The best cabling upgrade may be no upgrade at all

* ‘The mighty force of inertia’

Last time, I mentioned several cabling options for moving desktops from Gigabit Ethernet to the next level. But one cabling option that several readers advocated was this: do nothing. Stick with Category 5E unshielded twisted pair wiring.

Get off the “Category X” treadmill and avoid the question of fiber-to-the-desktop altogether - at least for now, at least until the answers to the very questions I raised in my original newsletter are more settled.

The thing is, you know this is what many businesses are going to do anyway, unless there is some great pressure on them to change. As one reader put it, “Ah, the mighty force of inertia!”

Another said:

“The best bet is to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of Cat 5E and wait to see if wireless LAN performance can catch up. By then there should be a clear understanding of what you need to deploy 10G to the desktop. Never be first with wiring or you'll end up with [single-mode/multimode/Cat 6 homeruns to the desk and waste a ton of money.”

Yet another echoed those sentiments:

“If you have an existing copper or fiber system, don't replace it just because something new is available. Just like an old car, an old network is most cost-effective when it is run until it is dead. Test the system before you replace it. A well-installed Cat 5 or 5E system may provide the performance you need without an upgrade to Cat 6 or fiber.”

The thinking is that there’s more to the picture than just raw bandwidth, so see what you can do to improve the cable plant you have. Perhaps even some application architecture changes are in the works, as this reader suggested:

“Seeing recent major companies take the path (like Hitachi), and seeing it firsthand in my work, I think the future is going to 'revert' back to the mainframe/remote-terminal model, and fat PCs at the desktop will go the way of the floppy disk (sure, some are still around, but don’t get used much). For this to work well, I think the back-end terminal servers will all be wired fiber, or some other high-speed/capacity medium, to attach clustered servers, network storage devices, etc. - but the wiring to the end user running on thin clients ('dumb' terminals) won't matter much, as current Cat 5E is sufficient to carry a lot of terminal traffic.”

Next time: fiber to the desktop?

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