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Structured cabling (the physical cable running through the walls, ceilings, and floors, that connects your PCs, phones, printers, and other devices to your network) is the lifeblood of your internal network, though often an afterthought to the end user. When installed properly, structured cabling is organized, low-maintenance, and easy to manage. There are two different types of cabling used: copper and fiber optic, it’s important to know when you should use each type. Structured cabling is a one-time investment that offers superior performance, reliability, and security versus your typical wireless network.
Properly installed cabling should be run neatly and meet all building code requirements. It is always recommended to have a professional install your cabling. Professional installers should ensure that the cabling is tested with a cable certifier, such as a Fluke tester, and clearly labeled. Doing this will prevent some massive headaches for the end user and your network administrator. Cabling that is disorganized, not properly installed, tested, or labeled, can take hours upon hours to sort out and resolve when it comes to troubleshooting or performing basic moves, adds, and changes. With a properly installed cable infrastructure, such issues can often be resolved in a matter of a few minutes or less.
The two types of cable you’ll come across with structured cabling are copper (Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a), and fiber optic. When you would use which type of cable depends on the circumstances. What type of equipment is the cable connecting to? How far is it from the equipment to your network switch? What kind of bandwidth is required? Is “future-proofing” a concern? What makes the most sense from a budgeting standpoint? Check out these links to our Copper Cabling and Fiber Optic Cabling articles to learn more.
The main data closet in a facility is called the “MDF”, (Main Distribution Frame), which is often where your router and servers are located. For larger facilities, you might see one or more “IDFs” (Independent Distribution Frames), which usually consist of network switches and cables connecting to nearby workstations. IDFs are necessary when there are workstations and other network devices that are further than 100 meters from the MDF (often times they can be in different buildings than the MDF for businesses that have more than one building on their property). In order for the IDFs to be connected to your network, they’ll need a cable link to the MDF. This is where you’ll typically see fiber optic cabling installed, as a link between the network switches in the MDF and IDFs. The cabling run between MDFs and IDFs is often referred to as the “backbone” or “feeder”. It is recommended to have your backbone cable offer the greatest bandwidth, as it’s serving as an uplink to the rest of the network.
The Minimum Point of Entry (MPOE) is the point at which your service provider, often called the Local Exchange Carrier (LEC), brings their cabling into your building. The service provider then installs a “demarc”, for their cabling. A demarc (demarcation) is the handoff provided by your service provider, it’s where their responsibility ends and yours begins. Your local IT/Telecom contractor would then need to extend this demarc to your equipment with either copper or fiber optic cabling. The demarc is often in the MDF, but not always.
Structured cabling is always preferred over wi-fi whenever the option is available. With a wired connection, there aren’t the security concerns that exist with wi-fi (when anybody with the password can access your network). You will also get much faster speeds with a wired connection (1Gb or 10Gb vs well under 1Gb on most wireless connections). On top of that, if one wi-fi access point goes down, that could mean a large portion of your workforce is without internet until the unit is repaired or replaced.
Though professionally installed structured cabling may seem like it presents a high price point at first, the piece of mind in knowing that it is a low-maintenance, one-time expense that will be reliable and future-proof for years to come makes it the best option for your business productivity and a worthwhile long-term investment.