There are many reasons users can have a poor application experience. Whether with voice, email, a custom database application, or an app in the cloud, when user experience is poor it reflects on IT. When IT receives complaints, it’s important to track down the issue and resolve it. The question is where is the problem? Is it the application itself? The server it’s running on? Is it a network issue? Is it on our network, the internet, or a 3rd party vendor’s network? Finding the source of the problem can be difficult.
However, one area that is often overlooked is the cabling infrastructure. If you are experiencing performance issues across a variety of applications, it’s time to look at your cabling. This is foundational. If it’s not up to spec, it will cause issues up the stack to your applications and result in poor user experience.
Here are a few areas to consider:
Incorrect Type of Cabling
If you’ve installed Cat5e, Cat6, or Cat6a, it’s important to use the same components all the way through. Mixing and matching components will cause the entire infrastructure to operate at the lowest common denominator. For example, if you install Cat6a cable but use Cat5e jacks, then the best performance you can expect is what Cat5e offers. This is a critical factor if you are trying to go 10gig or utilize higher PoE wattage.
Network equipment can be very forgiving at times and even allow you to configure a port for higher speeds though the cable may not be capable of it. You’ll see this show up with thousands of errors on the given port.
Improper Cable Distance
For copper cabling, the typical distance for most applications is 100m, or about 326ft. If the cable exceeds this length, it is out of spec. It’s not unusual to transmit some data over the cable and have it appear to be working. But when loaded up it starts to degrade, and you’ll see lots of packet corruption.
For fiber cabling, the distance limitations vary depending on the type of fiber (multi-mode variations or single-mode) and what bandwidth we configure for. Again, network equipment can be forgiving at times and allow higher bandwidth configurations, even though the transmissions have errors. Too many errors will lead to poor overall performance of any application traversing the cable.
Vendor Compatibility Issues
It is important to use the same manufacturer for all termination components within your cabling infrastructure, and the manufacturer of these components should indicate their compatibility with your chosen copper wire or fiber manufacturer. This means the jacks or fiber connectors that are used need to be from the same vendor, such as Panduit. If the components are inconsistent, the system performance will be inconsistent.
Incompatible Patch Cords
We often see companies invest heavily on cabling infrastructure and do everything right except the patch cords, opting for whatever vendor offers the cheapest cables. This leads to the same compatibility issues mentioned previously. Invest in high-quality patch cables from the same vendor as your jacks to ensure high quality from end to end.
Ensuring that your installer is properly trained and certified to work with the cabling system you select is another factor in avoiding network performance problems. If installers are not trained correctly, then chances are high that your cabling system will not be installed correctly either. This could lead to excessive bending, improper pulling, cable installed too close to noise sources (heavy machinery, motors, etc.) or cable that is not terminated or polished correctly. Lack of attention to detail on the front end leads to expensive, time-consuming problems down the road.
Troubleshooting Network Performance Issues
If you believe you have a network performance issue that is caused by cabling or you want to be certain that your cabling was installed correctly and rule it out as the problem, consider having your cabling infrastructure re-certified.
A certified installer will come to your location and test every cable on the system. The installer will use a certified testing device, such as a Fluke cable analyzer or OTDR, and each cable will be given a pass or fail grade. Any cables that fail can then be remediated and retested. When completed, you will have a report that shows all cables are certified to meet specific specifications. Then the only requirement is that the network equipment is configured to not exceed those specifications (i.e. don’t run 10gig on a 1gig cable or try to draw more power for a device than the cable can handle).
Use the same vendor for all the components. Don’t operate the network at a higher capacity than what the cable is certified for, even if the network equipment will let you. Make sure the cabling plant has been tested and certified.
Follow these tips, and you’ll sleep better knowing your cabling infrastructure is solid.