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Comparing Patch Panels vs Ethernet Switch – What’s the Difference?

Comparing Patch Panels vs Ethernet Switch

If you are looking to understand the differences between patch panels vs ethernet switch, this post is for you.

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One of the most acceptable ways to deal with an open LAN is by the use of Patch panels. They provide easy and quick access to the connections and ports which connect them.

Usually, they are available in a wide range of sizes. They are typically easy to mount on a rack, or, on a wall. The ease of mounting leads to accessible ports and better cable management. They are significant pieces of equipment in a data center.

Patch panels are beneficial to enhance your network management. They make it easy to organize your connections and cables. Moreover, Patch panels allow you to substitute cables and which devices are connected to which network at any particular time.

What is a Patch Panel?

The term ‘patch’ originates from telephone and radio studios wherein standby equipment can be rapidly patched in if something fails using patch cords. Such patch panels are used in telephone switchboards.

Though contemporary patch panels don’t function fairly the same way, they come with identical overarching roles and appear somewhat similar to those older patch panels.

The function of a modern patch panel is somewhat identical to a network switch. But rather than being a stand-alone device equipped with internal networking hardware, these panels are simply a medium for the cables to connect to other networks and other connections.

They are frequently used to systematize in-wall Ethernet cable runs in which cables run from Ethernet wall jacks to patch panels encased in central server rooms.

The panel’s construction shows blank ports on one side and a keystone jack or termination point on the other side. This allows you to alter which devices are connected to what network or other devices by merely changing which cables are connected where.

The same can be chiefly valuable if you deal with multiple LANs and are willing to change PCs, devices, or servers connected to each other. Also, it can be helpful if you wish to connect various devices to specific audio-visual equipment.

Usually, Patch panels are designed to be equipped into standard 19-inch racks, with specific mounting hardware on the right or left-hand sides facilitating easy installation of single or multiple patch panels in stacked form (one on the other).

Usually, they are equipped with a wide range of port options, ranging from 6 to 24 or more. You have enough physical space for their installation, so you can mount as many patch panels as you want in a wall mount or rack. This aspect makes them limitlessly expandable.

Especially in an enterprise setting, patch panels are usually deployed in wiring closets that can offer secure yet straightforward access to the networking hardware. The same allows for rapid re-routing of cabling or cable replacement as needed.

The question now arises where patch panels are used. Well, they can connect different networking devices. So, they are helpful in several different environments like telephone company central offices, communications closets, and data centers. Comprehending the role they perform can assist you in evaluating if your facility needs a patch panel and, if yes, how to install it.

Every port in a patch panel connects to a unique device. Moreover, every panel packs in all the connections together so that a connection can be made to another network.

This is usually how a LAN connects to the Internet or WAN. Furthermore, Patch panels are extensively used in facilities with ample telephones lines, in which a single mainline is used for every phone.

Now let’s get acquainted with the advantages of using Patch panels:

Benefits of Patch Panels:

Using a patch panel comes with many advantages that make it well worth the investment. Some of the most significant benefits of using patch panels include:

i. Scalability:

After installing a patch panel, it is easy to add new devices; no need to run new cables in an end-to-end fashion.

ii. Enhanced Internet access:

Firstly, Patch panels reduce packet collisions which commonly occur in other wired connections. Secondly, the device lets one computer access multiple LANs, ultimately leveraging the strongest one.

Thirdly, patch panels considerably boost the available network bandwidth and the entire network performance. Finally, the device defends your network against electrical jamming by implementing the anti-interference technique.

iii. Manages cable clutter:

Typically, Patch panels are located nearer to the actual equipment. So, it makes it possible to employ a shorter patch cable. A fiber optic or any other high-capacity connection passes directly from the panel to the Internet or the next network.

iv. Cost-effective:

The only function of Patch panels is to allow data transfer. They are not regarded as smart devices. Therefore, they are very inexpensive.

v. Reduction in cable expense:

Using a Patch panel enables you to use shorter cables that cost less than longer ones. Usually, you can also use cost-effective Cat5 cables to connect to the patch panel instead of using expensive fiber optics.

Ease of maintenance:

Suppose you want to test a cable, test a port, or carry out any other general maintenance tasks. In that case, it can be accomplished easier and quicker than when each device had a cable connected to its final destination.

vi. Tidy wiring and cable numbering:

With appropriate labeling of patch panels, you can easily recognize which port to use when terminating a specific cable. This feature proves to be applicable when you wish to disconnect a single cable for repairs or simply handle the Internet usage in your home. Regardless of the way you use this knowledge, it comes in handy in unexpected situations.

vii. Avoid riser cable fractures:

Patch panels resolve the issue of riser cable fractures by including patch cable amid the panel and the end equipment. These panels use cables built from stranded conductors.

