Use KVM extenders for a better work environment

What is a KVM extender?
KVM stands for “keyboard, video, and mouse,” and a KVM extender is basically a device that extends these interfaces and enables remote access to a computer over distances from a few feet up to several miles, or even over the Internet. A KVM extender unit consists of a transmitter device, sometimes called “local unit,” and a receiver device, also called “remote unit.” These devices can be connected over either CATx copper or fiber cable, and the newest technology can even extend signals over a standard IP network. You can connect your PC to a transmitter at work and plug in the receiver at your home office and work at your computer, just like you would with a direct connection.

What are the interfaces being used?
The video interface is usually either DVI or HDMI on most modern devices, while older computers might be equipped with VGA only. In the past, keyboard and mouse were always separate interfaces and were using a PS2 6-pin mini-DIN connector. That technology has been almost completely phased out, and now USB is the standard connector. It usually doesn’t matter where you plug in your mouse or keyboard, as long as it is a USB port. Other optional interfaces that can be supported are audio and RS-232.

Why would anyone need a KVM extender?
Computer fans are loud, and computer CPUs have fans for cooling because they generate a lot of heat. Plus, they take up a lot of space. None of these features is ideal in an office environment. By using a KVM extender, CPUs can be backracked in a server room in a temperature-controlled environment. All the user needs is a tiny receiver unit on the desk where the keyboard, video display, and mouse would be connected. An industrial environment has different challenges. The work environment might be dusty or dirty—areas where regular CPUs with fans will not last long. The fans will pull the dirt into the cabinet, clogging it up and causing the computer to overheat. By using a KVM extender, the PC can be relocated to a cleaner environment, and the keyboard, video, and mouse workstation can be connected to a remote KVM unit that is fanless. These are just two examples of how KVM extenders are being used, but the variety of applications for KVM extenders is extensive. Learn more at Blackbox.com/KVM-Extenders or check out our KVM Extenders Selector.

Factory automation: four problem-solving technologies

There is a new industrial revolution. It’s combining advancements in machines and controls with advancements in computing and communications from the Internet revolution. Today’s technology is being applied in ways not even thought of even 10 years ago to solve problems and increase industrial productivity.

That’s where the challenge of mixing new and existing technologies in an industrial environment comes in. Here are four problem-solving technologies for industrial networking.

1. Fiber for distance and EMI/RFI immunity.
Fiber optic cable is often the preferred cable choice in industrial environments because it can cover very long distances and offers immunity to electrical interference.

Fiber doesn’t have the 100-meter distance limitation of twisted pair copper, so it can support distances from 300 meters to 40 kilometers, or more, depending on the style of cable, wavelength, and network.

Fiber also provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The fiber is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It is not affected by electromagnetic interference and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. You can run fiber next to industrial equipment without worry.

2. A ring topology for redundancy.
Although Ethernet is usually thought of as having a star topology, it’s possible to build an Ethernet network as a ring. This is often used in applications where it may be difficult to run fiber in a star formation from a central switch, such as in industrial or even traffic signal applications.

One industrial networking scenario involves connecting industrial devices, such as computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines, to hardened Ethernet switches. The switches are set up in a ring topology for maximum reliability with a failover time of less than 30 ms, which is virtually instantaneous. The ring has the advantage of providing a redundant pathway if a link goes down. If one part of the ring fails, traffic will automatically reverse direction.

3. Machine vision and USB 3.0.
Machine vision is an image-based automatic inspection technology that is now an indispensable tool for quality assurance, sorting, and material handling in every industry, including electronics, food processing, pharmaceuticals, packaging, automotive, etc. Machine vision technology incorporates cameras, PCs, software, and other hardware to automatically take pictures and inspect materials as they pass along an assembly line.

Machine vision is an economical way to make sure sub-spec product is rejected. It can be used to inspect for geometry, placement, packaging, labeling, seal integrity, finish, color, pattern, bar code, and almost any other parameter you can think of.

USB 3.0 greatly enhances machine vision systems. Because of USB 3.0’s 5-Gbps throughput, ten times more than USB 2.0, it eliminates problems of stability and low latency for image transmission and camera control. USB 3.0 enables the transmission of higher-resolution, higher-frame video with no loss of quality.

