From here to there: Fiber optics over Wi-Fi

In this tip you will read various opinions on how to set up networking between the 5th and 7th floors of a building. See why IT professionals say fiber optic is the way to go.

TechTarget's IT Knowledge Exchange is a forum specifically for IT professionals. Members ask--and answer--questions, making it a valuable resource for anyone working in the IT world. Here's a question about networking that a member recently asked.

An IT Knowledge Exchange member asked:

"My network covers the 5th floor of an office building, and now we expanding to the 7th floor. (A half-dozen users. All the servers and telecom closet are on the 5th floor, and I have to provide network services to the users on the 7th floor. I would like to have the opinion of this distinguished panel on the solutions I have in mind as I have never done this kind of project before.

1 - Wireless solution: Get a powerfull antenna, (any suggestion?) connect it to the LAN on the 5th floor, then setup a wireless router/switch on the 7th floor, then wire the work stations to the router/switch. The main concern here is security/speed.

2 - Optic Fiber: Run a fiber from the 5th to the 7th floor, and on each side I would use an optical switch/media converter. At this time I do not see the drawbacks of the second option, but I am sure there are some.

Please, any input is very welcome, especially on the wireless option, i.e. product/interference/security issues. Thanks for your time."

Here's what other members suggested.

  • A Consultant/Systems Integrator wrote:

    "It's all going to be your choice at the end of the day. But here are some tips I can give you:

    Wireless: Wireless access points can be very secure, depending on how it's implemented. However, line of site between the two antennas can be a problem if you are looking for speed, but that all depends on how the building is laid out, so if using antennas, where are you planning to put it? I know that wireless transmission is the technology to go for these days, but I still prefer fiber optics in your situation. It will all depend on how much you are prepared to spend on this project. With fiber optics you are going to have the speed you probably want and security can be set up to a maximum, both implemenations can be expensive, but as far as I understand, with wanting to connect two floors fiber optic will be the way to go."

  • A IT Management(Manager IS/IT) wrote:

    "I agree; at the end of the day it's your choice and your burden to support.

    For wireless I would (personally and if I had full say) go with two wireless links (no SSID broadcast, WEP/WAP/AES(or whatever the strong encryption is), and MAC address locking). If you go those wireless NICs/APs with 108mbps connection, it would give you a reasonably good speed, as the load is shared.

    But for upgradablity, I would go a nice fiber optic backbone, (with a few dark fibers for spare (ones not used)) as this would give you speed if the 7th floor usage increased a lot."

  • Another Consultant/Systems Integrator wrote:

    "Why not just KISS it? Gigabit Ethernet is cheap and simple. After all, we are talking about 6 nodes here, and it's only 2 floors (20ft)."

  • An Senior IT Management(CIO/CTO/VP/Director) wrote:

    "In the event you find yourself in a similar situation two years from now, running fiber on the vertical plane is absolutely the way to go. If you go wireless, your performance will be problematic and you will multiply your security problems. Run fiber up the "riser," between closets, switch-to-switch. By the way, is the building not already "wired" between floors? If not, try involving building management in a "modernization" project to get some cost and risk sharing going; good luck!"

  • Another Consultant/Systems Integrator wrote:

    "Everything depends on your budget--but I would recommend to NOT use Wi-Fi. The speed of Wi-Fi as a bridge is unacceptable when you're talking about the distance of two building floors. While 54Mbps (and later 106Mbps) may be acceptable today, it probably won't be, as your organization and its need for data grows. Wi-Fi is also subject to all sorts of interference which could cause you unforeseen intermittent problems.

    Your best bet is to bring fiber up both ends of your floor (so you have redundant paths). If you're pulling new fiber, pull as much as you can afford, but pull at least 6-pair per run. The cost of fiber is miniscule compared to the cost of pulling it (especially factoring in your time and energy getting all the necessary approvals to pull more fiber around another tenant).

    Depending on your cable run distances, set up an appropriate number of Intermediary Distribution Facilities (IDF; a.k.a. Remote Switch Rooms) with a direct link to your Main Distribution Facility (MDF; a.k.a. Core Switch Room). Use a switch where you can directly traceive your fiber (probably multi-mode). Switch manufacturers such as Cisco, Foundry and Extreme all make great switches which can accomplish this. An added bonus to looking at Foundry switches is you can get a 96-port 10/100 switch with four 1000 Base-T copper/fiber ports for a very reasonable cost. You would also get basic layer-3 routing so you would be able to wire-speed route different networks on your floors.

    Just my $0.02 (actually-I'm paid $225/hour usually-so this is my ~$100)"

  • A Network Management/Administration wrote:

    The fiber solution is by far your best choice. The only draw back to this solution is that it is slightly more costly in the fact that you would need someone to come in and place the connectors on your fiber end, unless it's possible to order the length of fiber you need with the ends already attached. Make sure that you get the correct fiber, end connectors and fiber switches for the fiber type. Another option for adding a fiber switch to your telecom closet on the 5th floor is just to add a media converter that you connect the fiber to, and then an Ethernet cable from the converter to an existing switch in the telecom closet, and then of course a fiber switch on the new floor. The pluses to using fiber: almost unlimited bandwidth expansion in the future, secure verses the WI-FI and no chance of EMI, you would not have to worry about further cable upgrades in the future if it is needed (unless of course you exceed that of the fiber), and you would not have to worry about bandwidth requirements in the future overwhelming you WI-FI solution.

    If you run the fiber yourself, make sure that you add several feet extra into the cable for future use (just in case you need it, a foot on each end would be best). You can't stretch cables (of course you know that.) However, if you don't get your CAT5 long enough it's not so bad to pull another, a little more of a problem for fiber. If someone else runs it, you make sure they leave some extra on both ends.

    And of course as mentioned by an earlier posting, Wi-Fi injects more security concerns for your network; that must be taken into consideration."

  • Another Network Management/Administration wrote:

    "Going with fiber would be your most secure and safest bet.

    There are too many weaknesses with trying to deploy wireless to such a small group, and too much of a cost trying to cope with security issues for so few--unless it's the brass ring that wants wireless for 'name' sake."

  • An IT Management(Manager IS/IT) wrote:

    "My choice would be the Fiber Optic because of: 1. Scalability 2. Speed 3. Expandability 4. Security. After all, as net admins, we have to plan ahead, and fiber optic will suit such plans. I have done a few wireless solutions, but later on decided to go for fiber optic. As business grows, there is lot of demand for connectivity and speed.

    As correctly said, at the end of it, you are the master, and you need to decide."

The member who asked the question wrote again and said:

"Thanks to all of you who took the time to give their take on my project. I really appreciate the substance of what has been said on this panel. I was leaning toward the fiber, and now my conviction is made. But for the sake of comparing, I would have to come up with a wireless solution, would you please suggest (based on your experience) reliable products for antennas/switches and optic switches as well. I do have an idea about the products, but I would like to hear from experienced professionals.

Many Thanks."

  • One of the Consultant/Systems Integrators wrote again and said:

    "For wireless solutions, I'd go with the Cisco product suite. Depending on how you can "sight" the two floors, find an antenna (hopefully you can use a directional one) which will work.

    For a optical solution, I would look at putting a Foundry 9604 or 2402 in both your core and your edge locations (depending upon needed port densities). These switches are relatively inexpensive, and you should be able to bond two pair of fiber together and have a 2Gbps "trunked" span between the two floors. This will enable you to VLAN and set up security zones across all the switches--and with Foundry switch's basic Layer-3 switching, wire-speed routing between are easy to do."

Have some questions of your own? Sign up for ITKE today, and access knowledge from members situated around the world.

This was first published in August 2005

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