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Networking Basics

 

Computer networking has become an integral part of business today. Individuals, professionals and academics have also learned to rely on computer networks for capabilities such as electronic mail and access to remote databases for research and communication purposes. Networking has thus become an increasingly pervasive, worldwide reality because it is fast, efficient, reliable and effective.

 

This tutorial will explain the basics of some of the most popular technologies used in networking, and will include the following:

  • Types of Networks - including LANs, WANs and WLANs
  • The Internet and Beyond - The Internet and its contributions to intranets and extranets
  • Types of LAN Technology - including Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, 
    ATM, PoE and Token Ring
  • Networking and Ethernet Basics - including standard code, media, topographies, collisions and CSMA/CD
  • Ethernet Products - including transceivers, network interface cards, hubs and repeaters

Types of Networks

In describing the basics of networking technology, it will be helpful to explain the different types of networks in use.

Local Area Networks (LANs)

A network is any collection of independent computers that exchange information with each other over a shared communication medium. Local Area Networks or LANs are usually confined to a limited geographic area, such as a single building or a college campus. LANs can be small, linking as few as three computers, but can often link hundreds of computers used by thousands of people. The development of standard networking protocols and media has resulted in worldwide proliferation of LANs throughout business and educational organizations.

Wide Area Networks (WANs)

Often elements of a network are widely separated physically. Wide area networking combines multiple LANs that are geographically separate. This is accomplished by connecting the several LANs with dedicated leased lines such as a T1 or a T3, by dial-up phone lines (both synchronous and asynchronous), by satellite links and by data packet carrier services. WANs can be as simple as a modem and a remote access server for employees to dial into, or it can be as complex as hundreds of branch offices globally linked. Special routing protocols and filters minimize the expense of sending data over vast distances.

Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs)

Wireless LANs, or WLANs, use radio frequency (RF) technology to transmit and receive data over the air. This minimizes the need for wired connections. WLANs give users mobility as they allow connection to a local area network without having to be physically connected by a cable. This freedom means users can access shared resources without looking for a place to plug in cables, provided that their terminals are mobile and within the designated network coverage area. With mobility, WLANs give flexibility and increased productivity, appealing to both entrepreneurs and to home users. WLANs may also enable network administrators to connect devices that may be physically difficult to reach with a cable.

The Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) developed the 802.11 specification for wireless LAN technology. 802.11 specifies over-the-air interface between a wireless client and a base station, or between two wireless clients. WLAN 802.11 standards also have security protocols that were developed to provide the same level of security as that of a wired LAN. 
The first of these protocols is Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). WEP provides security by encrypting data sent over radio waves from end point to end point.

The second WLAN security protocol is Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). WPA was developed as an upgrade to the security features of WEP. It works with existing products that are WEP-enabled but provides two key improvements: improved data encryption through the temporal key integrity protocol (TKIP) which scrambles the keys using a hashing algorithm. It has means for integrity-checking to ensure that keys have not been tampered with. WPA also provides user authentication with the extensible authentication protocol (EAP).

Wireless Protocols

Specification Data Rate Modulation Scheme Security
802.11 1 or 2 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band FHSS, DSSS WEP, WPA, WPA2
802.11a 54 Mbps in the 5 GHz band OFDM WEP, WPA, WPA2
802.11b/High Rate/Wi-Fi 11 Mbps (with a fallback to 5.5, 2, and 1 Mbps) in the 2.4 GHz band DSSS with CCK WEP, WPA, WPA2
802.11g/Wi-Fi 54 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band OFDM when above 20Mbps, DSSS with CCK when below 20Mbps WEP, WPA, WPA2
802.11n

Theoretically - up to 600 Mbit / s
Using 4 antenna
One antenna - up to 150 Mbit / s.

Operate on ranges of 2.4-2.5 or 5.0 GHz.

BPSK

QPSK

16-QAM

64-QAM

WEP, WPA, WPA2
802.11ac

433 Mb/s - 6.77 Gb/s

It operates in the frequency range of 5 GHz

 256QAM WEP, WPA, WPA2

The Internet and Beyond

More than just a technology, the Internet has become a way of life for many people, and it has spurred a revolution of sorts for both public and private sharing of information. The most popular source of information about almost anything, the Internet is used daily by technical and non-technical users alike.

The Internet:  The Largest Network of All

With the meteoric rise in demand for connectivity, the Internet has become a major communications highway for millions of users. It is a decentralized system of linked networks that are worldwide in scope. It facilitates data communication services such as remote log-in, file transfer, electronic mail, the World Wide Web and newsgroups. It consists of independent hosts of computers that can designate which Internet services to use and which of their local services to make available to the global community.

Initially restricted to military and academic institutions, the Internet now operates on a three-level hierarchy composed of backbone networks, mid-level networks and stub networks. It is a full-fledged conduit for any and all forms of information and commerce. Internet websites now provide personal, educational, political and economic resources to virtually any point on the planet.

Intranet:  A Secure Internet-like Network for Organizations

With advancements in browser-based software for the Internet, many private organizations have implemented intranets. An intranet is a private network utilizing Internet-type tools, but available only within that organization. For large organizations, an intranet provides easy access to corporate information for designated employees.

Extranet:  A Secure Means for Sharing Information with Partners

While an intranet is used to disseminate confidential information within a corporation, an extranet is commonly used by companies to share data in a secure fashion with their business partners. Internet-type tools are used by content providers to update the extranet. Encryption and user authentication means are provided to protect the information, and to ensure that designated people with the proper access privileges are allowed to view it.

Types of LAN Technology

Ethernet

Ethernet is the most popular physical layer LAN technology in use today. It defines the number of conductors that are required for a connection, the performance thresholds that can be expected, and provides the framework for data transmission. A standard Ethernet network can transmit data at a rate up to 10 Megabits per second (10 Mbps). Other LAN types include Token Ring, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI), Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and LocalTalk.

Ethernet is popular because it strikes a good balance between speed, cost and ease of installation. These benefits, combined with wide acceptance in the computer marketplace and the ability to support virtually all popular network protocols, make Ethernet an ideal networking technology for most computer users today.

The Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers developed an Ethernet standard known as IEEE Standard 802.3. This standard defines rules for configuring an Ethernet network and also specifies how the elements in an Ethernet network interact with one another. By adhering to the IEEE standard, network equipment and network protocols can communicate efficiently.

Fast Ethernet

The Fast Ethernet standard (IEEE 802.3u) has been established for Ethernet networks that need higher transmission speeds. This standard raises the Ethernet speed limit from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps with only minimal changes to the existing cable structure. Fast Ethernet provides faster throughput for video, multimedia, graphics, Internet surfing and stronger error detection and correction.

There are three types of Fast Ethernet: 100BASE-TX for use with level 5 UTP cable; 100BASE-FX for use with fiber-optic cable; and 100BASE-T4 which utilizes an extra two wires for use with level 3 UTP cable. The 100BASE-TX standard has become the most popular due to its close compatibility with the 10BASE-T Ethernet standard.

Network managers who want to incorporate Fast Ethernet into an existing configuration are required to make many decisions. The number of users in each site on the network that need the higher throughput must be determined; which segments of the backbone need to be reconfigured specifically for 100BASE-T; plus what hardware is necessary in order to connect the 100BASE-T segments with existing 10BASE-T segments. Gigabit Ethernet is a future technology that promises a migration path beyond Fast Ethernet so the next generation of networks will support even higher data transfer speeds.

Gigabit Ethernet

Gigabit Ethernet was developed to meet the need for faster communication networks with applications such as multimedia and Voice over IP (VoIP). Also known as "gigabit-Ethernet-over-copper" or 1000Base-T, GigE is a version of Ethernet that runs at speeds 10 times faster than 100Base-T. It is defined in the IEEE 802.3 standard and is currently used as an enterprise backbone. Existing Ethernet LANs with 10 and 100 Mbps cards can feed into a Gigabit Ethernet backbone to interconnect high performance switches, routers and servers.

From the data link layer of the OSI model upward, the look and implementation of Gigabit Ethernet is identical to that of Ethernet. The most important differences between Gigabit Ethernet and Fast Ethernet include the additional support of full duplex operation in the MAC layer and the data rates.

10 Gigabit Ethernet

10 Gigabit Ethernet is the fastest and most recent of the Ethernet standards. IEEE 802.3ae defines a version of Ethernet with a nominal rate of 10Gbits/s that makes it 10 times faster than Gigabit Ethernet.

Unlike other Ethernet systems, 10 Gigabit Ethernet is based entirely on the use of optical fiber connections. This developing standard is moving away from a LAN design that broadcasts to all nodes, toward a system which includes some elements of wide area routing. As it is still very new, which of the standards will gain commercial acceptance has yet to be determined.

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM)

ATM is a cell-based fast-packet communication technique that can support data-transfer rates from sub-T1 speeds to 10 Gbps. ATM achieves its high speeds in part by transmitting data in fixed-size cells and dispensing with error-correction protocols. It relies on the inherent integrity of digital lines to ensure data integrity.

ATM can be integrated into an existing network as needed without having to update the entire network. Its fixed-length cell-relay operation is the signaling technology of the future and offers more predictable performance than variable length frames. Networks are extremely versatile and an ATM network can connect points in a building, or across the country, and still be treated as a single network.

Power over Ethernet (PoE)

PoE is a solution in which an electrical current is run to networking hardware over the Ethernet Category 5 cable or higher. This solution does not require an extra AC power cord at the product location. This minimizes the amount of cable needed as well as eliminates the difficulties and cost of installing extra outlets.

