Why Ethernet is Still Relevant

Paul Mah

I've written a number of blog posts on the use of Wi-Fi in SMBs, which, when correctly deployed, can help steer businesses towards greater productivity with convenient access to the network. Moreover, an increasing number of vendors such as Netgear have also unveiled business-centric wireless network controllers for small- and mid-sized businesses; others, like Ruckus Wireless, already sell enterprise-grade Wi-Fi gear at SMB price points.


While Ethernet has been mostly replaced by Wi-Fi in homes, it is still very much alive in businesses-and will probably never become obsolete in the server closet and data center. So before you brush past Ethernet when planning your IT budget for 2011, let's take a look at why it is still relevant.


The Distance Champion


Ethernet implemented using copper wiring can support deployments of up to 100 meters, and incorporating off-the-shelf fiber optic components can easily extend this to distances of at least a mile. (The telecommunications sector installs equipment that takes it to 30 miles and beyond.) While it can be argued that effective cable length suffers due to the need to track along walls and around corners, it is a relatively trivial affair to deploy a repeater or fiber optic transceiver to cover large compounds. As you can imagine, Wi-Fi is rarely the technology of choice for circumventing long distances.


Rock Solid Stability


Standard UTP cables are suitable for use in practically all office environments, and will generally work as long as you can run a cable to the desired location. In addition, the use of fiber optics means that wired Ethernet can be deployed reliably even on the production floor with electromagnetic interference, allowing the technology to win hands-down where stability is concerned.


This is in sharp contrast to the use of Wi-Fi, where performance can be severely affected by environments with a large number of obstructions such as concrete walls or beams. Furthermore, the proliferation of Wi-Fi also means that wireless emanations from surrounding offices are also a factor to consider, and can greatly deteriorate one's data throughput.




One increasingly relevant technology that relies on the use of wired Ethernet is Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), which sees electrical power channeled together with data via standard Ethernet infrastructure. The importance of PoE is fueled by the growing number of network appliances and devices that resides on the network, ranging from IP cameras to wireless APs, as well as other computerized endpoints such as door access controllers.


PoE allows compatible devices to be powered over existing Ethernet infrastructure, which is definitely cheaper than running both electrical and Ethernet cables to the hardware. In addition, being able to centralize the PoE injectors or PoE capable switches at a single location makes identification and rectification of power-related problems a relative breeze, increasing overall operational reliability.


The Ability to Scale


I had lunch last week with a network engineer who is part of a team tasked with setting up the infrastructure for a high-frequency trading platform. With 10Gbps Ethernet being the standard data pipe that is used, I learned that port trunking was used to aggregate key routers together without having to pay the cost premiums associated with cutting edge 40Gbps network equipment.


In addition, the affordability of Ethernet cable means that it is not uncommon for organizations to lay higher-grade cables than they need. This allows businesses to swap older equipment with faster ones as they become affordable, allowing Ethernet-based networks to scale seamlessly to higher speeds.


So what are the current Ethernet deployments and usage in your SMB? I would love to hear about them from you.

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