4. Industrial serial connections.
Industrial control is a designation for the devices that interface with machinery such as packaging machines, generators, lathes, and even scales. Although most of today’s IT runs on Ethernet, industrial devices often use an RS-232, RS-485, or RS-422 serial interface. To capitalize on the investment in the industrial equipment and machinery, interface converters and line drivers can be used to provide the link between older RS-232/422/485 equipment connections and newer USB and Ethernet networks.

RS-232 transmits data at speeds up to 115 kbps and over distances up to 50 feet, although higher distances can be achieved by using low-capacitance cable. Both sync and async binary data transmission fall under RS-232. Although the original RS-232 connector is DB25, DB9 and RJ-45 connectors are now more common. Also, industrial devices often use a terminal block instead of a connector for the RS-232 interface. RS-232 is somewhat restricted as an industrial interface because of its restricted range and because it only supports point-to-point links.

For a far more detailed study of industrial communications, see the white paper: Elements of an RS-422/RS-485 System.

How to choose and use PVC and plenum cable

Deciding between PVC and plenum cable is very important because the type of cable you choose can have critical consequences.

The difference between PVC and plenum is the type of jacket that surrounds the cable. Whether you choose PVC- or plenum-jacketed cable depends on where you are going to use the cable. Most of the time, the type of cable depends on your local building codes and/or the age and design of the building.

What’s plenum?
First, let’s define plenum. The term plenum is an HVAC term. A plenum space is the part of a building, or pathway, designed for circulating heated and cooled environmental air and for return airflows. In most buildings, the space above the ceiling or below a raised floor is used for HVAC air. Duct work is also considered a plenum. A plenum ceiling is where the air is forced through the ceiling rather than being ducted.

Plenum spaces are air tight and usually have a greater atmospheric pressure and a greater oxygen content. Plenums can be particularly dangerous in case of fire. The oxygen can turn a small spark into an out-of-control fire. And because the air is forced through the plenum, smoke and fire can very quickly travel throughout the building. If cable is run through a plenum, it must be a plenum-rated cable if no conduit is used.

Building_Plenum_NoPlenum

Building_Plenum_Normal

Plenum cable
Plenum cable has a flame-resistant jacket and is usually made of fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP), such as Teflon® by DuPont. The coating is designed to lower the emission of toxic fumes or smoke when burned. Plenum cable is designed to have a low fire-spread index. It must self extinguish and not reignite. Plenum cable is designated CMP for data communication cable.

Low Smoke, Zero Halogen (LS0H, LSZH)
LS0H is a type of plenum cable with a thermoplastic or thermoset compound in the jacket. It limits the emission of smoke and corrosive gases and permits no halogens to be released when exposed to high heat or flames. Halogen in cable jackets is considered to be a good flame retardant, but it emits toxic fumes and smoke when exposed to flame and it can create acid when exposed to moisture. LS0H cables are ideal for use in areas with poor ventilation, such as aircraft and rail cars. They are commonly used in Europe.

One of the differences between plenum cable and LS0H cable is that plenum construction is designed to reduce the amount of smoke. Also plenum cable releases halogen when burned, while LS0H does not.

PVC cable
PVC cable features an outer polyvinyl chloride jacket that gives off smoke and toxic fumes when it burns. It’s most commonly used between the wallplate and workstation. It can be used for horizontal and vertical runs, but only if the building features a contained ventilation system. If PVC cable is used in a plenum, it will spread fire and noxious, black smoke throughout the building. PVC cable is designated CM or CMR.

If you’re not sure if you need to use a plenum cable or not, check with the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) the National Electric Code (NEC), or your local city department.

Insurance and cable
Because plenum cable is less toxic than PVC cable, it is often specified for use throughout schools and hospitals, often due to insurance requirements. A fire in these facilities could prove to be catastrophic because of the large number of people.

Installation ease
PVC cable is the most flexible cable and thus easier to install. Plenum and LS0H jackets are slightly thicker and heavier making installation a little more difficult.