So, they are resistant to issues created by frequent cable movement. With this technology, you would never again perceive connectivity issues due to riser cable fractures. Thus, you can benefit from a powerful and uninterrupted Internet connection throughout the day.

viii. Flexible installation:

A patch panel enables you to develop direct links which you can use in the future. This is chiefly applicable in enterprise when you intend to extend the business or at your house when your kids want a separate Internet connection in their rooms. Thus, when you want to have extensions in the future, it is recommended to select a Patch panel.

Components of a patch panel:

Patch panels are available in all type’s sizes and shapes. But mainly, there are 3 types of patch panels. Twisted-pair copper patch panels are designed to support up to a certain Ethernet specification like Cat 5e or Cat 6, or Cat 6a.

Although they are backward compatible, you can use different gauges of copper wiring to obtain the wider bandwidth and robust shielding of the higher categories.

In every case, the patch panel comes with multiple RJ45 connectors located on the front side of the panel, and the rear has color-coded IDC termination blocks. You will find gold-plated connectors in the best patch panels, which will help avoid corrosion.

The presence of a durable metal frame helps install wall mounts or racks, and the cable tie locations enhance cable management. The majority of them will also incorporate labeling, which supports printed and handwritten labels, assisting you to keep over top of where your wires pass through and what they are designed for.

Additionally, Patch panels are also designed keeping in mind fiber optics. These types of Patch panels can support a wide range of optical fiber connectors such as subscriber connectors (SC), lucent connectors (LC), and straight tip connectors (ST).

Though they boast the same cable management, labeling, and durable build quality of RJ45 patch panels, a noticeably different header is also featured to streamline the optical connection which they carry.

The last category of patch panels commonly used is coaxial. The coaxial patch panels are extensively used in audio/visual setups instead of local area networks. Generally, it connects media players, TVs, and cameras in the same way to a digital LAN.

Also, it is possible that twisted pair and coaxial or fiber optic patch panels can concur on the same network to allow connecting servers and computers to the particular A/V equipment.

Though most patch panels comply with one of these standards, some patch panels boast a modular design. The specific connector types it provides can be exchanged for alternatives in modular designed patch panels. This aspect makes them versatile if connector types may need to be altered often. Also, it proves its versatility if a range of different connectors is preferred to a single type.

Patch Panel vs. Switch:

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between network switches and Patch panels because both fulfill the same objective of connecting varied networked devices. But switches are usually smaller, presenting a narrower port selection. Moreover, switches are usually not rack-mountable – though few top-of-rack switches exist. Usually, they are more expensive, along with a more complex array of internal networking hardware.

The patch panel is an essential cable management tool whereas the network switch is a significant functional supply in the data center. Both play important roles in their respective positions.

Patch panels are mainly fundamental pieces of equipment, notwithstanding their versatility. They simplify cable management of bigger numbers of connections because they are designed in a compact form factor comparative to their number of ports.

The ability to rack mount them suggests that using a sequence of Patch panels within a wire closet is easy for almost limitless extensible approaches. These approaches allow Patch panels to handle a huge number of connections on and amid different networks. Often the Patch panels are used in mishmash with switches to line up connections between in-wall Ethernet cable runs to the appropriate switch connections.

If you want to connect a small number of systems on one or two networks, then a network switch can be an easy way to streamline and administer those connections. But consider a case in which you are dealing with tens or hundreds of devices.

Now suppose in that case you want an easy and familiar way to connect them together, and exchange connections and cables amongst them instantly. In such a case, a patch panel or a network of linked patch panels can be quite simpler to manage. Also, the same proves to be very affordable

Buying a Patch Panel:

To purchase the appropriate patch panel for your requirements, firstly, you need to assess the needs. You need to get answers to the below questions:

  • How many connections do you want to support with your patch panel?
  • Does it require to be a twisted pair or coaxial or fiber optic panel –or one that can accomplish all three?
  • Is wall mounting crucial?
  • Should it be rack-mounted in a wire cabinet for future expansion or instantly connected with other patch panels? In that case, what size rack would it install in?
  • What’s the speed expectation for your new patch panel?
  • What types of Category Ethernet cables will you connect to it?
  • Do you want to upgrade those as well as the fraction of your purchase?

Though it may seem like a lot of questions to ask, all these are important questions. They aid you in purchasing the appropriate patch panel for your home project or organization, allowing you to gain maximum benefit presently and in the future.

