Trying to stay grounded on distributed topics

At any given time, there might be one or perhaps even two thoughts going through my head.

by Patrick McLaughlin

At any given time, there might be one or perhaps even two thoughts going through my head. Every now and then, those thoughts have to do with cabling and networking. And even less frequently, those thoughts drive me crazy.

Here are some that I haven’t been able to shake:

• You can always tell where someone stands on the merits of centralized versus distributed 802.11-based wireless technology by the way they refer to the access points. If the person believes centralized systems to be superior, they’ll refer to the access points in those systems as “thin,” and refer to the access points in a distributed system as “fat.” Yet if the person believes distributed systems to be superior, they’ll refer to the access points in those distributed systems as “intelligent,” and the access points in centralized systems as “dumb.”

So, those are your choices: thin/dumb, or fat/intelligent. Pretty soon, these access points will have their own myspace pages to tell you more about their hobbies, favorite movies, and what’s on their insides, because that’s what really counts.

• The continuing discussion in the cabling industry about shielded cabling has, predictably, brought the topic of grounding to the top of many people’s agendas. Aside from the technical issues associated with proper earthing/grounding/bonding (which we plan to continue addressing in the coming months, as we have in months past), the word “ground” has caused some personal strife for me.

For a cabling system (of any kind, by the way, not just shielded), being grounded is a good thing. For my five-year-old son, being grounded is not a good thing. Yet there have been times when he has heard me discussing the importance of being properly grounded. Of course, he had no idea I was talking about equipment protection rather than punishment. So, he thought I had it in for him and was simply looking for any opportunity to keep him in the house. When I told him what I was actually talking about, he wanted a further explanation of how to ground a cabling system-which, naturally, stumped me.

So, at the same time I pledged to keep you informed on proper grounding techniques, I was also wishing that all grounding could be done the same way. Wouldn’t it be so much easier for all of us if we could just look at a row of racks and say, “Go to your room”?

• Considering the price of copper these days, how much longer will it be before the copper that plates a penny is worth more than a penny?

And when will some fiber-optic vendor come out with a marketing campaign that says, “No one breaks into buildings to steal fiber-optic cable”? (Disclaimer: That one’s not mine. The people who told it to me probably want to remain anonymous, so I won’t name them. But you know who you are, and if you want credit for your joke, just let me know. It’s probably the only one on this page that’s actually funny.)

• The wheels are in motion at the IEEE for the development of a 100-Gigabit Ethernet standard. Get it? Wait a minute … someone’s telling me that’s not a joke. It’s really happening. Oh, OK, wait. They’re also taking steps toward a 100-Gigabit Ethernet protocol running over copper. Ha! … What?! That’s real too?

So, where’s the joke in all of this? I guess there’s not one. But stay tuned, because I’m sure things will get interesting. And take a good look at the 8-pin modular, RJ-45-style plug and jack that has carried signals over unshielded twisted-pair cabling systems all the way up through Augmented Category 6 and 10GBase-T, because once we start talking about 100-Gig, we’ll be looking at a different connector design altogether.

OK, enough from me. Now it’s your turn. Anything about our industry been driving you a little mad lately? Let me know, and look at future issues of this magazine for the comments from your peers that are fit for a public forum.

Chief Editor

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