The expense factor
Generally, PVC cable is less expensive than plenum or LS0H cable. If plenum cable is not required or specified in a project, PVC cable will most likely be used. If you’re having a contractor install cable, make sure you specify what type of cable you want to use and where. Some unscrupulous contractors will use PVC cable in plenum spaces just to cut costs. Some organizations, to be on the safe side, are stipulating the use of plenum cable throughout the building.

Alphabet soup
CM, CMR, and CMP. You see these printed on cable jackets, but what do they mean? In the US, the NEC specifies the environment where each cable is used. There are actually 16 ratings, but only the most common are listed here. You can substitute a higher level of cable for a lower one, but not the reverse.

CMP: Communications (Plenum). This cable can be used in any spaces, ducts, plenums, and spaces used for environmental air. Cables that are plenum rated meet the NFPA-262 safety standard. No substitutions. (Canada: CSA FT6)

CMR: (Riser). This cable can be use in vertical runs in a shaft or from floor to floor. Not for use in environmental air spaces. Cable must self-extinguish and prevent the flame from traveling in a vertical burn test. Cables that are riser rated meet the UL-1666 safety standard. Substitution: CMP.

CM or CMG: Communications (General Purpose). This cable is for use in locations other than risers or plenums. It is often used for workstations and patching. It has less strict burn test requirements than CMR cable, but still has to self extinguish. Cables that are general purpose meet the UL-1685 safety standard. Substitution: CMP, CMR (Canada: CSA FT4).

Burn testing
To ensure consistent quality, legitimate cable companies put their cable through burn testing at national recognized testing labs, such as UL or ETL. Four times a year, Black Box sends random samples of cable from our warehouse out for testing.

Graphics courtesy of D Mahalko.

Why you should use digital signage enclosures

A digital signage deployment isn’t truly complete until an enclosure has been included. The practical benefits to even the most simple digital signage enclosure are numerous, and if a signage display is going to be outdoors, it’s ever more important to pick the right enclosure for a player.

An enclosure is the first line of defense signage has against any type of tampering. At its most basic, a locking metal box around a player prevents vandalism, cable disconnects, or even repositioning. An enclosure protects the investment that digital signage represents. Most enclosures feature Gorilla® Glass, which is easier to clean off than an LCD or plasma screen of a display. Plus, it’s tough, and can usually prevent damage from thrown or wielded objects.

digital-signage-enclosureAesthetically, an enclosure is the difference between a nicely framed and matted picture and a poster tacked to a wall. A digital signage screen in the proper enclosure has a neat appearance. The enclosure encompasses cables and other connections, giving a mounted display a contained, well-maintained appearance. Additionally, an enclosure is an opportunity for branding—a canvas as it were, for logos, team colors, and other messaging.

Another practical consideration for digital signage is mounting, and enclosures give users more options than a player on its own.

If digital signage displays are going to be placed outside, enclosures are not optional. Enclosures protect signage from the elements and regulate operating temperatures. Rated with an Ingress Protection (IP) Code, it is clear what digital signage enclosures protect against. Usually two numbers, the IP Code rates for solid particle protection (0-6) and liquid ingress protection (0-9), with 0 meaning no protection; 6 meaning dust-tight; and 9 meaning protection against close range, high-pressure water jets. For most outdoor applications, the most popular ratings are 65 (dustproof and water resistant) and 67 (dustproof and waterproof, including short immersion in water).

Outdoor enclosures also employ glass treatments for optimal visibility. A UV-absorbent film placed over the glass ensures no glare on the screen. Polarized glass will disperse light rays instead of letting them penetrate the enclosure, but at the same time, let light out for easy viewing of screen content.

In short, when purchasing a digital signage system, remember to research and choose the right enclosure to protect your digital signage investment for years to come.

The importance of properly cleaning fiber during termination – Part 3

This is part three of a three part series on fiber cleaning. For part two, click here.

From the August, 2014 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine
By Sean Sheedy

Unless you are working in the tropics, never select a water-based fiber cleaner. It is very slow to dry and will freeze in cold weather.

One excellent characteristic of IPA is its ability to dissipate static. With a static charge, particulate will bind to surfaces surprisingly aggressively. For example, a large 500-micron (μ) particulate takes twice the force of gravity (2 G’s) of “scrubbing” (mechanical action) to remove. But a 5-μ flake of solid residue takes 20,000 G’s to break loose from the intermolecular grip the particulate has on the substrate. How do you get 20,000 G’s of scrubbing force inside an LC connector? You don’t. So solvents help solve the problem by neutralizing the static charge.