LAN Technology Specifications

Name IEEE Standard Data Rate Media Type Maximum Distance
Ethernet 802.3 10 Mbps 10Base-T 100 meters
Fast Ethernet/
100Base-T
802.3u 100 Mbps 100Base-TX
100Base-FX
100 meters
2000 meters
Gigabit Ethernet/
GigE
802.3z 1000 Mbps 1000Base-T
1000Base-SX
1000Base-LX
100 meters
275/550 meters
550/5000 meters
10 Gigabit Ethernet IEEE 802.3ae 10 Gbps 10GBase-SR
10GBase-LX4
10GBase-LR/ER
10GBase-SW/LW/EW
300 meters
300m MMF/ 10km SMF
10km/40km
300m/10km/40km

Token Ring

Token Ring is another form of network configuration. It differs from Ethernet in that all messages are transferred in one direction along the ring at all times. Token Ring networks sequentially pass a “token” to each connected device. When the token arrives at a particular computer (or device), the recipient is allowed to transmit data onto the network. Since only one device may be transmitting at any given time, no data collisions occur. Access to the network is guaranteed, and time-sensitive applications can be supported. However, these benefits come at a price. Component costs are usually higher, and the networks themselves are considered to be more complex and difficult to implement. Various PC vendors have been proponents of Token Ring networks.

Networking and Ethernet Basics

Protocols

After a physical connection has been established, network protocols define the standards that allow computers to communicate. A protocol establishes the rules and encoding specifications for sending data. This defines how computers identify one another on a network, the form that the data should take in transit, and how this information is processed once it reaches its final destination. Protocols also define procedures for determining the type of error checking that will be used, the data compression method, if one is needed, how the sending device will indicate that it has finished sending a message, how the receiving device will indicate that it has received a message, and the handling of lost or damaged transmissions or "packets".

The main types of network protocols in use today are: TCP/IP (for UNIX, Windows NT, Windows 95 and other platforms); IPX (for Novell NetWare); DECnet (for networking Digital Equipment Corp. computers); AppleTalk (for Macintosh computers), and NetBIOS/NetBEUI (for LAN Manager and Windows NT networks).

Although each network protocol is different, they all share the same physical cabling. This common method of accessing the physical network allows multiple protocols to peacefully coexist over the network media, and allows the builder of a network to use common hardware for a variety of protocols. This concept is known as "protocol independence," which means that devices which are compatible at the physical and data link layers allow the user to run many different protocols over the same medium.

The Open System Interconnection Model

The Open System Interconnection (OSI) model specifies how dissimilar computing devices such as Network Interface Cards (NICs), bridges and routers exchange data over a network by offering a networking framework for implementing protocols in seven layers. Beginning at the application layer, control is passed from one layer to the next. The following describes the seven layers as defined by the OSI model, shown in the order they occur whenever a user transmits information.

Layer 7: Application

This layer supports the application and end-user processes. Within this layer, user privacy is considered and communication partners, service and constraints are all identified. File transfers, email, Telnet and FTP applications are all provided within this layer.

Layer 6: Presentation (Syntax)

Within this layer, information is translated back and forth between application and network formats.  This translation transforms the information into data the application layer and network recognize regardless of encryption and formatting.

Layer 5: Session

Within this layer, connections between applications are made, managed and terminated as needed to allow for data exchanges between applications at each end of a dialogue.

Layer 4: Transport

Complete data transfer is ensured as information is transferred transparently between systems in this layer. The transport layer also assures appropriate flow control and end-to-end error recovery.

Layer 3: Network

Using switching and routing technologies, this layer is responsible for creating virtual circuits to transmit information from node to node. Other functions include routing, forwarding, addressing, internetworking, error and congestion control, and packet sequencing.

Layer 2: Data Link

Information in data packets are encoded and decoded into bits within this layer. Errors from the physical layer flow control and frame synchronization are corrected here utilizing transmission protocol knowledge and management. This layer consists of two sub layers: the Media Access Control (MAC) layer, which controls the way networked computers gain access to data and transmit it, and the Logical Link Control (LLC) layer, which controls frame synchronization, flow control and error checking.

Layer 1: Physical

This layer enables hardware to send and receive data over a carrier such as cabling, a card or other physical means. It conveys the bitstream through the network at the electrical and mechanical level. Fast Ethernet, RS232, and ATM are all protocols with physical layer components.

This order is then reversed as information is received, so that the physical layer is the first and application layer is the final layer that information passes through.

Standard Ethernet Code

In order to understand standard Ethernet code, one must understand what each digit means. Following is a guide:

Guide to Ethernet Coding

10 at the beginning means the network operates at 10Mbps.
BASE means the type of signaling used is baseband.
2 or 5 at the end indicates the maximum cable length in meters.
T the end stands for twisted-pair cable.
X at the end stands for full duplex-capable cable.
FL at the end stands for fiber optic cable.

For example: 100BASE-TX indicates a Fast Ethernet connection (100 Mbps) that uses a 
twisted pair cable capable of full-duplex transmissions.

Media

An important part of designing and installing an Ethernet is selecting the appropriate Ethernet medium. There are four major types of media in use today: Thickwire for 10BASE5 networks; thin coax for 10BASE2 networks; unshielded twisted pair (UTP) for 10BASE-T networks; and fiber optic for 10BASE-FL or Fiber-Optic Inter-Repeater Link (FOIRL) networks. This wide variety of media reflects the evolution of Ethernet and also points to the technology's flexibility. Thickwire was one of the first cabling systems used in Ethernet, but it was expensive and difficult to use. This evolved to thin coax, which is easier to work with and less expensive. It is important to note that each type of Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, has its own preferred media types.

The most popular wiring schemes are 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX, which use unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable. This is similar to telephone cable and comes in a variety of grades, with each higher grade offering better performance. Level 5 cable is the highest, most expensive grade, offering support for transmission rates of up to 100 Mbps. Level 4 and level 3 cable are less expensive, but cannot support the same data throughput speeds; level 4 cable can support speeds of up to 20 Mbps; level 3 up to 16 Mbps. The 100BASE-T4 standard allows for support of 100 Mbps Ethernet over level 3 cables, but at the expense of adding another pair of wires (4 pair instead of the 2 pair used for 10BASE-T). For most users, this is an awkward scheme and therefore 100BASE-T4 has seen little popularity. Level 2 and level 1 cables are not used in the design of 10BASE-T networks.

For specialized applications, fiber-optic, or 10BASE-FL, Ethernet segments are popular. Fiber-optic cable is more expensive, but it is invaluable in situations where electronic emissions and environmental hazards are a concern. Fiber-optic cable is often used in inter-building applications to insulate networking equipment from electrical damage caused by lightning. Because it does not conduct electricity, fiber-optic cable can also be useful in areas where heavy electromagnetic interference is present, such as on a factory floor. The Ethernet standard allows for fiber-optic cable segments up to two kilometers long, making fiber-optic Ethernet perfect for connecting nodes and buildings that are otherwise not reachable with copper media.

Cable Grade Capabilities

Cable Name Makeup Frequency Support Data Rate Network Compatibility
Cat-5 4 twisted pairs of copper wire -- terminated by RJ45 connectors 100 MHz Up to 1000Mbps ATM, Token Ring,1000Base-T, 100Base-TX, 10Base-T
Cat-5e 4 twisted pairs of copper wire -- terminated by RJ45 connectors 100 MHz Up to 1000Mbps 10Base-T, 100Base-TX, 1000Base-T
Cat-6 4 twisted pairs of copper wire -- terminated by RJ45 connectors 250 MHz 1000Mbps 10Base-T, 100Base-TX, 1000Base-T

Topologies

Network topology is the geometric arrangement of nodes and cable links in a LAN. Two general configurations are used, bus and star. These two topologies define how nodes are connected to one another in a communication network. A node is an active device connected to the network, such as a computer or a printer. A node can also be a piece of networking equipment such as a hub, switch or a router.

A bus topology consists of nodes linked together in a series with each node connected to a long cable or bus. Many nodes can tap into the bus and begin communication with all other nodes on that cable segment. A break anywhere in the cable will usually cause the entire segment to be inoperable until the break is repaired. Examples of bus topology include 10BASE2 and 10BASE5.

Topology ExamplesGeneral Topology Configurations

10BASE-T Ethernet and Fast Ethernet use a star topology where access is controlled by a central computer. Generally a computer is located at one end of the segment, and the other end is terminated in central location with a hub or a switch. Because UTP is often run in conjunction with telephone cabling, this central location can be a telephone closet or other area where it is convenient to connect the UTP segment to a backbone. The primary advantage of this type of network is reliability, for if one of these 'point-to-point' segments has a break; it will only affect the two nodes on that link. Other computer users on the network continue to operate as if that segment were non-existent.

Collisions

Ethernet is a shared medium, so there are rules for sending packets of data to avoid conflicts and to protect data integrity. Nodes determine when the network is available for sending packets. It is possible that two or more nodes at different locations will attempt to send data at the same time. When this happens, a packet collision occurs.

Minimizing collisions is a crucial element in the design and operation of networks. Increased collisions are often the result of too many users on the network. This leads to competition for network bandwidth and can slow the performance of the network from the user's point of view. Segmenting the network is one way of reducing an overcrowded network, i.e., by dividing it into different pieces logically joined together with a bridge or switch.

CSMA/CD

In order to manage collisions Ethernet uses a protocol called Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection (CSMA/CD). CSMA/CD is a type of contention protocol that defines how to respond when a collision is detected, or when two devices attempt to transmit packages simultaneously. Ethernet allows each device to send messages at any time without having to wait for network permission; thus, there is a high possibility that devices may try to send messages at the same time.

After detecting a collision, each device that was transmitting a packet delays a random amount of time before re-transmitting the packet. If another collision occurs, the device waits twice as long before trying to re-transmit.

Ethernet Products

The standards and technology just discussed will help define the specific products that network managers use to build Ethernet networks. The following presents the key products needed to build an Ethernet LAN.

Transceivers

Transceivers are also referred to as Medium Access Units (MAUs). They are used to connect nodes to the various Ethernet media. Most computers and network interface cards contain a built-in 10BASE-T or 10BASE2 transceiver which allows them to be connected directly to Ethernet without the need for an external transceiver.

Many Ethernet devices provide an attachment unit interface (AUI) connector to allow the user to connect to any type of medium via an external transceiver. The AUI connector consists of a 15-pin D-shell type connector, female on the computer side, male on the transceiver side.

For Fast Ethernet networks, a new interface called the MII (Media Independent Interface) was developed to offer a flexible way to support 100 Mbps connections. The MII is a popular way to connect 100BASE-FX links to copper-based Fast Ethernet devices.

