use to day are Type 1 and Type 6 STP as well as Type 3 UTP.

Type 1 shielded twisted-pair (STP) cable is the original wiring for Token Ring. In Type 1 cabling, each wire is constructed of 22 AWG solid copper. Type 1 cable is not as flexible as Type 6 cable and is generally used for long runs in areas where twists and turns are less likely, such as in walls or conduits.

Type 6 Token Ring cable is a lighter, more pliable version of Type 1 cable. It’s constructed of two stranded 26 AWG copper pairs that are surrounded by an overall braided shield. Type 6 cable is commonly used in offices and open areas, and its flexible construction enables it to negotiate multiple twists and turns.

Type 3 or UTP Token Ring cabling uses the same twisted-pair CAT3, CAT5, or CAT5e cabling with RJ-45 connectors as 10BASE-T Ethernet does. Attaching older Type 1 Token Ring to UTP Token Ring requires a balun or adapter. collapse

Black Box Explains...Solid vs. stranded cable.

Solid-conductor cable is designed for backbone and horizontal cable runs. Use it for runs between two wiring closets or from the wiring closet to a wallplate. Solid cable shouldn’t be... more/see it nowbent, flexed, or twisted repeatedly. Its attenuation is lower than that of stranded-conductor cable.

Stranded cable is for use in shorter runs between network interface cards (NICs) and wallplates or between concentrators and patch panels, hubs, and other rackmounted equipment. Stranded-conductor cable is much more flexible than solid-core cable. However, attenuation is higher in stranded-conductor cable, so the total length of stranded cable in your system should be kept to a minimum to reduce signal degradation. collapse

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