In the past decade there have been at least two studies looking at static on endfaces. iNEMI’s results were presented in “Accumulation of Particles Near the Core During Repetitive Fiber Connector Matings and Dematings,” at NFOEC in 2007. And during the development of the IPC-8497-1 standard, 18 researchers worked on the problem of static. Their findings were presented in “Cleaning Methods and Contamination Assessment of Optical Assembly,” at NFOEC in 2006. This research clearly observed that wiping an endface with a dry wipe did not dissipate the static on the endface, and indeed may have added a triboelectric charge to the endface, which made the endface even more prone to attracting particulate. This problem was eliminated with a wet-dry cleaning process, in which a cleaning fluid was used to dissipate the static, and then a dry wipe was used to polish away any residual fluids. This is an excellent procedure and should be used by everyone in the fiber industry.

Remember, today’s lasers are more powerful than previous designs. Applications such as WDM use lasers that are extremely sensitive to reflectivity and contamination. These new systems are not only reinforcing the importance of cleaning, but are requiring a migration to a next generation of cleaning materials that do not exchange one issue for another.

Cleaning during splicing
When it comes to splicing and connectorization, a common misconception is that one does not need to be concerned about cleaning, except at the very end of the assembly process. Not true. Once all the coatings have been stripped off from a fiber, it needs to be cleaned with a damp, lint-free wipe to remove any remaining debris. If the fiber is going to be spliced, the cleaned fiber will be placed in a cleave tool, cleaved, and then placed in the V-grooves of a fusion-splice machine or inserted into a mechanical splice. All of these components must be properly cleaned or the splice could be optically defective or mechanically weak.

If the fiber is going to be connectorized, the strand of cleaned fiber will be inserted through a connector body and ferrule. Given that singlemode ferrules have a tolerance of +/- 1 micron and multimode ferrules are only slightly more generous, any debris or moisture has the potential to clog the ferrule, which creates one of two following scenarios. And this is when things get messy.

Scenario 1: As the technician attempts to insert a dirty fiber through a connector, the contamination on the fiber exceeds the tolerances of the connector. This makes the path too restrictive and the fiber fails to pass freely through the ferrule. In most instances, the fiber binds and breaks off within the ferrule. The technician now needs to begin the process again, wasting time and inventory.

Scenario 2: During the connectorization process, the target connector always is prepared with very quick-curing anaerobic epoxy. If the bare fiber still has debris on it when the technician inserts the fiber into the connector, the debris will mix with the adhesive and clog the ferrule. This has the potential to slow the insertion of the fiber into and through the connector and the ferrule. If this delay exceeds the allotted curing time, which can easily happen, the epoxy will cure before the process is successfully completed. Once again, the technician’s efforts are wasted, costing time and money.

The wet-dry cleaning technique is important for cleaning ports, as well as cleaning exposed endfaces. In the first photo, a technician dampens a cleaning swab with a nonflammable, fast-drying cleaning fluid. In the second photo he is inserting the cleaning tool into the port to ensure no residues remain on the endface.

Both of these scenarios can be avoided by proper cleaning.

One last threat-not as critical as those detailed above, but still worth mentioning-lies in the corrosive properties of certain cleaning materials. In years past this was not considered to be an area of concern or a threat to the network, but it is now. Damage caused by corrosive cleaners can include destabilizing the bonds of epoxies used to terminate connectors and pitting of newer ferrule materials. In addition, there is the very significant issue of chemically sensitive users and the evolving regulations affecting chemical handling, storage and shipping.

40 years of learning
We cannot say it often enough: Cleaning is essential for today’s fiber networks. There are quality companies offering a wide selection of connector and splice cleaning products that have addressed all of these issues. The selecting of a cleaning product today is a very different process than it used to be. Though isopropyl alcohol is commonly used to clean off bare fibers for splicing, insufficiently pure IPA can leave a reflective film on the endface, has too slow an evaporation rate, and can be corrosive to connectors. Look for cleaning fluids that dry quickly (i.e. do not allow any moisture to remain on the connector or trapped in the alignment sleeve), do not have corrosive properties, and are nonflammable, easily transported, environmentally friendly and vapor-free. Look for wipes that are made with synthetic fibers, do not include cellulose and do not have glues in the paper. The best wipes should be small and easily disposable, so there is no inclination by the tech to re-use the wipe.

