The Need for Speed
Written Don Schultz, trueCABLE Technical Sales Representative & Wire Expert
When planning your network, keep in mind that the slowest piece of hardware in your network will determine your overall experience.
This rule extends to every last component such as the:
- Ethernet cabling and associated connecting hardware
- Network Interface Card (NIC) in a computer (wired or wireless)
- Network switch
- Network attached storage (NAS)
- Router (wired or Wi-Fi router)
- WAP (standalone Wi-Fi Access Point)
- Cable modem
- Internet connection
- Devices such as smart phones, tablets, cameras, and other IP (network) enabled devices
For this article, we will focus on how Ethernet cabling can help speed up or slow down your experience and what you can do about it.
The following article will provide a primer on Ethernet cable speed, What does 10/100/1000 Base-T mean?
Before we delve into the table below, there are a number of acronyms I throw around that beg definition:
- SATA stands for Serial ATA or Serial AT Attachment. This is the interface typically found in a modern PC for connecting internal devices such as hard disk drives or SSDs.
- SSD stands for Solid State Drive. This device acts and sometimes even looks like a spinning mechanical hard disk drive but has no moving parts and is far faster--to the point that the SATA interface is saturated, which is why PCI-E NVMe devices were developed…
- PCI-E NVMe is actually two acronyms combining three technologies for extremely fast storage devices. PCI-E stands for Peripheral Connect Interface Express and NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express protocol. Combine those two items with an SSD and you have an extremely fast storage device that operates just like a hard disk from your perspective, but is the size of a stick of gum.
- USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and is the standard way of plugging in what people call a “thumb drive” among other common devices. The higher number is faster, so USB 3.0/3.1 is faster than USB 2.0.
Here are the commonly shared devices seen on an Ethernet network and how quick your network cable speed can be. All units are converted from Gbp/s and Mbp/s (gigabits and megabits per second) to MB/s (megabytes per second) so a direct comparison can be made.
The Key Takeaways
So, what does this all mean? Taking a look at the table, one would think it necessary to run Cat6A everywhere if it’s the fastest Ethernet cable. In reality, this could be a big expense. 10 Gigabit Ethernet requires compatible switches, Ethernet cards, RJ45 connectors, and more. Here are some ways to reduce bottlenecks in your network without breaking the bank:
- Purchase a two port 10 Gigabit compatible switch, 10 Gigabit network interface cards, associated cabling and other hardware to run the 10 Gigabit speed link between the shared resource and the associated client devices that need high bandwidth. Inexpensive 10 Gigabit switches have a couple of 10 Gigabit RJ45 ports and the balance is Gigabit Ethernet.
- If the idea is to have high bandwidth at the server, workstation or shared resource, but the clients accessing the shared resource don’t need multi-gigabit bandwidth, then do as above. Obtain a two port 10 Gigabit switch and utilize one (or both) of the 10 Gigabit ports on the switch along with a single (or dual port) 10 Gigabit network interface card installed in the server, workstation or shared resource. Clients will get 1 Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth as a result, but the shared resource will support more simultaneous connections to it. Cabling and other network hardware at the client side may remain the same. However, cabling and associated hardware that supports 10 Gigabit must be used from the shared resource to the switch.
- Link aggregation provides an alternative method for high speed links. Link aggregation (also called bonding and teaming) is combining multiple Ethernet connections into one logical “pipe.” This is done without having to run higher category Ethernet cable or spend large amounts of money on uncommon technology, like 10 Gigabit switches and the associated hardware. There are multiple ways of implementing this technology and the primary downside is additional Ethernet cable must be run in combinations of two. There are two port, four port, and higher variations. The expense will also involve two port or higher network interface cards, and potentially a switch that recognizes link aggregation depending on how you implement the technology.
- Thanks to NBASE-T, the newest kids on the block are 2.5 and 5 Gigabit networking. These technologies are called 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T respectively. The advantage here is both Cat5e and Cat6 unshielded cable can be used respectively to achieve those speeds up to 328 feet or 100 meters. The con is the network interface cards and switch/router or standalone switch must support NBASE-T in order to pull this off. The technology is not very common at the moment, but is gaining traction. Pre-existing 10 Gigabit hardware is not likely to support these intermediate speeds.
- What about RAID arrays? RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) combines a number of mechanical hard disk drives or even SSDs into one logical unit. This is done to achieve redundancy, speed, and/or capacity because all of the devices are working together. There are many RAID levels and each one has pros and cons. Since there are so many ways to construct a RAID, it affects the final performance figures. The wise move would be to benchmark the RAID array and match it up with the suitable network technology. It is very common for servers containing RAID arrays to also utilize network interface cards with link aggregation.
Plan out what your current and future needs are and proceed from there to satisfy your need for speed. Happy networking!
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