Now let’s dive deep into the buying guide for Patch Panels. The discussed factors will help you to streamline your choices:

Categories of Ethernet Cables:

The most widespread copper patch panels sorted by categories of Ethernet cables are Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a patch panels. Let’s get into the description of each of them:

Cat5e Patch Panel:

Cat5e patch panels are compliant with TIA/EIA 568 industry specifications. They are used for LAN transmission. Commonly, these patch panels are available in 6-port and 8-port module groups, with port sizes being 8 or 12 or 24 or 48. Since ports are labeled with numbers, the cable organization becomes easy.

The most popular one in this category is the 24-port Cat5e patch panel. It comes with a feed-through and punch-down patch panel. On the other hand, FS.COM Cat5e patch panels are prepared from steel materials. Therefore, they can work well even in extreme conditions.

Cat6 Patch Panel:

Cat6 patch panels are specifically designed for Gigabit Ethernet applications. These panels meet or surpass the TIA/EIA 568 industry specification. Moreover, they are compatible with various types of Cat6 cables and accessories.

These patch panels come with high-density structures and deliver the performance required for the current and next-generation data communications applications and networks. The available port versions are 12-port, 24-port, and 48-port. Furthermore, these patch panels showcase superior front and rear labeling features for straightforward circuit identification.

Cat6a Patch Panel:

They meet all performance requirements of IEEE 802.3an (10GBase-T) and the TIA Augmented Category 6 (6a) cabling specifications. They don’t depend on individual jacks for the termination of the panel. To future-proof your network connection for the 10 Gigabit Ethernet, an RJ45 patch panel is used. Furthermore, the Cat6a patch panel can be easily installed in universal 19-inch cabinets/racks or wall-mount brackets with a 1U standard height.

Construction: Shielded vs. Unshielded Patch Panels:

Shielded and unshielded RJ45 patch panels must match with the shielded and unshielded copper cable applications.

Shielded patch panels are made for environments with high EMI (Electro-Magnetic Interference). These types of RJ45 patch panels make sure your high-speed network stays protected from EMI and noise particularly when the copper cables run close to power cables. Keep in mind that shielded patch panels are basically expensive compared to unshielded copper patch panels.

Somebody may confuse about whether it’s fair to use unshielded patch panels for shielded cables. Well, it relies on the environment in which your cable would be deployed.

If the setup has zero high-power electrical wires, you can use an unshielded patch panel. Conversely, if your environment is noisy like it uses arc welders or close to high-power radio transmitters, it is better to consider shielded patch panels.

The port number: 24-Port RJ45 Patch Panel or 48-Port Patch Panel:

Another key factor to take into account is the number of connections that your patch panel will support. In case you only want to connect a few network hardware systems or devices to your patch panel, then a 6-port or 8-port patch panel may be adequate.

They provide high build quality and mounting options like the more extensive patch panels. However, they are more affordable and available in more compact form factors.

Typically, RJ45 patch panels contain 4 or 8 modules of eight ports each, for a total of 24 or 48 ports correspondingly. Specifically, the 24-port patch panel is 1RU, the 32-port and 48-port patch panel is 2RU, and the 96-port is 4RU.

The dimensions of a 24-port RJ45 patch panel are 1.39 inches (D) x 19 inches (W) x 1.72 inches (H). The dimensions of a 48-port RJ45 patch panel are 1.39 inches (D) x 19 inches (W) x 3.44 inches (H).

Termination Method: Punch Down or Feed-through Patch Panel:

This type of network patch panel must punch down the Ethernet cable at the rear side. At the front plate, the RJ45 ports can be directly plugged into an Ethernet copper cable.

The Feed-through patch panel offers patching without any need for punching down the wires to the ports. Every feed-through patch panel contains both built-in RJ45 ports at the front and rear sides.

These days, the feed-through patch panel is more widespread than the punch-down patch panel. The reason is the Ethernet patch cables can be directly placed into the ports simply and quickly.

Design: Flat or Angled Patch Panel:

These Copper Ethernet patch panels are categorized as flat or angled types based on design appearance.

A flat patch panel assists the horizontal cable managers to arrange and directing cables into vertical managers. On the other hand, an angled patch panel is very convenient for cable termination and owns the capability to enhance patch cord routing. They are good alternatives for management that require no rack space for horizontal management.

Moreover, the angled design boosts the rack density, which helps manage high-density applications in the quadrant of the area required for traditional cable management systems. However, angled patch panels are not suitable for cabinet installation because of the front depth requirements.

