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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...The fully accessorized rack.

After you choose your rack, consider how you’ll set it up and what accessories you might need.

Your rack may need to be secured. A typical rack has about a... more/see it now15"-deep base, providing some stability, but not enough to prevent the rack from tipping if heavy objects are mounted on it. To solve this problem, most rack bases can be bolted to the floor.

You also need to decide how to accommodate standalone equipment, which is not actually rackmounted or bolted to the rack. You can place small devices on a cantilevered shelf such as the RM001, however, you should place heavier items such as monitors on a center-weight shelf such as the RM377.

Small extras, such as Patch Panel Hinge Kits, can make your job easier. These hinges enable you to access the back of a patch panel simply by swinging it out from the rack. They’re particularly useful for racks in hard-to-reach areas.

If you need to mount both 19" and 23" equipment in the same rack, use a 23" rack with 23"-to-19" Rackmount Adapters to fit the 19" devices.

For a neater appearance, you can cover unused spaces in a rack with Filler Panels.

Cable management is also an important consideration. Our Horizontal and Vertical Cable Managers help you to route cables along the sides of racks, between racks, and to the rackmounted equipment. collapse

Black Box Explains...Why media converters need SNMP.

The number of Ethernet switches and fiber optic segments being added to Ethernet networks keeps increasing. And as long as most Ethernet switches are only available with 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX... more/see it nowinterfaces, media converters will remain in demand.

Until now, a failure on the network could go unnoticed. Once a failure was detected, it could take a long time to isolate it, especially if a technician had to be sent to the site. But media converters with SNMP eliminate some of the guesswork.

With SNMP, the IS manager can detect a failure, isolate it to a specific port, and determine what hardware is required to repair it. A technician can then be sent directly to the right place to fix faulty hardware or repair a broken cable.

SNMP enables you to set up alarms or traps when a link is down. You can turn features on and off from a central terminal, so there’s no need to leave your desk. You can also monitor power supplies and replace them without interrupting service. SNMP management reduces the time and money it takes to get your network up and running again. The users on your network will notice—and appreciate—the improved service and reliability. collapse

Black Box Explains...Types of KVM switches.

Black Box has the keyboard/video switches you need to share one CPU between several workstations or to control several CPUs from one monitor and keyboard.

If you do a lot of... more/see it nowswitching, you need premium switches—our top-of-the-line ServSwitch™ KVM switches give you the most reliable connections for the amount of KVM equipment supported. With ServSwitch KVM switches, you can manage as many CPUs as you want from just one workstation, and you can access any server in any computer room from any workstation. Eliminating needless equipment not only saves you money, it also gives you more space and less clutter. Plus, you can switch between PCs, Sun®, and Mac® CPUs. ServSwitch KVM switches can also cut your electricity and cooling costs because by sharing monitors, you use less power and generate less heat.

If your switching demands are very minor, you may not need products as advanced as ServSwitch. Black Box offers switches to fill less demanding needs. Most of these are manual switches or basic electronic switches, which don’t have the sophisticated emulation technology used by the ServSwitch.

For PCs with PS/2® keyboards, try our Keyboard/Video Switches. They send keyboard signals, so your CPUs boot up as though they each have their own keyboard.

With the RS/6000™ KVM Switch, you can run up to six RS/6000 servers from one workstation. Our Keyboard/ Video Switch for Mac enables you to control up to two Mac CPUs from one keyboard and monitor.

With BLACK BOX® KVM Switches, you can share a workstation with two or four CPUs. They’re available in IBM® PC and Sun Workstation® configurations.

You’ll also find that our long-life manual Keyboard/Video Switches are perfect for basic switching applications. collapse

Black Box Explains...PC, UPC, and APC fiber connectors.

Fiber optic cables have different types of mechanical connections. The type of connection determines the quality of the fiber optic lightwave transmission. The different types we’ll discuss here are the... more/see it nowflat-surface, Physical Contact (PC), Ultra Physical Contact (UPC), and Angled Physical Contact (APC).

