Opinion: Rise of the planet of the networks

posted on Monday, 26th November 2012 by Cliff Stammers

Networking  Home automation 

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In the modern world, everything has got an RJ45 port on it. I opened a can of dog food this morning and was amazed to see that it too had an Ethernet port. Actually, I made that up, but you get my drift: it's getting 'net crazy out there. Just as Ayn Rand predicted back in the '40s, we are all becoming ever more interconnected by an ephemeral, intransigent gossamer-like network of information bound by a single, tiny port that we all know so well: the RJ45 - arguably the most powerful connection plug ever made.

It goes without saying that the Internet has changed everything. Today's world is unrecognisable to the one we inhabited just a handful of years ago, and virtually every industry has been subjected to relentless, overwhelming upheaval, not least the media business, wherein traditionalists have been made to cower like unfortunate characters in a Tarantino movie, grovelling for forgiveness at the feet of the new superpower.

However from a custom install perspective this revolution has been pretty kind, and if the evangelisation of networking by David Graham amongst others, at the recent CEDIA Future of Home Technology conference is anything to go by, then the whole thing is still gathering pace.  Not only is the concept of what it is we do being challenged on a routine basis, but almost more significantly it is the way in which we go about doing it that seems to be under a consistent, rolling revue.

Wired not wireless is the way to go
At the centre of all this turmoil is the humble RJ45 connector, a constant conduit between all of the equipment that we specify on a daily basis. The prognosis for this connector is good. Just take a look around you. A very large number of the pieces of electrical equipment that you can see will have an RJ45 port, which in the face of competition from wireless devices is a bit of a paradox. It seems we're not yet ready to entrust our work solely to the domain of the ether.

Cables are important. Someone recently bemoaned to me that the onset of IT networks was the bane of his life and the sole reason his hair was turning grey. For him, and I believe him to be entirely correct, the instability of poorly commissioned and badly configured IT networks was causing otherwise dependable devices to behave erratically. As a consequence, the confidence of his clients would dissolve within just a few days of a system being prepared for signing off. It was, he said, deeply frustrating.

The design was robust. The equipment was all known and dependable entities. The cabling infrastructure was as solid as you like. But still the system would falter and stutter on an irregular basis, all because of phantom interference from the underworld that sucked the air from the lungs of his otherwise perfect project at a variety of entirely unpredictable times throughout the course of the day. And therein lays the Achilles heel for the integrated systems of today: Client Confidence. Once it's lost: it takes an effort of truly heroic proportions to win it back again. Do that five times simultaneously and the will to live can quickly slip away.

Speed isn't everything
So why do we persist in the pursuit of this holy grail of wireless and wired IT backbones to our system designs? Well, quite simply it's because of speed. But is speed such an important consideration in the majority of the kit we spec? For sure, something like server metadata would necessitate the requirement for as wide a bandwidth as possible. I remember programming audio servers years ago over RS232, and even up at the higher echelons of the 'widest' available 115k baud rate, often track information would take a while to populate text-data fields in any given program. Lump in cover art and you're on a hiding to nothing. It's never going to happen.

So IT is crucial. But the other end of the scale presents different dilemmas. If you're putting data-heavy media servers on to your networks and not managing all the spurious information that they can be guilty of discharging in their offhanded devil-may-care way, then that resulting User Data Protocol (UDP) traffic can completely bleach a network of all colour and bring the processor crashing to its knees as it builds and builds to its crippling conclusion. Nasty stuff indeed, but things like UDP must be understood and managed correctly if data intensive products like DAB tuners and media servers are going to be deployed. In fact, it's hopefully becoming clear to many of you out there that we are all going to have to familiarise ourselves with things of this nature not just in the future, but right now if we want to ensure our system designs remain consistent as well as contemporary.

Also read:
Eco tech a huge opportunity for CI

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Posted by James Middleton on 6th December 2012, 12:29 PM
A very interesting article Cliff and so true, you should always start you installation with good network infrastructure.
Posted by cliff stammers on 6th December 2012, 4:46 PM
definitely right James. a skeleton with rubber bones simply won't stand up straight i guess! thanks for your comment - cliff

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