General Networking/Lan/Wan/Patch Panels & Switches


Hi Jeff

I work for a medium size printing company which has a computer network of about 25 PC's (running a mixture of Windows XP, Windows 7 and Apple Mac), a few servers (Windows & Linux), a NAS device, a bunch of Minolta production printers, a router, and a couple of other miscellaneous devices. By my count, i get a total of about 40 to 45 active computers/devices.
Currently these are all networked using CAT5 and CAT5e cable through a whole bunch of Mecer 24-port Gigabit switches (unmanaged).

The network has become very messy over the years, with cables being added in a very casual manner as the company grew larger and more complex. We’ve got cables running around security bars, through storage cages, tied to piping for the fire sprinkler system, hell we’ve even got one cable that runs out of an employees’ office window, along the outside wall, and back in through another office window (true story!).
As a result, over time we’ve ended up with a network comprising of no less than 7 24-port switches (because it was easier to put another switch there when an employee or two were added, than to run a few more cables). 7 switches of 24 ports each = 168 available ports of which we only need 40 to 45. It’s crazy to have this many switches.
It is becoming a bit tedious trying to manage all these cables and switches. In fact just the other day, while crawling under one of the desks and trying to trace a cable problem in a nest of untidy cables i ended up unwittingly plugging both ends of the same cable into one switch, and it took me about 4 hours to figure out why that switch refused to communicate with anything else on the network!

I’ve considered going wireless but am against that idea mainly because the layout of our building is too complex for wireless to work efficiently

The bottom line is that i decided this year i want to redo the entire company network, so onto my questions:

My initial idea was to centralize all the switches into one dedicated office (not all 7 switches of course, i’ll only need 2 of them if this is done properly), mount those 2 switches on the wall, and then run cables from each office (wherever the PC’s and devices are located) back to the switches. There would be a wall box on the PC side, and a fly-lead would be used to connect the PC to that wall box, and on the switch side i would crimp an RJ45 jack on that end and plug it directly into the switch.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of research online and have stumbled upon something called “Patch Panels”. As far as i can tell, Patch Panels simply provide a neat place for all your cables to terminate to, but provide little functionality other than that. I would still need the switches anyway.
I have read many articles and watched a lot of YouTube videos covering the basics of how to wire a Patch Panel and how to then connect the Patch Pane to the switch, but im wondering if a Patch Panel will be of any benefit to me. I’m not seeing how it’s any different from running cables directly into the switches. In fact, by using a Patch Panel i might just be added another device that could potentially fail. Yet while doing my research they do seem to be fairly popular for some reason.

If i can summarize my questions, it would be as follows:
1)   If you were designing my network, would you centralise the switches into one dedicated office, or would i be better off just neatening up our cables as best i can and leaving the switches as they currently are?
2)   Would you use a Patch Panel, or run the cables directly into the switches?
3)   Does a Patch Panel need power?
4)   If running all new cables, would you use CAT5e or CAT6? I understand CAT6 is pretty new, are there any issues i should be aware of with CAT6 (like non-compatibility with older network cards for example?)

Thank you for your time, i realize this was a lot to read. I probably haven’t mentioned everything here, and maybe haven’t given you all the info you need, but i could do that with a follow-up question if need be.



Hi Michael,

Happy New Year!  Thanks for all the detail - it really is a help.

I'm not sure that I would centralize all switches to one place and run all that cable.  That is a LOT of freak'n work and ... what does it really BUY you at the end of the day?  For smaller companies, you certainly want one switch that is the "core".  What you should connect DIRECTLY to that core are:
- All servers
- All routers
- All firewalls
- All Power Users
- All Wireless Access points

Also, IDEALLY, EVERY OTHER SWITCH should directly connect to this one core switch.  So, this way EVERY device (laptop, PC, printer) is AT MOST 1 extra hop away at full Gb from the Core resources.  If you can, try and limit those remote switches to as few devices each as possible - say 12 at most?  If there are users that handle really big files regularly, then try and keep them on the core switch.  If there are printers that handle monster loads all the time, then put them on the core switch or a dedicated switch directly off the core, without other things besides printers, etc.  Just think of it as resource allocation.

If you can borrow a good cable tester ... that would be nice.  Chances are that some of those cables weren't made quite as well as you think and performance can suffer.  Also, in case you don't know - keep them away from ballasts, electric panels and fluorescent lights.

There is nothing wrong with having "access layer" switches physically close to the users, directly supporting them.  What you don't want is switch - switch - switch, etc.  

Forget the patch panels.  They don't need power.  But, for your company they are just overkill.  But ... DO LABEL and color code the wires that come back to the switches.  Keep it simple - use a number scheme like 1 - X on BOTH ENDS of the same wire.  The build a quick spreadsheet that will be easy to maintain so that you know that cable 15 is Susan over in Accounting.

In lieu of patch panels you might consider using punch jacks.  They fulfill the real purpose, which is to help ensure a really good connection that is compliant with wire standards, and they are very reasonable and easy to work with, especially if you are doing a bunch of new work.  All you really need is a flat head screw driver but I do prefer using a punch tool instead (it's called a 110 punch tool).

For new runs of cable cat 6 is the newer standard BUT 5e is also Gb capable and you won't need faster than that - except someday MAYBE just at the core to a few key servers.  

I hope this helps.  Please follow-up as you like.


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Jeff K


I'm a Network and Application Performance Specialist, and have worked for some of the best software companies in the world.


I have over 20 years in Information Technology & Networking.

Lots of hard work, study and real-world experience. I've had some formal training along the way but most of my knowledge is from working in the field, not the classroom.

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