Network Interface Cards

Network Interface Cards, commonly referred to as NICs, are used to connect a PC to a network. The NIC provides a physical connection between the networking cable and the computer's internal bus. Different computers have different bus architectures. PCI bus slots are most commonly found on 486/Pentium PCs and ISA expansion slots are commonly found on 386 and older PCs. NICs come in three basic varieties: 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit. The larger the number of bits that can be transferred to the NIC, the faster the NIC can transfer data to the network cable. Most NICs are designed for a particular type of network, protocol, and medium, though some can serve multiple networks.

Many NIC adapters comply with plug-and-play specifications. On these systems, NICs are automatically configured without user intervention, while on non-plug-and-play systems, configuration is done manually through a set-up program and/or DIP switches.

Cards are available to support almost all networking standards. Fast Ethernet NICs are often 10/100 capable, and will automatically set to the appropriate speed. Gigabit Ethernet NICs are 10/100/1000 capable with auto negotiation depending on the user’s Ethernet speed. Full duplex networking is another option where a dedicated connection to a switch allows a NIC to operate at twice the speed.

Hubs/Repeaters

Hubs/repeaters are used to connect together two or more Ethernet segments of any type of medium. In larger designs, signal quality begins to deteriorate as segments exceed their maximum length. Hubs provide the signal amplification required to allow a segment to be extended a greater distance. A hub repeats any incoming signal to all ports.

Ethernet hubs are necessary in star topologies such as 10BASE-T. A multi-port twisted pair hub allows several point-to-point segments to be joined into one network. One end of the point-to-point link is attached to the hub and the other is attached to the computer. If the hub is attached to a backbone, then all computers at the end of the twisted pair segments can communicate with all the hosts on the backbone. The number and type of hubs in any one-collision domain is limited by the Ethernet rules. These repeater rules are discussed in more detail later.

A very important fact to note about hubs is that they only allow users to share Ethernet. A network of hubs/repeaters is termed a "shared Ethernet," meaning that all members of the network are contending for transmission of data onto a single network (collision domain). A hub/repeater propagates all electrical signals including the invalid ones. Therefore, if a collision or electrical interference occurs on one segment, repeaters make it appear on all others as well. This means that individual members of a shared network will only get a percentage of the available network bandwidth.

Basically, the number and type of hubs in any one collision domain for 10Mbps Ethernet is limited by the following rules:

Network Type Max Nodes Per Segment Max Distance Per Segment
10BASE-T 2 100m
10BASE-FL 2 2000m

Network Devices

Bridges

Bridges connect two LAN segments of similar or dissimilar types, such as Ethernet and Token Ring. This allows two Ethernet segments to behave like a single Ethernet allowing any pair of computers on the extended Ethernet to communicate. Bridges are transparent therefore computers don’t know whether a bridge separates them.

Bridges map the Ethernet addresses of the nodes residing on each network segment and allow only necessary traffic to pass through the bridge. When a packet is received by the bridge, the bridge determines the destination and source segments. If the segments are the same, the packet is dropped or also referred to as “filtered"; if the segments are different, then the packet is "forwarded" to the correct segment. Additionally, bridges do not forward bad or misaligned packets.

Bridges are also called "store-and-forward" devices because they look at the whole Ethernet packet before making filtering or forwarding decisions. Filtering packets and regenerating forwarded packets enables bridging technology to split a network into separate collision domains. Bridges are able to isolate network problems; if interference occurs on one of two segments, the bridge will receive and discard an invalid frame keeping the problem from affecting the other segment. This allows for greater distances and more repeaters to be used in the total network design.

Dealing with Loops

Most bridges are self-learning task bridges; they determine the user Ethernet addresses on the segment by building a table as packets that are passed through the network. However, this self-learning capability dramatically raises the potential of network loops in networks that have many bridges. A loop presents conflicting information on which segment a specific address is located and forces the device to forward all traffic. The Distributed Spanning Tree (DST) algorithm is a software standard (found in the IEEE 802.1d specification) that describes how switches and bridges can communicate to avoid network loops.

 

Ethernet Switches

Switches occupy the same place in the network as hubs. Unlike hubs, switches examine each packet and process it accordingly rather than simply repeating the signal to all ports. Switches map the Ethernet addresses of the nodes residing on each network segment and then allow only the necessary traffic to pass through the switch. When a packet is received by the switch, the switch examines the destination and source hardware addresses and compares them to a table of network segments and addresses. If the segments are the same, the packet is dropped or "filtered"; if the segments are different, then the packet is "forwarded" to the proper segment. Additionally, switches prevent bad or misaligned packets from spreading by not forwarding them.

Filtering packets and regenerating forwarded packets enables switching technology to split a network into separate collision domains. The regeneration of packets allows for greater distances and more nodes to be used in the total network design, and dramatically lowers the overall collision rates. In switched networks, each segment is an independent collision domain. This also allows for parallelism, meaning up to one-half of the computers connected to a switch can send data at the same time. In shared networks all nodes reside in a single shared collision domain.

Easy to install, most switches are self learning. They determine the Ethernet addresses in use on each segment, building a table as packets are passed through the switch. This "plug and play" element makes switches an attractive alternative to hubs.

Switches can connect different network types (such as Ethernet and Fast Ethernet) or networks of the same type. Many switches today offer high-speed links, like Fast Ethernet, which can be used to link the switches together or to give added bandwidth to important servers that get a lot of traffic. A network composed of a number of switches linked together via these fast uplinks is called a "collapsed backbone" network.

Dedicating ports on switches to individual nodes is another way to speed access for critical computers. Servers and power users can take advantage of a full segment for one node, so some networks connect high traffic nodes to a dedicated switch port.

Ethernet switches are an expansion of the Ethernet bridging concept. The advantage of using a switched Ethernet is parallelism. Up to one-half of the computers connected to a switch can send data at the same time.

LAN switches link multiple networks together and have two basic architectures: cut-through and store-and-forward. In the past, cut-through switches were faster because they examined the packet destination address only before forwarding it on to its destination segment. A store-and-forward switch works like a bridge in that it accepts and analyzes the entire packet before forwarding it to its destination.

Historically, store-and-forward took more time to examine the entire packet, although one benefit was that it allowed the switch to catch certain packet errors and keep them from propagating through the network. Today, the speed of store-and-forward switches has caught up with cut-through switches so the difference between the two is minimal. Also, there are a large number of hybrid switches available that mix both cut-through and store-and-forward architectures.

Both cut-through and store-and-forward switches separate a network into collision domains, allowing network design rules to be extended. Each of the segments attached to an Ethernet switch has a full 10 Mbps of bandwidth shared by fewer users, which results in better performance (as opposed to hubs that only allow bandwidth sharing from a single Ethernet). Newer switches today offer high-speed links, either Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet or ATM. These are used to link switches together or give added bandwidth to high-traffic servers. A network composed of a number of switches linked together via uplinks is termed a "collapsed backbone" network.

Switches and Dedicated Ethernet Examples

Full duplex is another method to increase bandwidth to dedicated workstations or servers. To use full duplex, both network interface cards used in the server or workstation and the switch must support full duplex operation. Full duplex doubles the potential bandwidth on that link.

Network Congestion

Ethernet Capacity diagramAs more users are added to a shared network or as applications requiring more data are added, performance deteriorates. This is because all users on a shared network are competitors for the Ethernet bus. A moderately loaded 10 Mbps Ethernet network is able to sustain utilization of 35 percent and throughput in the neighborhood of 2.5 Mbps after accounting for packet overhead, inter-packet gaps and collisions. A moderately loaded Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet shares 25 Mbps or 250 Mbps of real data in the same circumstances. With shared Ethernet and Fast Ethernet, the likelihood of collisions increases as more nodes and/or more traffic is added to the shared collision domain.

Ethernet itself is a shared media, so there are rules for sending packets to avoid conflicts and protect data integrity. Nodes on an Ethernet network send packets when they determine the network is not in use. It is possible that two nodes at different locations could try to send data at the same time. When both PCs are transferring a packet to the network at the same time, a collision will result. Both packets are retransmitted, adding to the traffic problem. Minimizing collisions is a crucial element in the design and operation of networks. Increased collisions are often the result of too many users or too much traffic on the network, which results in a great deal of contention for network bandwidth. This can slow the performance of the network from the user’s point of view. Segmenting, where a network is divided into different pieces joined together logically with switches or routers, reduces congestion in an overcrowded network by eliminating the shared collision domain.

Collision rates measure the percentage of packets that are collisions. Some collisions are inevitable, with less than 10 percent common in well-running networks.

The Factors Affecting Network Efficiency

  • Amount of traffic
  • Number of nodes
  • Size of packets
  • Network diameter

Measuring Network Efficiency: 

  • Average to peak load deviation
  • Collision Rate (should be Collision rates less than 10%)
  • Utilization Rate (should be Utilization less than 35%)
  • Isolates traffic, relieving congestion
  • Separates collision domains, reducing collisions

Since switches are self learning, they are as easy to install as a hub. Just plug them in and go. And they operate on the same hardware layer as a hub, so there are no protocol issues.

There are two reasons for switches being included in network designs. First, a switch breaks one network into many small networks so the distance and repeater limitations are restarted. Second, this same segmentation isolates traffic and reduces collisions relieving network congestion. It is very easy to identify the need for distance and repeater extension, and to understand this benefit of network switching. But the second benefit, relieving network congestion, is hard to identify and harder to understand the degree by which switches will help performance. Since all switches add small latency delays to packet processing, deploying switches unnecessarily can actually slow down network performance. So the next section pertains to the factors affecting the impact of switching to congested networks.

Network Switching

The benefits of switching vary from network to network. Adding a switch for the first time has different implications than increasing the number of switched ports already installed. Understanding traffic patterns is very important to network switching - the goal being to eliminate (or filter) as much traffic as possible. A switch installed in a location where it forwards almost all the traffic it receives will help much less than one that filters most of the traffic.

Networks that are not congested can actually be negatively impacted by adding switches. Packet processing delays, switch buffer limitations, and the retransmissions that can result sometimes slows performance compared with the hub based alternative. If your network is not congested, don't replace hubs with switches. How can you tell if performance problems are the result of network congestion? Measure utilization factors and collision rates.

