A patch panel is a device that is placed at a facility that uses network cables. Its role is to accommodate and properly manage the cables. As far as the structure of a patch panel is concerned, it is box-like equipment with several ports on it from where the incoming and outgoing of the cables are managed. For most newer patch panel designs, the main focus is on cable management. By using a front-access patch panel, for instance, you can get to all your cables and terminations easily. Front-access panels work especially well in tight spaces. For businesses, patch panels are often around found in areas that house telecommunications equipment and they play a central role in network functionality. By centralizing cables in one place, patch panels make it easy for network administrators to move, add or change complex network architectures. In a business environment, patch panels are the smart way to quickly transfer communications lines from office to another.
Why Do you Need a Patch Panel?
A network patch panel can act as a static switchboard which connects numerous devices to a central server, switch, or other critical hardware. If we do not use it, we will have to run Ethernet cables from each device directly into the central hardware. Additionally, every time we want to reconfigure the network or cabling for more devices, it will be difficult for us to find out the right cables, unplug them and connect them to the new devices. Besides, network patch panels also benefit us a lot in the following aspects:
Easy for Cable Management and Identification
With network patch panels, all Ethernet cables can go into one central cabling location. This helps to keep the cabling system tidy and organized, avoiding cables from becoming tangled and messy. In addition, patch panels’ ports are often labelled, which allows us to better identify which cable comes from where.
Convenient for Reconfiguration and Troubleshooting
Since all cables are terminated on the network patch panel, the switch or server will not be disturbed when small changes are made with the cabling. Furthermore, these changes can be made easily and quickly. As for troubleshooting, the clearly labelled ports make it easier to locate cables which need to be tested or replaced.
Reduced Risk of Outage
As we all know, there is a risk of damaging the surrounding cables when adding or removing a networking hardware. However, the usage of network patch panels can greatly reduce the risk of unplanned outages by making it easy to add and remove cables without touching the main hardware.
Types of Patch Panels
Patch panels can be part of networks with either fiber or copper cabling. While fiber is much faster than copper, networking professionals disagree on whether the materials show significant performance differences in patch panels. The primary role of the panels is to direct signal traffic rather than move signal at a required speed. There is no question, however, that fiber panels cost more. All patch panels are subject to the same standards that provide signal and speed performance ratings for other network components. Basically, according to the cables connected, there are three types of networking patch panel, namely:
Ethernet Patch Panel
Ethernet patch panel, also called copper patch panel, provides interconnections for Ethernet applications in local area network. There are many types of Ethernet patch panels, among which Cat5e patch cable, Cat6 patch cable, and Cat6a patch cables are commonly used in network cabling. As for ports of the copper patch panel, various options also can be found, such as 24 ports and 48 ports. If you want to buy an Ethernet panel, you still have to consider its designs: shielded or unshielded, flat or angled, punch down or feed-through, and loaded or unloaded. With various options, you can always find a needed type.
Cat5e Patch Panel
Cat5e patch panel is compliant with TIA/EIA 568 industry specifications and is used for high-speed LAN transmission. Generally, this type of copper patch panel is available in 6-port and 8-port module groupings, in 8, 12, 24, and 48-port sizes. With numbers labelled on ports, it is easy for cable organization. 24-port Cat5e patch panel is the most popular in the market, which has punch down and feed-through patch panel for customer choice. Hubtech Limited Cat5e patch panels are made from steel materials so that they can stand up even the most extreme conditions.
Cat6 Patch Panel
Cat6 patch panel is specially designed for use in Gigabit Ethernet applications. It also meets or exceeds the TIA/EIA 568 industry specification and fits to use with different kinds of Cat6 cables and accessories. Besides, Cat6 patch panel features high-density and provides the performance needed for present and next generation data communications networks and applications. These high-density patch panels are available in 12-port, 24-port, 48-port versions, and feature enhanced front and rear labelling features for easy circuit identification.
Cat6a Patch Panel
Cat6a patch panel supports all performance requirements of IEEE 802.3an (10GBase-T) and TIA Augmented Category 6 (6a) cabling specifications without requiring the use of individual jacks for the panel termination. This RJ45 patch panel can be used to future-proof your network connection for 10 Gigabit Ethernet. And this Ethernet patch panel can be installed effortlessly in universal 19″ racks/cabinets, or wall mount brackets with 1U standard height.
Fiber Optic Patch Panel
Fiber optic patch panel, the other branch of networking patch panel, is designed to organize fiber cables. Similar with Ethernet patch panels, the fiber optic patch panels also are varied in designs, such as adapter types, fiber types and fiber count. Conventionally, fiber optic patch panel is commonly used as rack mount fiber patch panel or wall mount patch panel, which also applied for the Ethernet patch panel.
Modular Patch Panel
The modular patch panel often refers to an unloaded patch panel, which can accept various removable face-plates. Meaning network installers can field-configure various patching solutions according to different networking requirements. In addition, it also allows us to install various media types in the same panel, providing great flexibility in multimedia installations.
The modular patch panel includes two types: flat modular patch panels and angled modular patch panels. In fact, the most essential difference between the flat modular patch panel and angled modular patch panel is indeed the shape, the former is straight, and the latter has a “V” angle.
Flat modular patch panels help horizontal cable managers organize and route cables to vertical managers. The angled patch panels facilitate cabling improvement. They are substitutes for management and do not require horizontal management of rack space. The angled patch panels increase the rack density and manage high-density applications in a quarter of the area required for conventional cable management systems. However, due to the requirement of front depth, the angled patch panels are not conducive to the installation of cabinets.
Patch Panel Ports
Patch panel ports accommodate specific types of connectors. Connector types include Bayonet Neil-Concelman (BNC), Subscription Channel (SC), Straight Tip (ST), Registered Jack (RJ), Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI), and Universal Serial Bus (USB). BNC connectors are used in video and radio frequency (RF) applications to 2 GHz. SC connectors are larger than BNC connectors and support frequencies to 11 GHz. Both SC and ST connectors are used in Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) cabling applications. RJ ports accommodate RJ connectors, devices used for both telephone connections and network connections. SCSI is an intelligent I/O parallel peripheral bus with a standard, device-independent protocol that allows many peripheral devices to be connected to the SCSI port. Many SCSI variants are available. USB is a 4-wire, 12-Mbps serial bus for low-to-high speed peripheral device connections to personal computers (PC) and peripherals. Other port types for patch panels include audio plugs and jacks, flat or ribbon cable connectors, and insulation displacement connectors (IDC).
There are various ways that a person can do to help keep a patch panel organized, including:
- Labelling Cables – All cables should be properly labelled at both ends, and in many cases, along the middle as well. Having labels on the cables will make it easy for technicians to confirm they are working on the right lines.
- Patch Cable Organizers – Patch cable organizers allow you to run lines neatly and evenly to each port so you can see exactly where things are coming from and going to.
- Color-Coded Cables – Using color-coded cables will allow you to quickly identify what type of cable is in each place.
- Zip Ties – Using zip ties to bundle cables that are going to the same server rack or other location will help keep things looking neat and organized.
If you can wire an Ethernet jack, you can wire a patch panel. You will simply need to repeat the sequence multiple times for your various ports. A patch panel with eight ports should suffice for most home networks, but it is easy to expand when you need more capacity. Panels with eight to 24 ports are readily available, and you can make use of multiple panels together to create a larger one. If you are putting together a home or business network, can you get the job done without patch panels? Certainly, since patch panels serve more as a convenience than necessity. But by incorporating a patch panel — or several — you can expect better cable management and easier fixes when a network component inevitably breaks down.