Times Article 034
with Fiber-Optic Networks
back to the High-Tech Times. One of the best things about being a computer
systems integrator is the chance to try out “new and improved” technologies.
I have been working closely with 3M’s new Volition network cabling system
over the past few months, and asked my 3M rep if we could also wire my
office. All I can say is, Wow!
22 office computers have been effectively networked using a couple of 10/100Base-T
hubs and Category 5 copper cable, with data transferred between the machines
at 100 Mbit/second. This has always seemed fast enough for me, except when
I’m transferring huge multi-gigabyte video files, or when there are a bunch
of people in the office, all cranking out AutoCAD and 3D Studio MAX projects.
Well, I was wrong - my network wasn’t fast enough at all.
performance comparison purposes, we decided to leave half of my office
network connected with the old hub and NICs, while the other half was converted
to fiber-optic. And the half that were converted were split into six machines
using all fiber (including NICs), and five with the old NICs, but connected
to the Volition VOL-4000 fiber switch using converters.
me start by describing a few of the Volition switch’s rather impressive
technical specifications. Instead of a maximum of 100 Mbit/second found
in most office networks, the VOL-4000 offers a 4.8 Gigabit/second fiber-optic
backplane! That means that for my computers hooked through their fiber
switch with Volition fiber network interface cards (NICs), I can transfer
huge video files in just seconds! And with the fiber switch, everyone on
the fiber network gets the full bandwidth all the time.
began by replacing my infamous SoHoWare hub with a Volition VOL-2008 eight-port
10/100 hub, and connecting half of the fiber NICs to the VOL-4000 switch
and the rest to the hub. Setting up this network topology took less than
30 minutes, including building all of the custom-length fiber-optic cables.
These cables are not only smaller and more flexible than standard Cat.
5 cables, but they’re also easier and quicker to build; this alone is a
whole new reason to consider fiber-optic networks.
then began testing with a 4.83 GB video file that has been clogging up
my network. I was able to transfer it between two computers hooked end-to-end
with fiber-optics through the VOL-4000 in 8.3 seconds. I then transferred
the same file between two computers on the old 10/100 copper network; result:
1,181.6 seconds. I was a bit puzzled by this, as I had expected the time
to be around 386 seconds, but when the 3M rep analyzed my old network,
he found that packet collisions through the copper hub and cables were
lowering my data-transfer efficiency to around 32.7 percent!
studied network collision theory in my MCSE courses, I was aware of this
factor in network design, but this was the first time that I could really
feel it in action. It’s kinda’ hard to miss a data transfer time that’s
over 140 times longer...! Using the Volition 10/100 hub instead of the
switch resulted in the file transferring in 67.2 seconds, showing that
the transfer rate was very close to the theoretical 100 Mbit/second maximum.
There were almost no signs of packet collisions, either.
have been demonstrating my new network primarily to teachers and school
planners so far. This summer is when the Hawaii Department of Education
(DOE) was planning to convert most schools over to 3Com network equipment
with new Category 5 cable. However, one small glitch arose: 3Com decided
to get out of this level of networking as of early May. That has left the
DOE schools high and dry, even though 3Com has since sold their networking
capabilities to at least one other vendor; I’d hate to be the person responsible
for installing what might be considered “manufacturer-discontinued” products.
nice thing about the 3M Volition system is that instead of having up to
a dozen wiring closets scattered all over the school (each with air-conditioning)
to keep the length of their Category 5 copper cables below the 90-meter
(about 292 feet) to ensure the network will operate, they can have one
single Volition fiber switch in their central office. This is because the
maximum length for fiber-optic cable is 2000 meters, or well over 6,500
feet. Another big advantage is that instead of requiring metal conduits
to prevent circuit noise for copper network cables, fiber cables have no
such need, as they are non-metallic and don’t act as antennas. Fiber-optic
cables also don’t have to have special fire-retardant coatings when they
are run through an office plenum.
is the downside to the 3M Volition system? Well, price is certainly a factor.
The small or home office might be hard-pressed to cost-justify a per-seat
cost of around $200 for 10/100Base-T when you can buy an inexpensive 10/100
hub and Ethernet NICs and copper cables for around half of that. And if
you want the full 4.8-Gbit bandwidth of the VOL-4000 switch, you’d better
be considering a fairly large number of network seats.
for companies that need constant high-bandwidth, no packet collisions,
and all of the advantages of fiber-optics, I strongly suggest that you
give 3M Hawaii a call at 422-3252 and talk with them about your specific
needs. Otherwise, you may never know just how much faster your network
can be running.
you next month.