Patch Panel Connection Types:

One of the key considerations when purchasing a Patch panel is the type of connections you require. If you want twisted-pair RJ45 Ethernet connections, you need to focus on Patch panels equipped with those connections as standard. Also, you can go through modular alternatives if you require a combination of connection options. However, for most, a single patch panel type is desirable.

Patch Panel Performance:

Two more aspects you need to focus on are the cable type being supported by your patch panel and the type of performance you expect from the networked devices. The fiber optic patch panels support various fiber optic cables ranging from OM1 to OM5.

The higher number of cables provides excellent performance. You need to check what cables you presently use in your fiber optic connections and ascertain that whatever patch panel you buy meets up to that before going with the purchase.

For those patch panels equipped with RJ45 connections, it is necessary to consider the cable category. Most patch panels would support minimum Cat 5e speeds. However, more contemporary patch panels might support Cat 6 or Cat 6a cables for enhanced performance.

All those cables will offer backward compatibility with older cable standards as well. Hence, if there is no significant cost disparity between them, buying a patch panel that supports the latest Cat 6a cable standard is better. This is because it provides the possibility to upgrade your cables and other networking hardware in the future to boost networking speed as required.

Patch Panel Size:

If you want to connect many devices, there are ample options to consider for expansive patch panel designs. You can consider a patch panel with 12, 24, or 48 ports. The more the number of ports, the more versatility it provides for network expansion at server rack or wire closet.

Keep in mind that those patch panels equipped with more ports tend to be more prominent than their more diminutive competitors. The panel measurement is shown in the “Rack Unit,” like 1U, 2U, and 4U.

More extensive patch panels may have various mounting methods. A few may only support bigger racks. On the other hand, others are designed for vertical mounting, which makes it simpler to set them up in places exterior of wire closet mounts and racks.

Some patch panels will support the wall mounting option with included brackets. But in that case, you need to double-check the specifications and incorporate fixings with your patch panel to ascertain that it contains everything you require. Also, you need to check whether it will fit the mounting plans of your patch panel.

Patch Panel Features:

When buying a patch panel, the eventual factor you need to consider is what extra features it ships with. Note that not every patch panel is made equally. For example, some patch panels come with gold-plated connectors to provide excellent anti-corrosion protection.

Some other patch panels are compliant with special fire safety standards. You can find patch panels with built-in sturdy steel frames and possess front & rear label spaces that allow you to have simple documentation for the network you use.

The features discussed in the above paragraph are not standard, so they are not found on all patch panels. If those features are your priorities, you need to go through the specifications for the particular patch panel you want to get.

Check whether your chosen patch panel comes with screws, mounting brackets, or other fixings required to mount your patch panel at the desired place. If it doesn’t ship with these accessories, you need to purchase the compatible hardware separately. Doing this makes sure there are no issues about insecure loose cable connections.

Another additional feature you can consider is the inclusion of toolless installation screws. These screws simplify mounting and cable installation. Moreover, the exceptional orientations and the physical designs streamline the installation.

Check whether your chosen patch panel is compliant with safety standards like RoHS and C E. Also, check whether it is compliant with your network’s wiring standards like T568A and T568B.

You can buy a krone tool to simplify the installation of your patch panel. This tool ensures a smooth setup of a patch panel.

Aspects to consider for installation of Patch Panel:

If you follow the appropriate steps, you can efficiently complete the installation of a patch panel.

Firstly, you need to start with planning. Identify the network speed, issues, cables length, and distribution location. You need to know the design and specification of the patch panel installation.

The following essential aspect is preparation work that decreases disconnect time. You need to arrange for a 1U rack mount fiber enclosure, the main tools, screws, and a 48-port LC fiber patch panel. Also, you need to look at the cable length to guarantee that the cables can be long enough to drag. It is recommended to label the ports to recognize different wires. Doing this ensures that technicians have clear information about installation.

Cable Management System of Patch Panel:

With many cables entering and exiting a patch panel, the setup can be messy. Poorly organized cables can increase the difficulty of troubleshooting and even lead to outages if somebody unplugs the incorrect cable. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on cable organization right from the first cable you plug it in.

Several things you can do to keep your patch panel organized are discussed below:

i. Patch Cable Organizers:

Patch cable organizers allow you to connect lines uniformly and neatly to every port so that you can properly see how things are connected.

ii. Labeling Cables:

Every cable must have proper labeling at both ends. In several cases, they are labeled at the center too. The labels on the cables make it simple for technicians to verify they are working on the right lines.

iii. Color-Coded Cables:

The use of color-coded cables enables you to recognize the type of cable present in every place instantly.

iv. Zip Ties:

The use of zip ties can tie cables that are going to a similar server rack or some other location. These cables can keep things organized.

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