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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...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.


Black Box Explains...Thermocouples

A thermocouple is a device that measures temperature by using the fact that a junction between two different metals produces a varying voltage related to their temperature. Two common types... more/see it nowof thermocouple are Type J and Type K.

Type J thermocouples use iron paired with a nickel-copper alloy. Type J thermocouples may cover a temperature range of up to -40 to +1382° F (-40 to +750°C), and offer high sensitivity.

Type K, the most common type of thermocouple, uses nickel-chromium and nickel-aluminum alloys. Because Type K is an early specification, its characteristics vary widely; individual thermocouples may cover a range of up to -328 to +2462 °F (-200 to +1350 °C). collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specification comparison:

50-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber

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

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

62.5-/125-Miron Multimode Fiber

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

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

8–10-Micron Single-Mode Fiber

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

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

Black Box Explains... PCI buses

A Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) Bus enhances both speed and throughput. A PCI Local Bus is a high-performance bus that provides a processor-independent data path between the CPU and high-speed... more/see it nowperipherals. PCI is a robust interconnect interface designed specifically to accommodate multiple high-performance peripherals for graphics, full-motion video, SCSI, and LANs. collapse

Black Box Explains...50-µm vs. 62.5-µm fiber optic cable.

As today’s networks expand, the demand for more bandwidth and greater distances increases. Gigabit Ethernet and the emerging 10 Gigabit Ethernet are becoming the applications of choice for current and... more/see it nowfuture networking needs. Thus, there is a renewed interest in 50-micron fiber optic cable.

First used in 1976, 50-micron cable has not experienced the widespread use in North America that 62.5-micron cable has.

To support campus backbones and horizontal runs over 10-Mbps Ethernet, 62.5-micron fiber, introduced in 1986, was and still is the pre-dominant fiber optic cable because it offers high bandwidth and long distance.

One reason 50-micron cable did not gain widespread use was because of the light source. Both 62.5- and 50-micron fiber cable can use either LED or laser light sources. But in the 1980s and 1990s, LED light sources were common. Because 50-micron cable has a smaller aperture, the lower power of the LED light source caused a reduction in the power budget compared to 62.5-micron cable—thus, the migration to 62.5-micron cable. At that time, laser light sources were not highly developed and were rarely used with 50-micron cable — and, when they were, it was mostly in research and technological applications.

The cables share many characteristics. Although 50-micron fiber cable features a smaller core (the light-carrying portion of the fiber), both 50- and 62.5-micron cable use the same cladding diameter of 125 microns. Because they have the same outer diameter, they’re equally strong and are handled in the same way. In addition, both types of cable are included in the TIA/EIA 568-B.3 standards for structured cabling and connectivity.
As with 62.5-micron cable, you can use 50-micron fiber in all types of applications: Ethernet, FDDI, 155-Mbps ATM, Token Ring, Fast Ethernet, and Gigabit Ethernet. It is recommended for all premise applications: backbone, horizontal, and intrabuilding connections. And it should be considered especially for any new construction and installations. IT managers looking at the possibility of 10 Gigabit Ethernet and future scalability will get what they need with 50-micron cable. collapse

Black Box Explains...10-Gigabit Ethernet.

10-Gigabit Ethernet (10-GbE), ratified in June 2002, is a logical extension of previous Ethernet versions. 10-GbE was designed to make the transition from LANs to Wide Area Networks (WANs) and... more/see it nowMetropolitan Area Networks (MANs). It offers a cost-effective migration for high-performance and long-haul transmissions at up to 40 kilometers. Its most common application now is as a backbone for high-speed LANs, server farms, and campuses.

10-GbE supports existing Ethernet technologies. It uses the same layers (MAC, PHY, and PMD), and the same frame sizes and formats. But the IEEE 802.3ae spec defines two sets of physical interfaces: LAN (LAN PHY) and WAN (WAN PHY). The most notable difference between 10-GbE and previous Ethernets is that 10-GbE operates in full-duplex only and specifies fiber optic media.

At a glance—Gigabit vs. 10-Gigabit Ethernet

• CSMA/CD + full-duplex
• Leveraged Fibre Channel PMDs
• Reused 8B/10B coding
• Optical/copper media
• Support LAN to 5 km
• Carrier extension

10-Gigabit Ethernet
• Full-duplex only
• New optical PMDs
• New coding scheme 64B/66B
• Optical (developing copper)
• Support LAN to 40 km
• Throttle MAC speed for WAN
• Use SONET/SDH as Layer 1 transport

The alphabetical coding for 10-GbE is as follows:
S = 850 nm
L = 1310 nm
E = 1550 nm
X = 8B/10B signal encoding
R = 66B encoding
W = WIS interface (for use with SONET).

