Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Should I consider using fiber optic cable?

While I wouldn't recommend running Fiber Optic Cable to every port on a network because it is uneccesary and expensive, fiber does make an excellent backbone cable. It is also the perfect solution to connecting two locations that are over 100m (328ft) apart on the same network. Also, the bandwidth on fiber optic cable is much greater than it's copper counterparts (Cat 5eCat 6) and will help facilitate any future upgrades to your network.

To connect two copper (meaning Cat 5e or Cat 6) networks together with fiber to make one network, you'll need two fiber-fed switches or two media converters. A fiber-fed switch is the same as any other switch except that one of the ports accepts a fiber connector. A media converter simply converts electrical signals (which run over copper) to optical signals (which run over fiber) and vice versa.

If you already own quality switches that meet your needs, you'll probably want to go with the media converters. They'll allow you to use all of your existing equipment, otherwise you can just purchase a switch that has fiber fed ports. With either of these options you will have to fork over a little money, but the good news is that the prices on these items have dropped tremendously over the last couple of years.

Plenum cable is expensive, can't I just install the cheap stuff?

Not all installations require plenum cable. But if the fire code requires plenum cable, the answer is NO. You must use plenum cable.

For some customers, being frugal is an act of personal discipline that can overcome even their basic fears of fire and agonizing death from inhaling poisonous smoke. They compare the prices of plenum cable with the prices of riser cable (or even residential general use cable), assume that their office buildings won't catch on fire, and demand that the "cheap stuff" be installed.

Any reputable installer knows that this is a terrible idea. The hard part is getting the customer to understand this.

The best policy is to be blunt and point to the pocketbook. If the cable is not up to code, the fire marshall or building inspector will require all of it to be removed. It doesn't matter if the entire staff was supposed to move into the new building tomorrow, it doesn't matter if the walls are already in place, and it doesn't matter if someone just spent $10,000 (or more) on the new network; all of the "cheap stuff" will have to go. Then one gets to pay for the cable that should have been used in the first place in addition to the "cheap stuff" that had to be ripped out and thrown away.

It is always more frugal to follow the building codes than to ignore them because if you don't then you may end up wasting lots of time and money by having an installation done twice.

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