When Engineering Needs a Faster Network

When Engineering Needs a Faster Network

… or any time when larger files require a much faster network.

In most small engineering offices file sharing works across a single switch or a set of switches that are configured to avoid too many devices in a chain.  Usually “too many” means 4 across the whole system and router out to the Internet.

When working in design or engineering, file sizes can be quite large and the interaction between the software on the local computer and the data on the network can require much better performance.  For such users, the cloud alone will not run their business because acceptable performance of the graphic and design software will only work locally or on a local network.

The “quick fix” for local network performance is to upgrade to gigabit speed.  This is fairly easy since today most of the network cards in the workstations and servers have gigabit built in.  Most wiring is now category 5e or 6.  Switches that include gigabit as an option are common and not so expensive.

Many offices are running gigabit without knowing it.  More are running gigabit in only part of the office without knowing it.

Any break in the chain can easily slow the gigabit network speed down by 90%.  All it takes is one device, usually a switch under a desk, to be 10/100 speed only and that is as fast as things will go. Sometimes there is a switch in the server room that is high quality, but still only running the older speeds.

Incorrectly terminated wall plugs or patch panel stops can wreak havoc on a gigabit network causing poorer performance than the old 100 speed.  So can an older Cat 5 patch panel or connection cable.  Skimping on cables is a way to save very little money and cause a lot of poor performance and lost time.  When in doubt, just replace any patch cable with a high quality Cat 6 wire with solid factory terminations.  You can tell those because the plug is molded into place and CAT6 will be printed on the side of the wire.

Yanking on wires, wrapping them around electrical devices and furniture or walking on them can only cause grief.  Any good office supply store will sell floor protectors.

Auto speed select devices on a network that wants to run gigabit speeds only should then be set to  gigabit only.  This can be done at the computers and on some switches.  It should be clear though that some devices, such as printers, plotters, scanners and Internet routhers may not come with gigabit yet so the setup is key.  For example, print spooling to a server that then talks to a slower printer after the print job has been sent will save a lot of network traffic.

But sometimes a gigabit connection is not enough no matter how well executed.  How would you know?  Well, ask the staff about the performance.  You might find your tech says all is well, but they have copied the file to the local machine to avoid performance problems and then is copying the file back to the network when done.  At times this is a decent way to solve the problem, and the procedure can be set up without confusing other users and the backup back to the servers can be automated.

In most occasions thought, keeping a local file does not work.  There are times when the need to share and colaborate are key and there are times when the file needs to be opened with auxilery files and sometimes there are different parts of a project open with differnt pieces of software at the same time.  Sometimes all three of these things are true at once as can be the case in geology and civil engineering.

Then we get to the world of network segmentation. It usually means a couple of Ethernet cables to each workstation and more than that on the server.  The way it works is that the printing, Internet browsing and such is done on one network and the file access is done on the other.  That file access network can be broken up so only a couple of workstations are on the same switch.

The end result is twice the wiring, and more, but smaller, switches and much more speed opening and editing project files.

Slow networks having trouble with large files can be fixed through gigabit and network segmentation.  The process is not that complicated and the materials to do it are very common and no longer excessive expensive.

This does not work for all large file editing.  When one gets into video editing or rendering one might want to make the jump up to fiber or other fast data access solutions.

There are two reasons that this solution is not very common.  First is because it only helps when network traffic and speed are what is slowing things down, and two, even though this is part of any training course, many technicians have never had the opportunity to segment a network.

For the office manager, the take away message is that there are options and network traffic is something that needs some traffic engineering.

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