Networking is a complex technology– every facility and end goal is different. It takes a deep knowledge of the requirements, limitations and available creative solutions to tailor a networking design that works now and into the future. As you begin to think about an optimal architecture for your structured cabling, you might need a framework for planning. Here are some decision points to consider as you plan a new network or upgrade an existing one.
- What network assets are already in place that you can use, or repurpose?
- Take an exact inventory of the number of devices that need connections
- What are the physical constraints imposed by your building’s layout or construction? Are there spaces in walls, floors or ceilings that can handle cable runs?
- What applications will your devices run and how much bandwidth will they take?
- Your budget- do you have enough to “future proof” your installation?
What scale will you start with, and will your setup be easily scaled up if needed? What vendors will you work with- what criteria do you have for choosing the vendor who can deliver exactly what you need? The answers to the above will vary depending on whether you are building a WAN or a LAN.
Let’s look at the three common network sizes that are most often installed.
A LAN (Local Area Network) is usually contained in a single building or floor. Interconnecting all the devices in that office is the primary aim of a LAN, using an Ethernet over twisted pair cabling or wireless routers.
A WAN (Wide Area Network) connects an office or location to a parent network, plus all the other networks participating in the internet. One definition of a WAN is a structured cabling network that carries signals across an officially recognized boundary like a metropolitan area, county, state or nation. This is usually common to large Internet Service Providers and communications companies. Most often, organizations will lease bandwidth from local telephone or cable companies.
A CAM is a Campus Area Network that connects multiple LANs. This is an intermediate solution that can also be accomplished through an ISP, but for security and other reasons may need to be separate from the larger internet.
At the most basic level, a computer network can be reduced to each physical component like cables, hubs, switches and routers. Any discussion of premises cabling should include a look at these devices, but it can be left until later. In the meantime, it’s helpful to know a little more about the components for the sake of discussion.
The foundation of any network is the transmission media. Hundreds of cable and wireless configurations and capacities exist today but they all fall into one of four categories: Coaxial cable, optical fiber, twisted pair (TP) cables and wireless radio signal.
Most LANs are connected by twisted pair cables such as Cat5 or Cat6. There are new higher capacity TP cables being developed all the time that push the bandwidth to new levels. Fiber optic cables are becoming more standard in more installations as the price comes down and technologies become cheaper. Coax cable is also used in some specialized structured cabling applications, but is a little harder to work with.
Like the postal service, the nodes connected by the wires are organized in such a way that makes signals move efficiently between points. Each packet of data traveling through wires or wireless radio signals should arrive or be forwarded quickly and accurately, one point or many.
Network switches are akin to a local mail carrier who takes care of a single route, or cluster of devices on a single segment of the LAN. For more detail on what a network switch is and how they work here’s an article on How LAN Switches Work.
If your message is intended for a computer that is beyond your immediate area, a network must find its destination among the millions of possible destinations- beyond the ability of a switch. A router is needed, like a USPS regional distribution center. Any messages addressed to a location outside your local area gets handed off through your immediate router to to another router in closer proximity to their final destination.
MAC and IP addresses
Now think about your mailbox. Each computer has a built in component that handles incoming and outgoing network traffic, sometimes in the form of a card plugged into the circuit board. It has a socket that is accessible to an Ethernet cable and once you plug it in, your computer is connected to others. It’s also increasingly likely that your computer is connected not through a wire to your desk, but through radio signals transmitted and received through a wireless router. In place of cables, the last few feet of connection takes the form of radio waves.
Each card or wireless receiver in each device has a unique MAC (media access control) address which is broadcast to the network and is open to messages. Like a zip code and street number, the MAC and IP (internet protocol) addresses allow your computer or other device to be located and communicated with.
Understanding the basic functions and terminology of modern networking is an invaluable asset to planning your next premises cabling project. After installing hundreds of such systems here in Jew Jersey for both public and private organizations, from hospitals to colleges, to municipal or state agencies, NetQ Media should be your first stop in your research for cabling vendors.