When your enterprise network’s performance isn’t where it should be, there are several factors to consider: too many users trying to access resources at once, growing numbers of devices connecting wirelessly, component failure somewhere along the way, etc. Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint the problem.
When troubleshooting the cause of network performance problems, don’t forget to consider your cabling – it could be the culprit, causing bottlenecks, sluggishness, spottiness or even complete downtime.
Below, we outline some of the common cabling problems that cause network downtime – and what you can do about them.
Where Potential Problems May Be Lurking
Outdated Backbone/Incoming Cabling
The cable entering the building from your internet service provider (ISP) connects your network to the internet. If that backbone piece doesn’t meet current bandwidth standards, big bottlenecks can result.
If you’re trying to operate at a speed that’s too high, or bring too much bandwidth through a cable that isn’t properly rated for that capacity, users will notice and business operations will suffer.
Incorrect Type of Structured Cabling
Manufacturers must rate cabling based on performance and capabilities (as Category 6 or Category 6A cable, for example). At the very least, manufacturers must also meet appropriate performance standards, such as those set forth by TIA. It’s important to note that there are manufacturers that go beyond requirements, exceeding industry standards and offering more headroom so you’re covered as bandwidth needs grow.
When cabling exceeds minimum standards, you can achieve higher network speeds without having to completely upgrade cabling. When cabling simply meets minimum standards, network speeds won’t be able to grow much beyond what the cable rating indicates it can support.
It’s important to pay attention and conduct adequate research when it comes to cable ratings and standards. Just because a cable is labeled as “Category 6A,” for example, doesn’t mean that it will meet performance standards. Compliance levels may be minimal, or the cable may be manufactured poorly and won’t deliver the performance level it promises as a result.
In other cases, cabling system age may be to blame. The installed cabling may have been the correct solution to meet the needs and expectations of 15 years ago, but can no longer support increasing network traffic.
Vendor Compatibility Issues
Problems can arise when marrying cabling and connectivity from different manufacturers. Using jacks from one manufacturer, cabling from a second manufacturer and patch panels from a third manufacturer, for example, may create compatibility issues. If the components weren’t designed and manufactured to work together consistently, there can be glitches in performance.
Investing in high-quality, high-performance cabling, but using connectivity solutions with lower performance levels, will create a weak link. The cable – no matter how well it is designed and manufactured – can’t perform to its full potential when plugs, jacks, patch panels, etc. aren’t designed to support it.
Poor-Quality Patch Cords
Based on what we’ve seen, patch cords may be the No. 1 cause of network performance problems.
Similar to what we mention above with mixing and matching vendors, investing in a high-quality, high-performance cabling infrastructure, but selecting lower-quality patch cords to save a few dollars, can compromise network speed and performance; they may not meet standards, and create signal degradation.
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 aren’t trained correctly, then chances are high that your cabling system won’t 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 isn’t terminated or polished correctly. Lack of installation detail on the front end leads to expensive, time-consuming network performance problems down the road.
Lack of Education
Sometimes people are asked to take on responsibilities they’re not comfortable or familiar with – and this can create network performance problems as well. Depending on how an enterprise is organized, responsibility for the structured cabling system may fall to the IT team, which already has lots to manage: cybersecurity; hardware, software and applications for all employees; device problems; etc.
While the team may be knowledgeable about hardware – switches, routers, servers, etc. – it may not realize how every component within the structured cabling system impacts the enterprise network. (This, of course, depends on background and training.)
How to Troubleshoot Network Performance Problems
If you notice network issues and think your cabling may be to blame, the first step is to determine the bandwidth you’re trying to push. What network speeds are you trying to achieve?
Once you know the answer – 10G or 100G, for example – the next question is: What type of structured cable system(s) is in place? The answer can help you narrow in on the problem. Starting with backbone cabling, and working your way down from the MDF and IDF to your IT rooms, check the type of cabling system in place.
For example, if you find Category 5e cabling at some point along the way, and you’re trying to push speeds of 10G through your network, you’ve just identified the problem: Your installed cabling wasn’t designed to support this speed.
If, after analyzing backbone, MDF, IDF and IT room cabling, everything looks good, it’s time to check patch cords. If they’re outdated or are inexpensively or poorly made, try replacing them a good-quality patch cord to see if that improves performance.
Reliable Cabling Solutions
Belden ensures that every cable and connectivity solution it manufacturers is designed to not just meet industry standards, but exceed them. You can rest easy knowing that your infrastructure will support speed and bandwidth requirements of the future.
If your network is experiencing symptoms we mentioned above – sluggishness, bottlenecks, unexplained downtime – and you’re not sure why, we can help you pinpoint the problem. Or, if your onsite team just needs some help in assessing the existing cabling system (or what may be needed in the future), we can help with that, too.
And when you’re ready to upgrade your cabling system, Belden can help you make a sound cabling decision that is cost effective, reliable, secure and futureproof. Learn more here.
With more than two decades of experience in working with structured cabling – from designing and building technology infrastructure to helping customers meet their IT goals, Darrin Newman collaborates with clients on creating efficient structured cabling system design to meet network requirements. He also provides training and support for Belden’s network of contractors and installers, educating them on how to properly and efficiently install cabling and connectivity solutions. Prior to joining the ICT industry, Darrin spent 15 years in the construction market, managing teams and projects to make sure that electrical infrastructure project deadlines were met.