10GBASE-SR — Distance: 300 m; Wavelength: 850 nm; Cable: Multimode
10GBASE-SW — Distance: 300 m; Wavelength: 850 nm; Cable: Multimode
10GBASE-LR — Distance: 10 km; Wavelength: 1310 nm; Cable: Single-Mode
10GBASE-LW — Distance: 10 km; Wavelength: 1310 nm; Cable: Single-Mode
10GBASE-LX4 — Distance: Multimode 300 m, Single-Mode 10 km; Wavelength: Multimode 1310 nm, Single-Mode WWDM; Cable: Multimode or Single-Mode
10GBASE-ER — Distance: 40 km; Wavelength: 1550 nm; Cable: Single-Mode
10GBASE-EW — Distance: 40 km; Wavelength: 550 nm; Cable: Single-Mode
10GBASE-CX4* — Distance: 15 m; Wavelength: Cable: 4 x Twinax
10GBASE-T* — Distance: 25–100 m; Wavelength: Cable: Twisted Pair
* Proposed for copper. collapse

Black Box Explains... Coax cables for ServSwitch products.

What’s the difference between standard and coax cables for ServSwitch™ products? Performance! Coax cables are made with premium-gauge wire, so they can be made in longer lengths. That means you... more/see it nowcan move your workstation up to 100 feet (30.4 m) from your ServSwitch. Plus coax cables have even more shielding to maintain the signal quality and strength you need. If you require high-resolution video or long distances, this is the cable you need! collapse

Black Box Explains...Controlling GPIO interfaces with iCOMPEL.

With the iCOMPEL™, interactivity goes beyond touchscreen support. It also supports general-purpose input/output (GPIO) capabilities. Through an external device with a GPIO interface, the playing of on-screen information can be... more/see it nowtriggered (or halted) by signals originating from device inputs via contact closures. These can be external infrared motion detectors, light sensors, switches, push buttons, building control systems—even external SCADA collection systems.

The possibilities are endless. You can set up a screen to provide emergency notification during crises—based on a signal sent when a secure door is opened or when an environmental condition occurs. Or simply use a screen to welcome visitors walking through your main door. You can even have a screen change from a static display to an interactive touchscreen when someone approaches.

Just connect the external device to the iCOMPEL using our ICOMP-GPIO Adapter, which adapts the USB port on the iCOMPEL to a DB9 (RS-232) port. (NOTE: Older iCOMPEL units include a DB9 port, so the adapter isn’t needed.) This adapted port can be used for sending user-defined RS-232 strings and receiving RS-232 strings. The port also offers four input lines for binary events, such as motion detection, contact closure, or other device signaling. In some cases, you can even use the RS-232 connection to power simple detection devices.

Each RS-232 input item can be included in a playlist and used to generate an Advance To or Change Layout on a user-defined transition of the line. The Advance To or Change Layout commands can be configured to change the media being played by the iCOMPEL.

The iCOMPEL has the ability to control the output state of the RS-232 DTR and RTS lines. The lines are controlled by RS-232 output items, which can appear as items in the iCOMPEL playlist menu. The RS-232 output items can assign the state of one or both RS-232 output lines and optionally a string of characters to be output.

For further details on how to activate touchscreen and contact closure capabilities on an iCOMPEL unit, contact our FREE Tech Support. Our experts can also recommend accessories for motion detection and other GPIO-controlled functions.

Black Box Explains...Breakout-style cables.

With breakout- or fanout-style cables, the fibers are packaged individually. A breakout cable is basically several simplex cables bundled together in one jacket. Breakout cables are suitable for riser and... more/see it nowplenum applications, and conduit runs.

This differs from distribution-style cables where several tight-buffered fibers are bundled under the same jacket.

This design of the breakout cable adds strength to the cable, although that makes it larger and more expensive than distribution-style cables.

Because each fiber is individually reinforced, you can divide the cable into individual fiber lines. This enables quick connector termination, and eliminates the need for patch panels.

Breakout cable can also be more economical because it requires much less labor to terminate.

You may want to choose a cable that has more fibers than you actually need in case of breakage during termination or for future expansion. collapse

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