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Elements of a Cable Plant

Wiring racks, patch panels, Ethernet cable, jacks, faceplates, patch cords, station cords, and network switches are all components that make up a cabling plant. The following table provides some details on all these elements.

NOTE

You also need a means to deliver the cable from the computer room to each station. I cover that in the section "Planning a Pathway."

Component

Description

Wiring rack

Like a server rack, a wiring rack is designed to hold network components that are 19 inches wide. Wiring racks are available in various heights: 4 feet, 7 feet, and 8 feet. For stability, they're usually bolted to the floor. The wiring racks are the primary structures in the computer room for holding the patch panels and network switch.

Patch panel

The patch panel is the device that terminates every cable. Inside every Ethernet cable are four pairs of twisted cable. Each of those eight wires is connected ("punched down") to the corresponding terminal on the back of the patch panel jack. The front of the patch panel has RJ-45 jacks to accept patch cords. The patch panel is numbered to correspond to the jack number in each office and workstation.

Ethernet cable

The Ethernet network cable runs from your network jack to the patch panel in the wiring closet. As mentioned earlier, CAT6 cabling is the best choice for planning high-speed networks that will be around for a long time.

Jack

The network cable from your computer plugs into the wall jack. Ethernet jacks come in the RJ-45 form factor. They look similar to clips on the end of phone cords (RJ-11), but are wider and support eight wires.

Faceplate

Most office space will need one data and one voice jack in each office or workstation. You can have multiple jacks per faceplate; I recommend installing four-jack faceplates so that you can add more jacks later, with blanks to fill the holes that are not being used.

Patch cord

Patch cord cables connect the servers in the computer room to the network switch, as well as connecting every office and workstation to the network switch from the patch panel.

Station cord

Station cords connect the PC in each office and workstation to the network jack in the faceplate in the wall.

Network switch

The network switch is the most important piece of equipment on your network. It connects all of the PCs to all of the servers to create a network.


My company, a large accounting firm, recently moved our Indianapolis headquarters (that experience is what prompted me to write this series). As part of our move, we purchased and installed a new Cisco Catalyst switch. The one we were using was working fine, but a few factors came to mind in making the decision to upgrade. The switch was six years old and was at the end of its lifecycle. We needed to move over a weekend and needed a functional network at the old facility until the movers showed up on Friday night. I wanted to have a functioning network already in place at the new facility for the cutover. Buying a new switch and patching it into the new cable plant really helped. Everything was tested in advance and we didn't have any wiring problems the first Monday in production.

TIP

If time permits, set up a parallel network like the one I just described. Set up a server and a few workstations, and take a notebook computer around to test the network from several connection points. Knowing that you have a functioning network in advance of your move brings satisfaction and peace of mind.

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