Good Candidates for Performance Boosts from Switching

Utilization load is the amount of total traffic as a percent of the theoretical maximum for the network type, 10 Mbps in Ethernet, 100 Mbps in Fast Ethernet. The collision rate is the number of packets with collisions as a percentage of total packages.

Network response times (the user-visible part of network performance) suffers as the load on the network increases, and under heavy loads small increases in user traffic often results in significant decreases in performance. This is similar to automobile freeway dynamics, in that increasing loads results in increasing throughput up to a point, then further increases in demand results in rapid deterioration of true throughput. In Ethernet, collisions increase as the network is loaded, and this causes retransmissions and increases in load which cause even more collisions. The resulting network overload slows traffic considerably.

Using network utilities found on most server operating systems network managers can determine utilization and collision rates. Both peak and average statistics should be considered.

Advanced Switching Technology Issues

There are some technology issues with switching that do not affect 95% of all networks. Major switch vendors and the trade publications are promoting new competitive technologies, so some of these concepts are discussed here.

Managed or Unmanaged

Management provides benefits in many networks. Large networks with mission critical applications are managed with many sophisticated tools, using SNMP to monitor the health of devices on the network. Networks using SNMP or RMON (an extension to SNMP that provides much more data while using less network bandwidth to do so) will either manage every device, or just the more critical areas. VLANs are another benefit to management in a switch. A VLAN allows the network to group nodes into logical LANs that behave as one network, regardless of physical connections. The main benefit is managing broadcast and multicast traffic. An unmanaged switch will pass broadcast and multicast packets through to all ports. If the network has logical grouping that are different from physical groupings then a VLAN-based switch may be the best bet for traffic optimization.

Another benefit to management in the switches is Spanning Tree Algorithm. Spanning Tree allows the network manager to design in redundant links, with switches attached in loops. This would defeat the self learning aspect of switches, since traffic from one node would appear to originate on different ports. Spanning Tree is a protocol that allows the switches to coordinate with each other so that traffic is only carried on one of the redundant links (unless there is a failure, then the backup link is automatically activated). Network managers with switches deployed in critical applications may want to have redundant links. In this case management is necessary. But for the rest of the networks an unmanaged switch would do quite well, and is much less expensive.

Store-and-Forward vs. Cut-Through

LAN switches come in two basic architectures, cut-through and store-and-forward. Cut-through switches only examine the destination address before forwarding it on to its destination segment. A store-and-forward switch, on the other hand, accepts and analyzes the entire packet before forwarding it to its destination. It takes more time to examine the entire packet, but it allows the switch to catch certain packet errors and collisions and keep them from propagating bad packets through the network.

Today, the speed of store-and-forward switches has caught up with cut-through switches to the point where the difference between the two is minimal. Also, there are a large number of hybrid switches available that mix both cut-through and store-and-forward architectures.

Blocking vs. Non-Blocking Switches

Take a switch's specifications and add up all the ports at theoretical maximum speed, then you have the theoretical sum total of a switch's throughput. If the switching bus, or switching components cannot handle the theoretical total of all ports the switch is considered a "blocking switch". There is debate whether all switches should be designed non-blocking, but the added costs of doing so are only reasonable on switches designed to work in the largest network backbones. For almost all applications, a blocking switch that has an acceptable and reasonable throughput level will work just fine.

Consider an eight port 10/100 switch. Since each port can theoretically handle 200 Mbps (full duplex) there is a theoretical need for 1600 Mbps, or 1.6 Gbps. But in the real world each port will not exceed 50% utilization, so a 800 Mbps switching bus is adequate. Consideration of total throughput versus total ports demand in the real world loads provides validation that the switch can handle the loads of your network.

Switch Buffer Limitations

As packets are processed in the switch, they are held in buffers. If the destination segment is congested, the switch holds on to the packet as it waits for bandwidth to become available on the crowded segment. Buffers that are full present a problem. So some analysis of the buffer sizes and strategies for handling overflows is of interest for the technically inclined network designer.

In real world networks, crowded segments cause many problems, so their impact on switch consideration is not important for most users, since networks should be designed to eliminate crowded, congested segments. There are two strategies for handling full buffers. One is "backpressure flow control" which sends packets back upstream to the source nodes of packets that find a full buffer. This compares to the strategy of simply dropping the packet, and relying on the integrity features in networks to retransmit automatically. One solution spreads the problem in one segment to other segments, propagating the problem. The other solution causes retransmissions, and that resulting increase in load is not optimal. Neither strategy solves the problem, so switch vendors use large buffers and advise network managers to design switched network topologies to eliminate the source of the problem - congested segments.

Layer 3 Switching

A hybrid device is the latest improvement in internetworking technology. Combining the packet handling of routers and the speed of switching, these multilayer switches operate on both layer 2 and layer 3 of the OSI network model. The performance of this class of switch is aimed at the core of large enterprise networks. Sometimes called routing switches or IP switches, multilayer switches look for common traffic flows, and switch these flows on the hardware layer for speed. For traffic outside the normal flows, the multilayer switch uses routing functions. This keeps the higher overhead routing functions only where it is needed, and strives for the best handling strategy for each network packet.

Many vendors are working on high end multilayer switches, and the technology is definitely a "work in process". As networking technology evolves, multilayer switches are likely to replace routers in most large networks. Good Candidates for Performance Boosts from Switching Important to know network demand per node Try to group users with the nodes they communicate with most often on the same segment

Utilization rate is another widely accessible statistic about the health of a network. This statistic is available in Novell's console monitor and WindowsNT performance monitor as well as any optional LAN analysis software. Utilization in an average network above 35 percent indicates potential problems. This 35 percent utilization is near optimum, but some networks experience higher or lower utilization optimums due to factors such as packet size and peak load deviation.

A switch is said to work at "wire speed" if it has enough processing power to handle full Ethernet speed at minimum packet sizes. Most switches on the market are well ahead of network traffic capabilities supporting the full "wire speed" of Ethernet, 14,480 pps (packets per second), and Fast Ethernet, 148,800 pps.

  • Look for departmental traffic patterns
  • Avoid switch bottlenecks with fast uplinks
  • Move users switch between segments in an iterative process until all nodes seeing less than 35% utilization

 

 

Routers

A router is a device that forwards data packets along networks, and determines which way to send each data packet based on its current understanding of the state of its connected networks. Routers are typically connected to at least two networks, commonly two LANs or WANs or a LAN and its Internet Service Provider’s (ISPs) network. Routers are located at gateways, the places where two or more networks connect.

Routers filter out network traffic by specific protocol rather than by packet address. Routers also divide networks logically instead of physically. An IP router can divide a network into various subnets so that only traffic destined for particular IP addresses can pass between segments. Network speed often decreases due to this type of intelligent forwarding. Such filtering takes more time than that exercised in a switch or bridge, which only looks at the Ethernet address. However, in more complex networks, overall efficiency is improved by using routers.

Routers work in a manner similar to switches and bridges in that they filter out network traffic. Rather than doing so by packet addresses, they filter by specific protocol. Routers were born out of the necessity for dividing networks logically instead of physically. An IP router can divide a network into various subnets so that only traffic destined for particular IP addresses can pass between segments. Routers recalculate the checksum, and rewrite the MAC header of every packet. The price paid for this type of intelligent forwarding and filtering is usually calculated in terms of latency, or the delay that a packet experiences inside the router. Such filtering takes more time than that exercised in a switch or bridge which only looks at the Ethernet address. In more complex networks network efficiency can be improved. An additional benefit of routers is their automatic filtering of broadcasts, but overall they are complicated to setup.

Network Design

Network Design Criteria

Ethernets and Fast Ethernets have design rules that must be followed in order to function correctly. The maximum number of nodes, number of repeaters and maximum segment distances are defined by the electrical and mechanical design properties of each type of Ethernet media.

A network using repeaters, for instance, functions with the timing constraints of Ethernet. Although electrical signals on the Ethernet media travel near the speed of light, it still takes a finite amount of time for the signal to travel from one end of a large Ethernet to another. The Ethernet standard assumes it will take roughly 50 microseconds for a signal to reach its destination.

Ethernet is subject to the "5-4-3" rule of repeater placement: the network can only have five segments connected; it can only use four repeaters; and of the five segments, only three can have users attached to them; the other two must be inter-repeater links.

If the design of the network violates these repeater and placement rules, then timing guidelines will not be met and the sending station will resend that packet. This can lead to lost packets and excessive resent packets, which can slow network performance and create trouble for applications. New Ethernet standards (Fast Ethernet, GigE, and 10 GigE) have modified repeater rules, since the minimum packet size takes less time to transmit than regular Ethernet. The length of the network links allows for a fewer number of repeaters. In Fast Ethernet networks, there are two classes of repeaters. Class I repeaters have a latency of 0.7 microseconds or less and are limited to one repeater per network. Class II repeaters have a latency of 0.46 microseconds or less and are limited to two repeaters per network. The following are the distance (diameter) characteristics for these types of Fast Ethernet repeater combinations:

Fast Ethernet Copper Fiber
No Repeaters
One Class I Repeater
One Class II Repeater
Two Class II Repeaters
100m
200m
200m
205m
412m*
272m
272m
228m
* Full Duplex Mode 2 km

When conditions require greater distances or an increase in the number of nodes/repeaters, then a bridge, router or switch can be used to connect multiple networks together. These devices join two or more separate networks, allowing network design criteria to be restored. Switches allow network designers to build large networks that function well. The reduction in costs of bridges and switches reduces the impact of repeater rules on network design.

Each network connected via one of these devices is referred to as a separate collision domain in the overall network.

When and Why Ethernets Become Too Slow

As more users are added to a shared network or as applications requiring more data are added, performance deteriorates. This is because all users on a shared network are competitors for the Ethernet bus. On a moderately loaded 10Mbps Ethernet network that is shared by 30-50 users, that network will only sustain throughput in the neighborhood of 2.5Mbps after accounting for packet overhead, interpacket gaps and collisions.