About the Author
Sean Sheedy has worked for more than 20 years as a fiber-optic installer, troubleshooter, system designer, emergency-restoration technician inspector, project manager, sales manager, and consultant. He holds 30 industry-related certifications and is a certified instructor with The Fiber Optic Association and The Electronics Technicians Association. He has also developed and teaches fiber optic/copper communications installation and troubleshooting training courses. His experience includes work in all divisions of the military, various government agencies, federal and state prisons, as well as the commercial markets. He can be reached at edfa@inbox.com.

6 Reasons to switch to digital KVM

Analog technology can’t keep up in the digital marketplace. Digital video is sharper and digital KVM is faster. Don’t get left behind in the digital revolution.

1. The VGA standard is being discontinued.
The VGA standard will not be supported going into 2015. Analog KVM and video won’t work any longer either. VGA sources and displays are getting increasingly difficult to find. We recently heard from a client who had to buy VGA parts on eBay.

2. Digital technology is distinctly better.
Digital technology improves users’ experiences by providing crystal-clear images at any supported distance. HD video is delivered pixel by pixel to digital displays at higher resolutions and increased color depth.

3. Digital systems are bigger and better.Broadcast Booth
New larger matrices and IP-based systems increase flexibility and enable connecting to a much higher number of endpoints. Thousands of devices can be incorporated into one unified system. On a digital matrix system, I/O ports are interchangeable, making changes and adds as simple as plugging a device into a port.

4. HD video switching is faster than it’s ever been.
Digital systems provide instantaneous HD video switching with no delay. Digital KVM switching is much faster, too, nearly instant rather than having to wait several seconds for video to show up.

5. Digital KVM improves the user experience.
Digital KVM systems feature improved USB support and compatibility with most other USB devices on the market: touchscreens, flash drives, tablet computers, as well as the workhorses, keyboards and mice.

6. Higher resolutions mean better images.
Increased bandwidth gives users the capability to work with images at higher detail levels as well as fit more content on the desktop for a more efficient workflow. Future-proof systems accommodate support for WQXGA (2560 x 1600) and 4K/UHD (3840 x 2160). Wherever users need pixel-perfect image transmission, they can now get it, via CATx or fiber cabling. Plus, send USB, serial, and digital audio signals.

9 Ways to improve data center cable management

Cable management is one of the most important aspects of data center design. Last week, Processor magazine interviewed our Wire and Cable Product Engineer, Steve Molek, on ways to improve data center cable management. Below is the transcript from that interview.

Processor: Do you feel data centers have made inroads in recent years in terms of cable management, neatness, and organization? If so, what do you attribute the improvement to?

Steve: Yes. Equipment overall has become smaller, thus allowing more electronics in a cabinet.  Because of this, installers must pay closer attention to cable management, otherwise they can lose the valuable space gained to the additional cables.

Processor: In what areas do data centers still falter in terms of cable management? Where can they still improve?

Steve: Old habits die hard. In the past, cable management was not a focus, since data centers used a more “centralized design.” Today, cable management should follow a more structured design, similar to horizontal cable runs.

Also, one of the simplest ways to organize your data center is by using colored patch cables and bulk cables. Colored cable has been around a long time, and coloring the security system differently from accounting or customer service lines, for example, is a great way to visually identify different runs of cable at a glance. We offer the same kind of coloring in our fiber patch cable lines as well, which is not as common in the industry.

Processor: What are three or so specific ways you’d recommend to data centers to improve their cable management?