The original fiber connector is a flat-surface connection, or a flat connector. When mated, an air gap naturally forms between the two surfaces from small imperfections in the flat surfaces. The back reflection in flat connectors is about -14 dB or roughly 4%.

As technology progresses, connections improve. The most common connection now is the PC connector. Physical Contact connectors are just that—the end faces and fibers of two cables actually touch each other when mated.

In the PC connector, the two fibers meet, as they do with the flat connector, but the end faces are polished to be slightly curved or spherical. This eliminates the air gap and forces the fibers into contact. The back reflection is about -40 dB. This connector is used in most applications.

An improvement to the PC is the UPC connector. The end faces are given an extended polishing for a better surface finish. The back reflection is reduced even more to about -55 dB. These connectors are often used in digital, CATV, and telephony systems.

The latest technology is the APC connector. The end faces are still curved but are angled at an industry-standard eight degrees. This maintains a tight connection, and it reduces back reflection to about -70 dB. These connectors are preferred for CATV and analog systems.

PC and UPC connectors have reliable, low insertion losses. But their back reflection depends on the surface finish of the fiber. The finer the fiber grain structure, the lower the back reflection. And when PC and UPC connectors are continually mated and remated, back reflection degrades at a rate of about 4 to 6 dB every 100 matings for a PC connector. APC connector back reflection does not degrade with repeated matings. collapse

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

Black Box Explains...Fiber.

Fiber versus copper.

When planning a new or upgraded cabling infrastructure, you have two basic choices: fiber or copper. Both offer superior data transmission. The decision on which one... more/see it nowto use may be difficult. It will often depend on your current network, your future networking needs, and your particular application, including bandwidth, distances, environment, cost, and more. In some cases, copper may be a better choice; in other situations, fiber offers advantages.

Although copper cable is currently more popular and much more predominant in structured cabling systems and networks, fiber is quickly gaining fans.

Fiber optic cable is becoming one of the fastest-growing transmission mediums for both new cabling installations and upgrades, including backbone, horizontal, and even desktop applications. Fiber optic cable is favored for applications that need high bandwidth, long distances, and complete immunity to electrical interference. It’s ideal for high data-rate systems such as Gigabit Ethernet, FDDI, multimedia, ATM, SONET, Fibre Channel, or any other network that requires the transfer of large, bandwidth-consuming data files, particularly over long distances. A common application for fiber optic cable is as a network backbone, where huge amounts of data are transmitted. To help you decide if fiber is right for your new network or if you want to migrate to fiber, take a look at the following:

The advantages of fiber.

Greater bandwidth-Because fiber provides far greater bandwidth than copper and has proven performance at rates up to 10 Gbps, it gives network designers future-proofing capabilities as network speeds and requirements increase. Also, fiber optic cable can carry more information with greater fidelity than copper wire. That’s why the telephone networks use fiber, and many CATV companies are converting to fiber.

Low attenuation and greater distance-Because the fiber optic signal is made of light, very little signal loss occurs during transmission so data can move at higher speeds and greater distances. Fiber does not have the 100-meter (304.8-ft.) distance limitation of unshielded twisted-pair copper (without a booster). Fiber distances can range from 300 meters to 40 kilometers, depending on the style of cable, wavelength, and network. (Fiber distances are typically measured in metric units.) Because fiber signals need less boosting than copper ones do, the cable performs better.

Fiber networks also enable you to put all your electronics and hardware in one central location, instead of having wiring closets with equipment throughout the building.

Security-Your data is safe with fiber cable. It does not radiate signals and is extremely difficult to tap. If the cable is tapped, it’s very easy to monitor because the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail. If an attempt is made to break the security of your fiber system, you’ll know it.

Immunity and reliability-Fiber provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The fiber is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It is immune to electromagnetic interference and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. You can run fiber cable next to industrial equipment without worry. Fiber is also less susceptible to temperature fluctuations than copper is and can be submerged in water.