Increasing the number of users (and therefore packet transmissions) creates a higher collision potential. Collisions occur when two or more nodes attempt to send information at the same time. When they realize that a collision has occurred, each node shuts off for a random time before attempting another transmission. With shared Ethernet, the likelihood of collision increases as more nodes are added to the shared collision domain of the shared Ethernet. One of the steps to alleviate this problem is to segment traffic with a bridge or switch. A switch can replace a hub and improve network performance. For example, an eight-port switch can support eight Ethernets, each running at a full 10 Mbps. Another option is to dedicate one or more of these switched ports to a high traffic device such as a file server.

Greater throughput is required to support multimedia and video applications. When added to the network, Ethernet switches provide a number of enhancements over shared networks that can support these applications. Foremost is the ability to divide networks into smaller and faster segments. Ethernet switches examine each packet, determine where that packet is destined and then forward that packet to only those ports to which the packet needs to go. Modern switches are able to do all these tasks at "wirespeed," that is, without delay.

Aside from deciding when to forward or when to filter the packet, Ethernet switches also completely regenerate the Ethernet packet. This regeneration and re-timing allows each port on a switch to be treated as a complete Ethernet segment, capable of supporting the full length of cable along with all of the repeater restrictions. The standard Ethernet slot time required in CSMA/CD half-duplex modes is not long enough for running over 100m copper, so Carrier Extension is used to guarantee a 512-bit slot time.

Additionally, bad packets are identified by Ethernet switches and immediately dropped from any future transmission. This "cleansing" activity keeps problems isolated to a single segment and keeps them from disrupting other network activity. This aspect of switching is extremely important in a network environment where hardware failures are to be anticipated. Full duplex doubles the bandwidth on a link, and is another method used to increase bandwidth to dedicated workstations or servers. Full duplex modes are available for standard Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, and Gigabit Ethernet. To use full duplex, special network interface cards are installed in the server or workstation, and the switch is programmed to support full duplex operation.

Introduction to Ethernet, Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet

It is nearly impossible to discuss networking without the mention of Ethernet, Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet. But, in order to determine which form is needed for your application, it’s important to first understand what each provides and how they work together.

A good starting point is to explain what Ethernet is. Simply, Ethernet is a very common method of networking computers in a LAN using copper cabling. Capable of providing fast and constant connections, Ethernet can handle about 10,000,000 bits per second and can be used with almost any kind of computer.

Implementing Fast or Gigabit Ethernet to increase performance is the next logical step when Ethernet becomes too slow to meet user needs. Higher traffic devices can be connected to switches or each other via Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet, providing a great increase in bandwidth. Many switches are designed with this in mind, and have Fast Ethernet uplinks available for connection to a file server or other switches. Eventually, Fast Ethernet can be deployed to user desktops by equipping all computers with Fast Ethernet network interface cards and using Fast Ethernet switches and repeaters.

While that may sound fast to those less familiar with networking, there is a very strong demand for even higher transmission speeds, which has been realized by the Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet specifications (IEEE 802.3u and IEEE 802.3z respectively). These LAN (local area network) standards have raised the Ethernet speed limit from 10 megabits per second (Mbps) to 100Mbps for Fast Ethernet and 1000Mbps for Gigabit Ethernet with only minimal changes made to the existing cable structure.

The building blocks of today's networks call out for a mixture of legacy 10BASE-T Ethernet networks and the new protocols. Typically, 10Mbps networks utilize Ethernet switches to improve the overall efficiency of the Ethernet network. Between Ethernet switches, Fast Ethernet repeaters are used to connect a group of switches together at the higher 100 Mbps rate.

However, with an increasing number of users running 100Mbps at the desktop, servers and aggregation points such as switch stacks may require even greater bandwidth. In this case, a Fast Ethernet backbone switch can be upgraded to a Gigabit Ethernet switch which supports multiple 100/1000 Mbps switches. High performance servers can be connected directly to the backbone once it has been upgraded.

Integrating Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet

Many client/server networks suffer from too many clients trying to access the same server, which creates a bottleneck where the server attaches to the LAN. Fast Ethernet, in combination with switched Ethernet, can create an optimal cost-effective solution for avoiding slow networks since most 10/100Mbps components cost about the same as 10Mbps-only devices.

When integrating 100BASE-T into a 10BASE-T network, the only change required from a wiring standpoint is that the corporate premise distributed wiring system must now include Category 5 (CAT5) rated twisted pair cable in the areas running 100BASE-T. Once rewiring is completed, gigabit speeds can also be deployed even more widely throughout the network using standard CAT5 cabling.

The Fast Ethernet specification calls for two types of transmission schemes over various wire media. The first is 100BASE-TX, which, from a cabling perspective, is very similar to 10BASE-T. It uses CAT5-rated twisted pair copper cable to connect various hubs, switches and end-nodes. It also uses an RJ45 jack just like 10BASE-T and the wiring at the connector is identical. These similarities make 100BASE-TX easier to install and therefore the most popular form of the Fast Ethernet specification.

The second variation is 100Base-FX which is used primarily to connect hubs and switches together either between wiring closets or between buildings. 100BASE-FX uses multimode fiber-optic cable to transport Fast Ethernet traffic.

Gigabit Ethernet specification calls for three types of transmission schemes over various wire media. Gigabit Ethernet was originally designed as a switched technology and used fiber for uplinks and connections between buildings. Because of this, in June 1998 the IEEE approved the Gigabit Ethernet standard over fiber: 1000BASE-LX and 1000BASE-SX.

The next Gigabit Ethernet standardization to come was 1000BASE-T, which is Gigabit Ethernet over copper. This standard allows one gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds to be transmitted over CAT5 cable and has made Gigabit Ethernet migration easier and more cost-effective than ever before.

Rules of the Road

The basic building block for the Fast Ethernet LAN is the Fast Ethernet repeater. The two types of Fast Ethernet repeaters offered on the market today are:

Class I Repeater -- The Class 1 repeater operates by translating line signals on the incoming port to a digital signal. This allows the translation between different types of Fast Ethernet such as 100BASE-TX and 100BASE-FX. A Class I repeater introduces delays when performing this conversion such that only one repeater can be put in a single Fast Ethernet LAN segment.

Class II Repeater -- The Class II repeater immediately repeats the signal on an incoming port to all the ports on the repeater. Very little delay is introduced by this quick movement of data across the repeater; thus two Class II repeaters are allowed per Fast Ethernet segment. 
Network managers understand the 100 meter distance limitation of 10BASE-T and 100BASE-T Ethernet and make allowances for working within these limitations. At the higher operating speeds, Fast Ethernet and 1000BASE-T are limited to 100 meters over CAT5-rated cable. The EIA/TIA cabling standard recommends using no more than 90 meters between the equipment in the wiring closet and the wall connector. This allows another 10 meters for patch cables between the wall and the desktop computer.

In contrast, a Fast Ethernet network using the 100BASE-FX standard is designed to allow LAN segments up to 412 meters in length. Even though fiber-optic cable can actually transmit data greater distances (i.e. 2 Kilometers in FDDI), the 412 meter limit for Fast Ethernet was created to allow for the round trip times of packet transmission. Typical 100BASE-FX cable specifications call for multimode fiber-optic cable with a 62.5 micron fiber-optic core and a 125 micron cladding around the outside. This is the most popular fiber optic cable type used by many of the LAN standards today. Connectors for 100BASE-FX Fast Ethernet are typically ST connectors (which look like Ethernet BNC connectors).

Many Fast Ethernet vendors are migrating to the newer SC connectors used for ATM over fiber. A rough implementation guideline to use when determining the maximum distances in a Fast Ethernet network is the equation: 400 - (r x 95) where r is the number of repeaters. Network managers need to take into account the distance between the repeaters and the distance between each node from the repeater. For example, in Figure 1 two repeaters are connected to two Fast Ethernet switches and a few servers.

Figure 1: Fast Ethernet Distance Calculations with Two Repeaters

Maximum Distance Between End nodes: 
400-(rx95) where r = 2 (for 2 repeaters) 
400-(2x95) = 400-190 = 210 feet, thus
A + B + C = 210 Feet

There is yet another variation of Ethernet called full-duplex Ethernet. Full-duplex Ethernet enables the connection speed to be doubled by simply adding another pair of wires and removing collision detection; the Fast Ethernet standard allowed full-duplex Ethernet. Until then all Ethernet worked in half-duplex mode which meant if there were only two stations on a segment, both could not transmit simultaneously. With full-duplex operation, this was now possible. In the terms of Fast Ethernet, essentially 200Mbps of throughput is the theoretical maximum per full-duplex Fast Ethernet connection. This type of connection is limited to a node-to-node connection and is typically used to link two Ethernet switches together.

A Gigabit Ethernet network using the 1000BASE-LX long wavelength option supports duplex links of up to 550 meters of 62.5 millimeters or 50 millimeters multimode fiber. 1000BASE-LX can also support up to 5 Kilometers of 10 millimeter single-mode fiber. Its wavelengths range from 1270 millimeters to 1355 millimeters. The 1000BASE-SX is a short wavelength option that supports duplex links of up to 275 meters using 62.5 millimeters at multimode or up to 550 meters using 55 millimeters of multimode fiber. Typical wavelengths for this option are in the range of 770 to 860 nanometers.

Maintaining a Quality Network

The CAT5 cable specification is rated up to 100 megahertz (MHz) and meets the requirement for high speed LAN technologies like Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet. The EIA/TIA (Electronics industry Association/Telecommunications Industry Association) formed this cable standard which describes performance the LAN manager can expect from a strand of twisted pair copper cable. Along with this specification, the committee formed the EIA/TIA-568 standard named the “Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standard” to help network managers install a cabling system that would operate using common LAN types (like Fast Ethernet). The specification defines Near End Crosstalk (NEXT) and attenuation limits between connectors in a wall plate to the equipment in the closet. Cable analyzers can be used to ensure accordance with this specification and thus guarantee a functional Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet network.

The basic strategy of cabling Fast Ethernet systems is to minimize the re-transmission of packets caused by high bit-error rates. This ratio is calculated using NEXT, ambient noise and attenuation of the cable.  

