Avoid C-Store Network Overload

Kevin Kiziah, President

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Today ’s convenience s to reshave more systems accessing the network infrastructure than ever before. Even common appliances, such as refrigerators, are now digitally monitored. Other systems that rely on the network infrastructure include point of sale, security, scanners, registers, lottery kiosks, ATMs, digital signage, wireless networks, access control, pay-at-the pump systems, alarm and fire systems, and mobile devices. With this many devices accessing the network infrastructure, network overload can threaten daily operations.

You can ease network overload with quality of service (QOS) solutions, which prioritize data traffic, but QOS solutions do not make up for an underperforming network. Your infrastructure must have enough throughput capacity (bandwidth)to avoid data “collisions” that slow data transfers.

Much in the same way a van carries more passengers than an economy car does, a cable with more bandwidth carries more data at a time than a cable with lower bandwidth capacity. You may have a high-speed connection, but if your network infrastructure does not have enough bandwidth to handle the data, you will experience latency.

Current Technology

It is best to opt for high-performance cable that can handle high-volume data transfers. Many network infrastructures are composed of Category 5e cable; however, Category 5e is fast becoming obsolete. As data transfer speeds increase, so do the performance requirements of the cable. Though Category 5e may be capable of carrying gigabit Ethernet, it limits the future uses of a network infrastructure. Another concern with Category 5e is noise. As frequency injected onto a conductor increases, so does the likelihood of noise on the adjacent conductor.

The next step up from Category 5e is Category 6, which on average costs 18% to 20% more. However, Category 6 provides greater assurance that data will not be lost or corrupted. Test parameters, such as near end crosstalk (NEXT), return loss and insertion loss, are elevated for Category 6.

Category 6 is also physically different from Category 5e. A thicker center filler in Category 6 allows the cable to accommodate higher frequencies, as well as provide better protection from external noise. Look for Category 6 that has an expanded diameter copper conductor and thicker insulation than standard cable for a zero bite error rate, which ensures that all data packets reach their destination complete.

Category 6 is able to handle approximately double the traffic of Category 5e. The Category 5e standard is 100 megahertz(Mhz) and the Category 6 standard is 250 Mhz. Gigabit rates can be sent over both cables, but the likelihood of failure or data packet collisions is greater with Category 5e.

Looking to the Future

When it comes to future proofing, it is better to install the best cabling you can afford instead of ripping and replacing the technology soon after it has been installed. Network cabling is designed to last at least 10 years. If you use equipment that requires higher data rates, you risk having to pull out Category 5e and replace it sooner than you would have to replace Category 6. Pulling out cable and replacing it is an expensive, time consuming process.

Upgrading to Category 6 is often a wise investment because Category 6 is backward compatible, yet is better equipped to deliver the performance required both now and in the future. As time goes on, network switches will change to higher speeds, and demand for data packets and speed are going to be much higher.

Fortunately, it is possible to future proof your network without overspending on unnecessary technology. The more knowledge you have about the present and future requirements of your network, the more accurately you will be able to “right size” the project. The ideal scenario is to build an infrastructure that will support current and future needs without overspending on technology that will shortly become obsolete. Technology changes so rapidly that it is impossible to predict technology needs 20 years down the road, but it is possible to meet your immediate needs while incorporating three to five years of growth or a 30% to 40% 

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