Design-Fiber is lightweight, thin, and more durable than copper cable. And, contrary to what you might think, fiber optic cable has pulling specifications that are up to ten times greater than copper cable’s. Its small size makes it easier to handle, and it takes up much less space in cabling ducts. Although fiber is still more difficult to terminate than copper is, advancements in connectors are making temination easier. In addition, fiber is actually easier to test than copper cable.

Migration-The proliferation and lower costs of media converters are making copper to fiber migration much easier. The converters provide seamless links and enable the use of existing hardware. Fiber can be incorporated into networks in planned upgrades.

Standards-New TIA/EIA standards are bringing fiber closer to the desktop. TIA/EIA-785, ratified in 2001, provides a cost-effective migration path from 10-Mbps Ethernet to 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet over fiber (100BASE-SX). A recent addendum to the standard eliminates limitations in transceiver designs. In addition, in June 2002, the IEEE approved a 10-Gigabit Ethernet standard.

Costs-The cost for fiber cable, components, and hardware is steadily decreasing. Installation costs for fiber are higher than copper because of the skill needed for terminations. Overall, fiber is more expensive than copper in the short run, but it may actually be less expensive in the long run. Fiber typically costs less to maintain, has much less downtime, and requires less networking hardware. And fiber eliminates the need to recable for higher network performance.

Multimode or single-mode, duplex or simplex?

Multimode-Multimode fiber optic cable can be used for most general fiber applications. Use multimode fiber for bringing fiber to the desktop, for adding segments to your existing network, or in smaller applications such as alarm systems. Multimode cable comes with two different core sizes: 50 micron or 62.5 micron.

Single-mode-Single-mode is used over distances longer than a few miles. Telcos use it for connections between switching offices. Single-mode cable features an 8.5-micron glass core.

Duplex-Use duplex multimode or single-mode fiber optic cable for applications that require simultaneous, bidirectional data transfer. Workstations, fiber switches and servers, fiber modems, and similar hardware require duplex cable. Duplex is available in single- and multimode.

Simplex-Because simplex fiber optic cable consists of only one fiber link, you should use it for applications that only require one-way data transfer. For instance, an interstate trucking scale that sends the weight of the truck to a monitoring station or an oil line monitor that sends data about oil flow to a central location. Simplex fiber comes in single- and multimode types.

50- vs. 62.5-micron cable.

Although 50-micron fiber cable features a smaller core, which is the light-carrying portion of the fiber, both 62.5- and 50-micron cable feature the same glass cladding diameter of 125 microns. You can use both in the same types of networks, although 50-micron cable is recommended for premise applications: backbone, horizontal, and intrabuilding connections, and should be considered especially for any new construction and installations. And both can use either LED or laser light sources.

The big difference between 50-micron and 62.5-micron cable is in bandwidth-50-micron cable features three times the bandwidth of standard 62.5-micron cable, particularly at 850 nm. The 850-nm wavelength is becoming more important as lasers are being used more frequently as a light source.

Other differences are distance and speed. 50-micron cable provides longer link lengths and/or higher speeds in the 850-nm wavelength. See the table below.

The ferrules: ceramic or composite?

As a general rule, use ceramic ferrules for critical network connections such as backbone cables or for connections that will be changed frequently, like those in wiring closets. Ceramic ferrules are more precisely molded and fit closer to the fiber, which gives the fiber optic cables a lower optical loss.

Use composite ferrules for connections that are less critical to the network’s overall operation and less frequently changed. Like their ceramic counterparts, composite ferrules are characterized by low loss, good quality, and a long life. However, they are not as precisely molded and slightly easier to damage, so they aren’t as well-suited for critical connections.

Testing and certifying fiber optic cable.

If you’re accustomed to certifying copper cable, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to certify fiber optic cable because it’s immune to electrical interference. You only need to check a few measurements.