Fast Ethernet Migration

Most network managers have already migrated from 10BASE-T or other Ethernet 10Mbps variations to higher bandwidth networks. Fast Ethernet ports on Ethernet switches are used to provide even greater bandwidth between the workgroups at 100Mbps speeds. New backbone switches have been created to offer support for 1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet uplinks to handle network traffic. Equipment like Fast Ethernet repeaters will be used in common areas to group Ethernet switches together with server farms into large 100Mbps pipes. This is currently the most cost effective method of growing networks within the average enterprise.

Servers

An Introduction to Device Servers

device server is characterized by a minimal operating architecture that requires no per seat network operating system license, and client access that is independent of any operating system or proprietary protocol. In addition the device server is a "closed box," delivering extreme ease of installation, minimal maintenance, and can be managed by the client remotely via a web browser.

By virtue of its independent operating system, protocol independence, small size and flexibility, device servers are able to meet the demands of virtually any network-enabling application. The demand for device servers is rapidly increasing because organizations need to leverage their networking infrastructure investment across all of their resources. Many currently installed devices lack network ports or require dedicated serial connections for management -- device servers allow those devices to become connected to the network.

Device servers are currently used in a wide variety of environments in which machinery, instruments, sensors and other discrete devices generate data that was previously inaccessible through enterprise networks. They are also used for security systems, point-of-sale applications, network management and many other applications where network access to a device is required.
As device servers become more widely adopted and implemented into specialized applications, we can expect to see variations in size, mounting capabilities and enclosures. Device servers are also available as embedded devices, capable of providing instant networking support for developers of future products where connectivity will be required.

Print servers, terminal servers, remote access servers and network time servers are examples of device servers which are specialized for particular functions. Each of these types of servers has unique configuration attributes in hardware or software that help them to perform best in their particular arena.

External Device Servers

External device servers are stand-alone serial-to-wireless (802.11b) or serial-to-Ethernet device servers that can put just about any device with serial connectivity on the network in a matter of minutes so it can be managed remotely.

External Device Servers from Lantronix

Lantronix external device servers provide the ability to remotely control, monitor, diagnose and troubleshoot equipment over a network or the Internet.  By opting for a powerful external device with full network and web capabilities, companies are able to preserve their present equipment investments.   

Lantronix offers a full line of external device servers:  Ethernet or wireless, advanced encryption for maximum security, and device servers designed for commercial or heavy-duty industrial applications.

Wireless

Providing a whole new level of flexibility and mobility, these devices allow users to connect devices that are inaccessible via cabling.  Users can also add intelligence to their businesses by putting mobile devices, such as medical instruments or warehouse equipment, on networks.

Security:

Ideal for protecting data such as business transactions, customer information, financial records, etc., these devices provide enhanced security for networked devices.

Commercial: 

These devices enable users to network-enable their existing equipment (such as POS devices, AV equipment, medical instruments, etc.) simply and cost-effectively, without the need for special software.

Industrial: 

For heavy-duty factory applications, Lantronix offers a full complement of industrial-strength external device servers designed for use with manufacturing, assembly and factory automation equipment. All models support Modbus industrial protocols.

Embedded Device Servers

Embedded device servers integrate all the required hardware and software into a single embedded device.  They use a device’s serial port to web-enable or network-enable products quickly and easily without the complexities of extensive hardware and software integration. Embedded device servers are typically plug-and-play solutions that operate independently of a PC and usually include a wireless or Ethernet connection, operating system, an embedded web server, a full TCP/IP protocol stack, and some sort of encryption for secure communications.

Embedded Device Servers from Lantronix

Lantronix recognizes that design engineers are looking for a simple, cost-effective and reliable way to seamlessly embed network connectivity into their products.  In a fraction of the time it would take to develop a custom solution, Lantronix embedded device servers provide a variety of proven, fully integrated products.  OEMs can add full Ethernet and/or wireless connectivity to their products so they can be managed over a network or the Internet.

Module

These devices allow users tonetwork-enable just about any electronic device with Ethernet and/or wireless connectivity.

Board-Level: 

Users can integrate networking capabilities onto the circuit boards of equipment like factory machinery, security systems and medical devices.

Single-Chip Solutions: 

These powerful, system-on-chip solutions help users address networking issues early in the design cycle to support the most popular embedded networking technologies.

Terminal Servers

Terminal servers are used to enable terminals to transmit data to and from host computers across LANs, without requiring each terminal to have its own direct connection. And while the terminal server's existence is still justified by convenience and cost considerations, its inherent intelligence provides many more advantages. Among these is enhanced remote monitoring and control. Terminal servers that support protocols like SNMP make networks easier to manage.
Devices that are attached to a network through a server can be shared between terminals and hosts at both the local site and throughout the network. A single terminal may be connected to several hosts at the same time (in multiple concurrent sessions), and can switch between them. Terminal servers are also used to network devices that have only serial outputs. A connection between serial ports on different servers is opened, allowing data to move between the two devices.

Given its natural translation ability, a multi-protocol server can perform conversions between the protocols it knows such as LAT and TCP/IP. While server bandwidth is not adequate for large file transfers, it can easily handle host-to-host inquiry/response applications, electronic mailbox checking, etc. In addition, it is far more economical than the alternatives -- acquiring expensive host software and special-purpose converters. Multiport device and print servers give users greater flexibility in configuring and managing their networks.

Whether it is moving printers and other peripherals from one network to another, expanding the dimensions of interoperability or preparing for growth, terminal servers can fulfill these requirements without major rewiring. Today, terminal servers offer a full range of functionality, ranging from 8 to 32 ports, giving users the power to connect terminals, modems, servers and virtually any serial device for remote access over IP networks.

Print Servers

Print servers enable printers to be shared by other users on the network. Supporting either parallel and/or serial interfaces, a print server accepts print jobs from any person on the network using supported protocols and manages those jobs on each appropriate printer.

The earliest print servers were external devices, which supported printing via parallel or serial ports on the device. Typically, only one or two protocols were supported. The latest generations of print servers support multiple protocols, have multiple parallel and serial connection options and, in some cases, are small enough to fit directly on the parallel port of the printer itself. Some printers have embedded or internal print servers. This design has an integral communication benefit between printer and print server, but lacks flexibility if the printer has physical problems.

Print servers generally do not contain a large amount of memory; printers simply store information in a queue. When the desired printer becomes available, they allow the host to transmit the data to the appropriate printer port on the server. The print server can then simply queue and print each job in the order in which print requests are received, regardless of protocol used or the size of the job.

Terminal / Printer Server Example

Device Server Technology in the Data Center

The IT/data center is considered the pulse of any modern business.  Remote management enables users to monitor and manage global networks, systems and IT equipment from anywhere and at any time.  Device servers play a major role in allowing for the remote capabilities and flexibility required for businesses to maximize personnel resources and technology ROI.

Console Servers

Console servers provide the flexibility of both standard and emergency remote access via attachment to the network or to a modem. Remote console management serves as a valuable tool to help maximize system uptime and system operating costs.

Secure console servers provide familiar tools to leverage the console or emergency management port built into most serial devices, including servers, switches, routers, telecom equipment - anything in a rack - even if the network is down. They also supply complete in-band and out-of-band local and remote management for the data center with tools such as telnet and SSH that help manage the performance and availability of critical business information systems.

Console Management Solutions from Lantronix

Lantronix provides complete in-band and out-of-band local and remote management solutions for the data center. Lantronix secure console management products give IT managers unsurpassed ability to securely and remotely manage serial devices, including servers, switches, routers, telecom equipment - anything in a rack - even if the network is down.

Conclusion

The ability to manage virtually any electronic device over a network or the Internet is changing the way the world works and does business. With the ability to remotely manage, monitor, diagnose and control equipment, a new level of functionality is added to networking — providing business with increased intelligence and efficiency.  Lantronix leads the way in developing new network intelligence and has been a tireless pioneer in machine-to-machine (M2M) communication technology.

We hope this introduction to networking has been helpful and informative. This tutorial was meant to be an overview and not a comprehensive guide that explains everything there is to know about planning, installing, administering and troubleshooting a network. There are many Internet websites, books and magazines available that explain all aspects of computer networks, from LANs to WANs, network hardware to running cable. To learn about these subjects in greater detail, check your local bookstore, software retailer or newsstand for more information.

Glossary of terms

Serial server

traditionally, a unit used for connecting a modem to the network for shared access among users.

Terminal server

traditionally, a unit that connects asynchronous devices such as terminals, printers, hosts, and modems to a LAN or WAN.

Device server

a specialized network-based hardware device designed to perform a single or specialized set of functions with client access independent of any operating system or proprietary protocol.

Print server

a host device that connects and manages shared printers over a network.

Console server

software that allows the user to connect consoles from various equipment into the serial ports of a single device and gain access to these consoles from anywhere on the network.

Console manager

a unit or program that allows the user to remotely manage serial devices, including servers, switches, routers and telecom equipment.

Serial to Ethernet

An Introduction to Device Server Technology

For some devices, the only access available to a network manager or programmer is via a serial port. The reason for this is partly historical and partly evolutionary. Historically, Ethernet interfacing has usually been a lengthy development process involving multiple vendor protocols (some of which have been proprietary) and the interpretation of many RFCs. Some vendors believed Ethernet was not necessary for their product which was destined for a centralized computer center - others believed that the development time and expense required to have an Ethernet interface on the product was not justified.

From the evolutionary standpoint, the networking infrastructure of many sites has only recently been developed to the point that consistent and perceived stability has been obtained - as users and management have become comfortable with the performance of the network, they now focus on how they can maximize corporate productivity in non-IS capacities.

Device server technology solves this problem by providing an easy and economical way to connect the serial device to the network. 

Device Server topology exampleLet's use the Lantronix UDS100 Device Server as an example of how to network a RAID controller serial port. The user simply cables the UDS100 's serial port to the RAID controller's serial port and attaches the UDS100's Ethernet interface to the network. Once it has been configured, the UDS100 makes that serial port a networked port, with its own IP address. The user can now connect to the UDS100 's serial port over a network, from a PC or terminal emulation device and perform the same commands as if he was using a PC directly attached to the RAID controller. Having now become network enabled, the RAID can be managed or controlled from anywhere on the network or via the Internet.

