In recent years Gigabit Ethernet has become a practical and economical option for home offices and small businesses. Today it now makes sense to consider Gigabit to the desktop as a viable option when upgrading or setting up a new network.
by Ronald V. Pacchiano
These days, whenever anyone talks about networking technologies, particularly for home offices or small businesses, the conversation inevitably turns to the latest in wireless technologies. While you can easily see the benefits of implementing a wireless network (no cables to trip over, ease of bringing the network into every room, lower implementation cost and so on), don’t forget about the reliability or superior performance afforded by a good old-fashioned wired Ethernet network. However, just because a technology is old, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon.
For instance, if your network continues to operate with hubs, the obvious change to make to immediately boost network performance is to replace those hubs with more efficient switches. The difference is that hubs broadcast traffic to all available ports on the network, switches direct traffic only to their destinations, such as a specific server, router or workstation.
Over the last decade or so the recommended approach has been to move Ethernet networks to Fast Ethernet switching by installing 10/100 dual speed switches in the wiring closet and upgrading key desktop and server connections to 100Mbps.
While these speeds have suited our needs for a long time, many applications and services are available today that has started to push the performance of our networks to their limits. As a result, it isn’t uncommon for users to experience slow network response times during peak hours of operation.
Get Giga With It
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to circumvent data bottlenecks. Yet it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the most efficient way to help alleviate network congestion is to widen the available network bandwidth. To this end, more and more networking professionals are turning to Gigabit Ethernet [define] technology.
Gigabit Ethernet is capable of increasing data transmission rates up to 1000Mbps, often using the cabling that is already in place. That’s 100 times faster than regular 10Mbps Ethernet and 10 times faster than 100Mbps Fast Ethernet. Gigabit switches are quick and easy to install and have the capability to transfer very large files such as CAD or desktop publishing files, stream audio and video, host LAN collaboration software, enhance LAN gaming, and overall improve the performance of speed-intensive applications across your network.
When Gigabit Ethernet was standardized for fiber optic [define] cabling in the late 1990s, IT managers began to see the benefits of Gigabit speeds applied to the network backbone and in the data center. Despite its many benefits, though, bringing Gigabit technology to home offices and small businesses wasn’t particularly feasible as its cost per port was prohibitively high.
In recent years, though, Gigabit Ethernet has become a much more practical and economical option for home offices and small businesses alike. Today it now makes sense to consider Gigabit to the desktop as a viable option when upgrading or setting up a new network. IT managers have found that Gigabit Ethernet is simple, easy to use and is the perfect performance enhancement for IT departments on a tight budget.
Able to Scale Ethernet Speeds
Since it is a standards-based technology, an organization can scale from 10 to 100 or 1000Mbps Ethernet, either network-wide or a segment at a time, knowing that the new equipment will be backwards compatible with their existing legacy equipment, such as LAN printers and older servers. This reduces the infrastructure investment that an organization must make, providing you with not just speed, but value as well.
The best part is that all you need to do to achieve these performance increases is to substitute this switch with your current workgroup hub or switch. In fact since the majority of new PCs sold within the last two or three years came standard with gigabit Ethernet adapters, these systems will immediately benefit from the new switch, while continuing to service other clients at their current speeds. Allowing you to upgrade your other workstations to full Gigabit speeds as needed.
Even older PCs equipped with only Fast Ethernet adapters will see a performance increase — admittedly not to the same degree as the others, but a noticeable one none the less. Ethernet is a reliable technology and experience shows that it can be deployed with confidence for mission-critical applications. Gigabit Ethernet is also a good choice because it supports Quality of Service (QoS) [define] methods that are increasingly important for avoiding latency problems as voice, video and data share the cable for Next-Generation Networking (NGN) [define] applications.
There are two basic types of switches available: unmanaged and managed. Some networks will make use of both types. Most small businesses in need of a simple networking solution should make out fine with a low-cost unmanaged gigabit switch. However, if you would like to take advantages of some advanced networking features, like remote management and port management, for example, then you might want to take a closer look at managed switches. These are typically much more expensive then the unmanaged variety.
Cost of gigabit switches can vary greatly. They can be had for as little as $45 for a small, unmanaged, 5-port switch to as high as several thousands of dollars for a 24-48 port managed switch/router with all the bells and whistles. Be sure to discuss your needs with a qualified IT professional before making a purchase.
In case you didn’t realize it, installing a Gigabit switch on your network will significantly increase the performance of your LAN traffic, with perhaps only the most modest effect on your WAN [define] connection. Your WAN speed will still be dictated by your ISP.
So if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to improve your network performance, take a closer look at that old wired Ethernet connection of yours. Even if the majority of your networks PCs connect over WiFi, it can’t hurt to have a nice fat gigabit pipe available when you need it.
Summary of the advantages of Gigabit Technology:
- Increased bandwidth for higher performance and the virtual elimination of bottlenecks.
- Full-duplex capacity, allowing the effective bandwidth to be virtually doubled.
- Quality of Service (QoS) features to help eliminate jittery video or distorted audio.
- Low cost of acquisition and ownership. Prices of Gigabit desktop switches have dropped considerably. For only a bit more than the cost of 10/100, users can get the added performance of 10/100/1000.
- Full compatibility with the large installed base of Ethernet and Fast Ethernet nodes
- Transferring large amounts of data across a network quickly. Gigabit performance allows graphics-intensive processing, high-bandwidth file sharing, centralized backup, and network-based “ghosting” of configurations.
- Increase employee productivity by speeding access to databases and messaging applications.
- Compatible with existing copper, eliminating the expense of running new wiring.
- Leverage networking standards to get more efficiency from a network.
- Add network management to centrally deal with larger network environments.