Attenuation (or decibel loss)-Measured in decibels/kilometer (dB/km), this is the decrease of signal strength as it travels through the fiber cable. Generally, attenuation problems are more common on multimode fiber optic cables.

Return loss-This is the amount of light reflected from the far end of the cable back to the source. The lower the number, the better. For example, a reading of -60 decibels is better than -20 decibels. Like attenuation, return loss is usually greater with multimode cable.

Graded refractive index-This measures how the light is sent down the fiber. This is commonly measured at wavelengths of 850 and 1300 nanometers. Compared to other operating frequencies, these two ranges yield the lowest intrinsic power loss. (NOTE: This is valid for multimode fiber only.)

Propagation delay-This is the time it takes a signal to travel from one point to another over a transmission channel.

Optical time-domain reflectometry (OTDR)-This enables you to isolate cable faults by transmitting high-frequency pulses onto a cable and examining their reflections along the cable. With OTDR, you can also determine the length of a fiber optic cable because the OTDR value includes the distance the optic signal travels.

There are many fiber optic testers on the market today. Basic fiber optic testers function by shining a light down one end of the cable. At the other end, there’s a receiver calibrated to the strength of the light source. With this test, you can measure how much light is going to the other end of the cable. Generally, these testers give you the results in dB lost, which you then compare to the loss budget. If the measured loss is less than the number calculated by your loss budget, your installation is good.

Newer fiber optic testers have a broad range of capabilities. They can test both 850- and 1300-nanometer signals at the same time and can even check your cable for compliance with specific standards.

Fiber precautions.

A few properties particular to fiber optic cable can cause problems if you aren’t careful during installation.

Intrinsic power loss-As the optic signal travels through the fiber core, the signal inevitably loses some speed through absorption, reflection, and scattering. This problem is easy to manage by making sure your splices are good and your connections are clean.

Microbending-Microbends are minute deviations in fiber caused by excessive bends, pinches, and kinks. Using cable with reinforcing fibers and other special manufacturing techniques minimizes this problem.

Connector loss-Connector loss occurs when two fiber segments are misaligned. This problem is commonly caused by poor splicing. Scratches and dirt introduced during the splicing process can also cause connector loss.

Coupling loss-Similar to connector loss, coupling loss results in reduced signal power and is from poorly terminated connector couplings.

Remember to be careful and use common sense when installing fiber cable. Use clean components. Keep dirt and dust to a minimum. Don’t pull the cable excessively or bend it too sharply around any corners. That way, your fiber optic installation can serve you well for many years.


Black Box Explains...Flexible microphones.

A headset featuring a flexible, swing-away microphone boom is easy to adjust—all you need to do is bend the boom until the microphone is in the correct position. Plus, you... more/see it nowcan easily swing the microphone out of your way if you wish to take a sip of coffee or soda while you’re on the phone. 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.

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).

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...MT-RJ fiber optic connectors.

Bringing fiber to the desktop is a great way to provide your users with increased bandwidth. The first step in achieving this goal is to provide an inexpensive fiber optic... more/see it nowsystem that is intuitive to the end user, easy to terminate in the field, and widely supported by equipment manufacturers. MT-RJ could be the answer to all these requirements.

A collaborative effort by leading fiber optic manufacturers, MT-RJ has an intuitive RJ latch that users recognize from copper Category 5 patch cords and traditional telephone cords, and it operates in the same way. The plug and jack are also similar in size to traditional RJ-type connectors.

Field installation, a common concern, is easier because of MT-RJ’s no-polish, no-epoxy, quick-termination design. MT-RJ is available in single- or multimode configurations and is backwards compatible for integration into existing networks. Since MT-RJ has duplex polarity, you don’t have to worry about the polarity reversal that happens with traditional ST type connectors. The TIA/EIA recently voted to accept MT-RJ, indicating wide acceptance of the new design and possible future inclusion in the TIA/EIA 568A standard.

Black Box, the name you trust to keep you up with the latest industry developments, supports this new technology. collapse

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