The key to network-enabling serial equipment is in a device server’s ability to handle two separate areas:

  1. the connection between the serial device and the device server
  2. the connection between the device server and the network (including other network devices)

Traditional terminal, print and serial servers were developed specifically for connecting terminals, printers and modems to the network and making those devices available as networked devices. Now, more modern demands require other devices be network-enabled, and therefore device servers have become more adaptable in their handling of attached devices. Additionally, they have become even more powerful and flexible in the manner in which they provide network connectivity.

Device Servers Defined

device server is “a specialized network-based hardware device designed to perform a single or specialized set of functions with client access independent of any operating system or proprietary protocol.” 

Device servers allow independence from proprietary protocols and the ability to meet a number of different functions. The RAID controller application discussed above is just one of many applications where device servers can be used to put any device or "machine" on the network. 

PCs have been used to network serial devices with some success.  This, however, required the product with the serial port to have software able to run on the PC, and then have that application software allow the PC's networking software to access the application. This task equaled the problems of putting Ethernet on the serial device itself so it wasn’t a satisfactory solution. 

To be successful, a device server must provide a simple solution for networking a device and allow access to that device as if it were locally available through its serial port. Additionally, the device server should provide for the multitude of connection possibilities that a device may require on both the serial and network sides of a connection. Should the device be connected all the time to a specific host or PC? Are there multiple hosts or network devices that may want or need to connect to the newly-networked serial device? Are there specific requirements for an application which requires the serial device to reject a connection from the network under certain circumstances? The bottom line is a server must have both the flexibility to service a multitude of application requirements and be able to meet all the demands of those applications.

Capitalizing on Lantronix Device Server Expertise and Proven Solutions

Lantronix is at the forefront of M2M communication technology.  The company is highly focused on enabling the networking of devices previously not on the network so they can be accessed and managed remotely.

Lantronix has built on its long history and vast experience as a terminal, print and serial server technology company to develop more functionality in its servers that “cross the boundary” of what many would call traditional terminal or print services. Our technology provides:

  • The ability to translate between different protocols to allow non-routable protocols to be routed
  • The ability to allow management connections to single-port servers while they are processing transactions between their serial port and the network
  • A wide variety of options for both serial and network connections including serial tunneling and automatic host connection make these servers some of the most sophisticated Ethernet-enabling devices available today.

Ease of Use

As an independent device on the network, device servers are surprisingly easy to manage. Lantronix has spent years perfecting Ethernet protocol software and its engineers have provided a wide range of management tools for this device server technology. Serial ports are ideal vehicles for device management purposes - a simple command set allows easy configuration. The same command set that can be exercised on the serial port can be used when connecting via Telnet to a Lantronix device server.

An important feature to remember about the Lantronix Telnet management interface is that it can actually be run as a second connection while data is being transferred through the server - this feature allows the user to actually monitor the data traffic on even a single-port server's serial port connection while active. Lantronix device servers also support SNMP, the recognized standard for IP management that is used by many large network for management purposes.

Finally, Lantronix has its own management software utilities which utilize a graphical user interface providing an easy way to manage Lantronix device servers. In addition, the servers all have Flash ROMs which can be reloaded in the field with the latest firmware.

Device Servers for a Host of Applications

This section will discuss how device servers are used to better facilitate varying applications such as:

  • Data Acquisition
  • M2M
  • Wireless Communication/Networking
  • Factory/Industrial Automation
  • Security Systems
  • Bar Code Readers and Point-of-sale Scanners
  • Medical Applications

Data Acquisition

Microprocessors have made their way into almost all aspects of human life, from automobiles to hockey pucks. With so much data available, organizations are challenged to effectively and efficiently gather and process the information. There are a wide variety of interfaces to support communication with devices. RS-485 is designed to allow for multiple devices to be linked by a multidrop network of RS-485 serial devices. This standard also had the benefit of greater distance than offered by the RS-232/RS-423 and RS-422 standards.

However, because of the factors previously outlined, these types of devices can further benefit from being put on an Ethernet network. First, Ethernet networks have a greater range than serial technologies. Second, Ethernet protocols actually monitor packet traffic and will indicate when packets are being lost compared to serial technologies which do not guarantee data integrity.

Lantronix full family of device server products provides the comprehensive support required for network enabling different serial interfaces. Lantronix provides many device servers which support RS-485 and allow for easy integration of these types of devices into the network umbrella. For RS-232 or RS-423 serial devices, they can be used to connect equipment to the network over either Ethernet or Fast Ethernet. 

An example of device server collaboration at work is Lantronix's partnership with Christie Digital Systems, a leading provider of visual solutions for business, entertainment and industry. Christie integrates Lantronix SecureBox® secure device server with feature-rich firmware designed and programmed by Christie for its CCM products. The resulting product line, called the ChristieNET SecureCCM, provided the encryption security needed for use in the company’s key markets, which include higher education and government. Demonstrating a convergence of AV and IT equipment to solve customer needs, ChristieNET SecureCCM was the first product of its kind to be certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Incorporating Encryption with Device Servers

In the simplest connection scheme where two device servers are set up as a serial tunnel, no encryption application programming is required since both device servers can perform the encryption automatically. However, in the case where a host-based application is interacting with the serial device through its own network connection, modification of the application is required to support data encryption.

Factory Floor Automation

For shops that are running automated assembly and manufacturing equipment, time is money. For every minute a machine is idle, productivity drops and the cost of ownership soars. Many automated factory floor machines have dedicated PCs to control them. In some cases, handheld PCs are used to reprogram equipment for different functions such as changing computer numerically controlled (CNC) programs or changing specifications on a bottling or packaging machine to comply with the needs of other products. These previously isolated pieces of industrial equipment could be networked to allow them to be controlled and reprogrammed over the network, saving time and increasing shop efficiency. For example, from a central location (or actually from anywhere in the world for that matter) with network connectivity, the machines can be accessed and monitored over the network. When necessary, new programs can be downloaded to the machine and software/firmware updates can be installed remotely.

One item of interest is how that input programming is formatted. Since many industrial and factory automation devices are legacy or proprietary, any number of different data protocols could be used. Device servers provide the ability to utilize the serial ports on the equipment for virtually any kind of data transaction.

Lantronix device servers support binary character transmissions. In these situations, managing the rate of information transfer is imperative to guard against data overflow. The ability to manage data flow between computers, devices or nodes in a network, so that data can be handled efficiently is referred to as flow control. Without it, the risk of data overflow can result in information being lost or needing to be retransmitted.

Lantronix accounts for this need by supporting RTS/CTS flow control on its DB25 and RJ45 ports. Lantronix device servers handle everything from a simple ASCII command file to a complex binary program that needs to be transmitted to a device.

Security Systems

One area that every organization is concerned about is security. Card readers for access control are commonplace, and these devices are ideally suited to benefit from being connected to the network with device server technology. When networked, the cards can be checked against a centralized database on the system and there are records of all access within the organization. Newer technology includes badges that can be scanned from a distance of up to several feet and biometric scanning devices that can identify an individual by a thumbprint or handprint. Device servers enable these types of devices to be placed throughout an organization's network and allow them to be effectively managed by a minimum staff at a central location. They allow the computer controlling the access control to be located a great distance away from the actual door control mechanism.

An excellent example is how ISONAS Security Systems utilized Lantonix WiPort® embedded device server to produce the World’s first wireless IP door reader for the access control and security industry. With ISONAS reader software, network administrators can directly monitor and control an almost unlimited number of door readers across the enterprise. The new readers, incorporating Lantronix wireless technology, connect directly to an IP network and eliminate the need for traditional security control panels and expensive wiring. The new solutions are easy to install and configure, enabling businesses to more easily adopt access control, time and attendance or emergency response technology. What was traditionally a complicated configuration and installation is now as simple as installing wireless access points on a network.

One more area of security systems that has made great strides is in the area of security cameras. In some cases, local municipalities are now requesting that they get visual proof of a security breach before they will send authorities. Device server technology provides the user with a host of options for how such data can be handled. One option is to have an open data pipe on a security camera - this allows all data to be viewed as it comes across from the camera. The device server can be configured so that immediately upon power-up the serial port attached to the camera will be connected to a dedicated host system.

Another option is to have the camera transmit only when it has data to send. By configuring the device server to automatically connect to a particular site when a character first hits the buffer, data will be transmitted only when it is available.

One last option is available when using the IP protocol - a device server can be configured to transmit data from one serial device to multiple IP addresses for various recording or archival concerns. Lantronix device server technology gives the user many options for tuning the device to meet the specific needs of their application.

Scanning Devices

Device server technology can be effectively applied to scanning devices such as bar code readers or point-of-sale debit card scanners. When a bar code reader is located in a remote corner of the warehouse at a receiving dock, a single-port server can link the reader to the network and provide up-to-the-minute inventory information. A debit card scanner system can be set up at any educational, commercial or industrial site with automatic debiting per employee for activities, meals and purchases. A popular amusement park in the United States utilizes such a system to deter theft or reselling of partially-used admission tickets.

Medical Applications

The medical field is an area where device server technology can provide great flexibility and convenience. Many medical organizations now run comprehensive applications developed specifically for their particular area of expertise. For instance, a group specializing in orthopedics may have x-ray and lab facilities onsite to save time and customer effort in obtaining test results.  Connecting all the input terminals, lab devices, x-ray machines and developing equipment together allows for efficient and effective service. Many of these more technical devices previously relied upon serial communication or worse yet, processing being done locally on a PC. Utilizing device server technology they can all be linked together into one seamless application. And an Internet connection enables physicians the added advantage of access to immediate information relevant to patient diagnosis and treatment.