Steve:

  1. Organize horizontal cable trunks in manageable bundles. Not only does this make your cable management neater, it also helps distribute weight and keeps cables cool, which helps improve network performance.
  1. Consider locking down critical network ports using lockable patch cables. This prevents accidental disconnects and tampering.
  1. Don’t have cable bundle trunks block cabinet airflow pathways – this could hinder airflow and increase heat in the cabinet, which could cause premature equipment failures.
  1. In tight situations, like cabinets with doors, take advantage of 90-degree angled patch cables. They are designed to maximize space while maintaining high performance.
  1. Use hook-and-loop cable straps instead of nylon cable ties. Hook-and-loop is reusable and puts less stress on cabling bundles. Nylon cable ties could be put on too tightly and cause pressure points on the cable jacket, changing the cable geometry and thus decreasing performance.
  1. Choose the best cable managers for your application – no one cable manager can be universally used. Some cable managers are simple and use hooks to organize cabling bundles. Others are more complex and allow individual cable runs to exit at various points. Some of these more elaborate cable managers have covers to hide bundles and keep your installation neat.
  1. In fiber applications, explore the use of MPO-style cassettes and trunk cables. This will allow more connections in less space and dramatically reduce the number of fiber cables that need to be managed.
  1. Keep patch cables as short as possible within your equipment cabinets to prevent kinks and entanglement, as well as to improve overall network performance.
  1. Use horizontal cable managers above and below patch panels as needed so that you can have access above and below the panel and never have patch cables completely covering it.

Processor: What series of steps or guidelines do you recommend a data center follow to improve its cable management?

Steve: Follow the ANSI/TIA 606-B Cable Labeling Standards:

  • The size, color, and contrast of all labels should be easily readable.
  • Labels should be immune from any environmental conditions to extend their design life.
  • All labels should be machine generated.
  • All racks/cabinets, patch panels, cable bundles, outlets, wall plates, electronic equipment, and connectivity components should be identified. Design a logical and scalable labeling system for current and future installations.

Probably most important of all: Keep good records on all work done in the data center.

Processor: What expenses or tools might be required?

Steve: As density increases in the data center, it’s easy to overlook cable management, but you might need to dedicate expensive rack space to it.

Invest in a professional label maker. Although labeling can be done by hand, the use of a good quality labeler will greatly improve your cable management.

Processor: What general tips could data centers benefit from in regard to cable management?

Steve: If labeling is done properly and cable management is neat and organized, it will improve the time technicians spend on MAC (Moves, Adds, and Changes) work.

Use cable support bars on heavy copper trunks.  As density demand increases and copper cabling categories increase from legacy Category 5e to Category 6A, eliminating all possible stress on ports will reduce port failures.

Colocation Data Center Vending Machine Serves Up Ethernet Cables

You’re a field engineer in desperate need of a patch cable. The last place you’d go is probably the first place the engineers of M1 would go. The company’s vending machine.

M1 is NEXTDC’s flagship Australian data center facility located less than two miles from Melbourne’s central business district. The Melbourne facility is the largest independent colocation data center in the city, with six data halls measuring 10,760 square ft. each and features a 400kW rooftop photovoltaic solar array —the largest privately funded installation in Australia, making it the first data center in Asia Pacific to use solar power as a supplementary energy source.

M1 is carrier neutral, and offers a range of co-location options from custom racking, to quarter-rack, all fully serviced in state-of-the-art, secure facilities around Australia. As part of the services they supply, they introduced a vending machine in the engineer’s and technician’s rec room for ad hoc networking gear.

Up until recently, the vending machines were sparsely populated with a mishmash of supplies. Matthew Grosvenor, Marketing Coordinator for Black Box Australia, and Norbert Benko, Sales Manager for Black Box Australia, recognized this as an opportunity to populate the machines with a full line of products. After many months of negotiations, Norbert signed a contract for exclusive supply.

At that time, Matthew met with Andreas, M1’s facility Manager. NEXTDC_Vending_Machine“We identified some key ways to improve the vending machines. This was with consistent packaging, clear labeling and a considered planogram,” Matthew said. Stock is switched and changed based on demand. “The benefit for NEXTDC is that they now have a full range of high quality, reliable products available for their customers and a flexible partner who is happy to change and adapt stock to suit their needs.”

Key products include GigaTrue3 and fiber lockable cables and even a 5-Port USB-Powered Switch, which required some custom packaging to allow it to be dispensed without damage. The NEXTDC vending machines have proven to be an added convenience for field engineers caught in a pinch. The first vending machine populated was in M1’s Melbourne facility, with Sydney and Brisbane to follow.