Larger medical labs, where there are hundreds of different devices available for providing test data, can improve efficiency and lower equipment costs by using device server technology to replace dedicated PCs at each device. Device servers only cost a fraction of PCs. And, the cost calculation is not just the hardware alone, but the man-hours required to create software that would allow a PC-serial-port-based applications program to be converted into a program linking that information to the PC's network port. Device server technology resolves this issue by allowing the original applications software to be run on a networked PC and then use port redirector software to connect up to that device via the network. This enables the medical facility to transition from a PC at each device and software development required to network that data, to using only a couple of networked PCs doing the processing for all of the devices.

Wireless Networking

Wireless networking, allows devices to communicate over the airwaves and without wires by using standard networking protocols. There are currently a variety of competing standards available for achieving the benefits of a wireless network. Here is a brief description of each:

Bluetooth

is a standard that provides short-range wireless connections between computers, Pocket PCs, and other equipment.

ZigBee

is a proprietary set of communication protocols designed to use small, low power digital radios based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for wireless personal area networking.

802.11

is an IEEE specification for a wireless LAN airlink.

802.11b (or Wi-Fi)

is an industry standard for wireless LANs and supports more users and operates over longer distances than other standards. However, it requires more power and storage. 802.11b offers wireless transmission over short distances at up to 11 megabits per second. When used in handheld devices, 802.11b provides similar networking capabilities to devices enabled with Bluetooth.

802.11g

is the most recently approved standard and offers wireless transmission over short distances at up to 54 megabits per second. Both 802.11b and 802.11g operate in the 2.4 GHz range and are therefore compatible.

For more in-depth information, please consult the Lantronix wireless whitepaper which is available online.

Wireless technology is especially ideal in instances when it would be impractical or cost-prohibitive for cabling; or in instances where a high level of mobility is required.

802.11n

IEEE 802.11n-2009, commonly shortened to 802.11n, is a wireless networking standard that uses multiple antennas to increase data rates. Its purpose is to improve network throughput over the two previous standards—802.11a and 802.11g—with a significant increase in the maximum net data rate from 54 Mbit/s to 600 Mbit/s (slightly higher gross bit rate including for example error-correction codes, and slightly lower maximum throughput) with the use of four spatial streams at a channel width of 40 MHz. 802.11n standardized support for multiple-input multiple-output, frame aggregation, and security improvements, among other features. It can be used in the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands.

 

MCS
index

Spatial
streams

Modulation
type

Coding
rate

Data rate (Mbit/s)

20 MHz channel

40 MHz channel

800 ns GI

400 ns GI

800 ns GI

400 ns GI

0

1

BPSK

1/2

6.5

7.2

13.5

15

1

1

QPSK

1/2

13

14.4

27

30

2

1

QPSK

3/4

19.5

21.7

40.5

45

3

1

16-QAM

1/2

26

28.9

54

60

4

1

16-QAM

3/4

39

43.3

81

90

5

1

64-QAM

2/3

52

57.8

108

120

6

1

64-QAM

3/4

58.5

65

121.5

135

7

1

64-QAM

5/6

65

72.2

135

150

8

2

BPSK

1/2

13

14.4

27

30

9

2

QPSK

1/2

26

28.9

54

60

10

2

QPSK

3/4

39

43.3

81

90

11

2

16-QAM

1/2

52

57.8

108

120

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

32

1

BPSK

1/2

N/A

N/A

6.0

6.7

 

802.11ac

IEEE 802.11ac is a wireless networking standard in the 802.11 family (which is marketed under the brand name Wi-Fi), developed in the IEEE Standards Association process, providing high-throughput wireless local area networks (WLANs) on the 5 GHz band.The standard was developed from 2011 through 2013 and approved in January 2014.

This specification has expected multi-station WLAN throughput of at least 1 gigabit per second and a single link throughput of at least 500 megabits per second (500 Mbit/s). This is accomplished by extending the air interface concepts embraced by 802.11n: wider RF bandwidth (up to 160 MHz), more MIMO spatial streams (up to eight), downlink multi-user MIMO (up to four clients), and high-density modulation (up to 256-QAM).

Wireless topology diagram

Wireless device networking has benefits for all types of organizations. For example, in the medical field, where reduced staffing, facility closures and cost containment pressures are just a few of the daily concerns, device networking can assist with process automation and data security. Routine activities such as collection and dissemination of data, remote patient monitoring, asset tracking and reducing service costs can be managed quickly and safely with the use of wireless networked devices. In this environment, Lantronix device servers can network and manage patient monitoring devices, mobile EKG units, glucose analyzers, blood analyzers, infusion pumps, ventilators and virtually any other diagnostic tool with serial capability over the Internet.

Forklift accidents in large warehouses cause millions of dollars in damaged product, health claims, lost work and equipment repairs each year. To minimize the lost revenue and increase their profit margin and administrative overhead, “a company” has utilized wireless networking technology to solve the problem. Using Lantronix serial-to-802.11 wireless device server “the company” wirelessly network-enables a card reader which is tied to the ignition system of all the forklifts in the warehouse. Each warehouse employee has an identification card. The forklift operator swipes his ID card before trying to start the forklift. The information from his card is sent back via wireless network to computer database and it checks to see if he has proper operator’s license, and that the license is current. If so, forklift can start. If not – the starter is disabled.

Additional Network Security

Of course, with the ability to network devices comes the risk of outsiders obtaining access to important and confidential information. Security can be realized through various encryption methods. 

There are two main types of encryption: asymmetric encryption (also known as public-key encryption) and symmetric encryption. There are many algorithms for encrypting data based on these types.

AES

AES (Advanced Encryption Standards) is a popular and powerful encryption standard that has not been broken. Select Lantronix device servers feature a NIST-certified implementation of AES as specified by the Federal Information Processing Specification (FIPS-197). This standard specifies Rijndael as a FIPS-approved symmetric encryption algorithm that may be used to protect sensitive information.  A common consideration for device networking devices is that they support AES and are validated against the standard to demonstrate that they properly implement the algorithm. It is important that a validation certificate is issued to the product’s vendor which states that the implementation has been tested. Lantronix offers several AES certified devices including the AES Certified SecureBox SDS1100 and the AES Certified SecureBox SDS2100.

Secure Shell Encryption

Secure Shell (SSH) is a program that provides strong authentication and secure communications over unsecured channels. It is used as a replacement for Telnet, rlogin, rsh, and rcp, to log into another computer over a network, to execute commands in a remote machine, and to move files from one machine to another. AES is one of the many encryption algorithms supported by SSH. Once a session key is established SSH uses AES to protect data in transit.
Both SSH and AES are extremely important to overall network security by maintaining strict authentication for protection against intruders as well as symmetric encryption to protect transmission of dangerous packets. AES certification is reliable and can be trusted to handle the highest network security issues.

WEP

Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is a security protocol for wireless local area networks (WLANs) which are defined in the 802.11b standard. WEP is designed to provide the same level of security as that of a wired LAN, however LANs provide more security by their inherent physical structure that can be protected from unauthorized access. WLANs, which are over radio waves, do not have the same physical structure and therefore are more vulnerable to tampering. WEP provides security by encrypting data over radio waves so that it is protected as it is transmitted from one end point to another.  However, it has been found that WEP is not as secure as once believed. WEP is used at the data link and physical layers of the OSI model and does not offer end-to-end security.

WPA

Supported by many newer devices, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is a Wi-Fi standard that was designed to improve upon the security features of WEP. WPA technology works with existing Wi-Fi products that have been enabled with WEP, but WPA includes two improvements over WEP. The first is improved data encryption via the temporal key integrity protocol (TKIP), which scrambles keys using a hashing algorithm and adds an integrity-checking feature to ensure that keys haven’t been tampered with. The second is user authentication through the extensible authentication protocol (EAP). EAP is built on a secure public-key encryption system, ensuring that only authorized network users have access. EAP is generally missing from WEP, which regulates access to a wireless network based on the computer’s hardware-specific MAC Address. Since this information can be easily stolen, there is an inherent security risk in relying on WEP encryption alone. 

 

M2M and Wireless Communications

Two extremely important and useful technologies for communication that depend heavily on device servers are M2M and wireless networking.

Made possible by device networking technology, M2M enables serial-based devices throughout a facility to communicate with each other and humans over a Local Area Network/Wide Area Network (LAN/WAN) or via the Internet. The prominent advantages to business include:

  • Serial Tunneling diagramMaximized efficiency
  • More streamlined operations
  • Improved service

Lantronix Device Servers enable M2M communications either between the computer and serial device, or from one serial device to another over the Internet or Ethernet network using “serial tunneling.” Using this serial to Ethernet method, the “tunnel” can extend across a facility or to other facilities all over the globe.

M2M technology opens a new world of business intelligence and opportunity for organizations in virtually every market sector. Made possible through device servers, M2M offers solutions for equipment manufacturers, for example, who need to control service costs. Network enabled equipment can be monitored at all times for predictive maintenance. Often when something is wrong, a simple setting or switch adjustment is all that is required. When an irregularity is noted, the system can essentially diagnose the problem and send the corrective instructions. This negates a time-consuming and potentially expensive service call for a trivial issue. If servicing is required, the technician leaves knowing exactly what is wrong and with the proper equipment and parts to correct the problem. Profitability is maximized through better operating efficiencies, minimized cost overruns and fewer wasted resources.

Traditional Service Model diagram

Remote Mgmt. Service Model diagram

M2M technology also greatly benefits any organization that cannot afford downtime, such as energy management facilities where power failures can be catastrophic, or hospitals who can’t afford interruptions with lives at stake. By proactively monitoring networked-enabled equipment to ensure it is functioning properly at all times, business can ensure uptime on critical systems, improve customer service and increase profitability.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices. Each thing is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing system but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure.The Internet of Things (IoT) is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. Click on pictuter bellow to see VIDEO [5:24].

  INNOVATIVE ASPECTS AND MAIN ADVANTAGES of IoT:

 Rapidly build your custom IoT Application
 Easily integrate network services by built in smart  connectivity software
 Reduce your hardware design challenges and complexity  via a compact modular footprint
 Lower your overall total cost of ownership across your  product life cycle

 

DIFI.NET can implement Ethernet based System on Module (SOM) that enables OEM customers to easily develop and deploy secure IoT (Internet of    things) applications. DIFI.NET also can put in your PCB Serial to WiFi.