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Unusual network - need upgrade advice

Posted on 2003-11-17
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We have a 2 computer PC network running on WIN98SE using Microsoft Network.  The computers are 300 feet apart and are connected by a 10 Base T (very thin) coaxial cable.  We use LINKSYS LNEPCI II PCI Ethernet Adapter cards.  We run a large hospitality software program that is data heavy.

We are preparing to upgrade both our operating system and also have the option to bury new network cable.  Due to physical barriers (buildings & huge trees) we do not see wireless as an option, but are open to any suggestions. Here are our questions:

1.  Is WIN2000 or WINXP a better choice for OS upgrade?
2.  Is there a better cable option at this distance?  We have phone lines available for network use, but have been told the distance is too great for networking without boosters.
3.  DSL could be routed to our property but we currently use only dial-up.  Could one new cable serve our network and handle DSL to our cabins?

Our knowledge is good on systems but patchy on networking. We live in rural Montana and our phone/DSL service comes from a co-op which struggles to keep up with technology advances and is of little help.  Thanks for whatever help you can provide!
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Question by:elwesternemt
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by:qwaletee
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I've dealt with networks like your.  One of my clients also still has some coax -- it is known as 10base2 by the way, because it uses 2 wires (the center part of the coax cable, and the "copper web" on the outside).  It has those little T-connectors, right?
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300 feet is marginal but doabe without repeaters.  Cat5 Ethernet is rated up to 100 meters, which is about 325 feet.  If you need a "repeater," buy a simple 10/100 switch, plug it in, and use it as a repeater. About $25.  You just need power somewhere along the way.

Wireless could also be an ption with a high-gain antenna.  High gain antennas allow a stronger signal, but have to be directional, i.e., they have to be aimed more or ess at each other, and don't broadcast much "side signal."

Your final possibility is to have two DSL connections, one at each desk.  you then communicate over the internet.  If security is an issue, you woudl use VPN software.

http://www.homenethelp.com/network/ethernet.asp has decent information for simple networks, and will help you understand how things work.

As far as operating system, there is one thing I would watch out for.  You may be using an old DOS-based program.  This is the one area where XP has the most compatibility issues.  Almost anything else will run on XP flawlessly, except maybe games and some rare Windows 16-bit programs (for Windows 3.1 or earlier).

The one hitch you may run into with older Windows/32 program, is that some reqire installation as Administrator, and some even reqyuire running as Administrator.
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by:SteveJ
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If it's not broke, don't fix it. I've got a buddy that's had a piece of teflon coated coax running between his two Win98 machines (originally Win3.0) for 12 years.

Having said that . . . qwaletee makes a good point: first verify that the hospitality software runs on W2k or XP. I prefer W2K for what it's worth.

How much internet stuff do you do? Would the increase in speed be helpful? Are you concerned about the reliability of the service if you switch from dial up to DSL?

I'd probably upgrade to DSL, and if the DSL modem didn't come with a switch Id buy one and run a piece of CAT5e cable between the switch and the 2nd PC. If nothing else, this would allow me to run 10megabits at full duplex . . . meaning the speed between the two PCs would be slightly better. I'd also buy two new network interface cards  . . . even if the cards you have support 10BaseT. Actually the "2" in 10Base2 refers to the distance -- 200 meters -- that the signal can be carried without a repeater.

Good luck,
Steve
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by:ShineOn
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1)  Upgrade of OS:  

Personally, I prefer Windows 2000 (patched to current) over Windows XP Pro.  It seems more stable and easier to use - for me, anyway.  I am happy that you are not specifically considering WinXP Home.  That is a bad choice in any situation, IMHO - it is essentially WinXP Pro with crippled services that can't be fixed without upgrading to WinXP Pro.

2)  Cabling option at 300 feet:

The Cat5e specification certifies 100Mbit/s at up to 100 Meters.  300 feet is less than 100 Meters.  If this is a buried cable (which you have hinted at) you COULD get away with UTP Cat5e/Cat6 cable.  If you are going to the expense of burying cable, it would probably make more sense long-term to bury fiber-optic cable.

In any case, you should have more than one run from point-to-point, to have a fallback option if one connection fails.

If it is already buried, and you have sufficient underground conduit space to pull fresh cable through, and you are under the 100-meter limit, I'd recommend sticking with copper - Cat 5s at least.  If it is MORE than 100 meters, you should have a 3-pair minimum single-mode fiber cable pulled through your conduit - that will allow for failsafe as well as growth; all that is needed to interface fiber with copper Ethernet is a converter, which is readily available from many sources.

3)  Definitely go with the DSL option.  If the DSL modem doesn't have multiple ports, you can very cheaply buy a cable/dsl router to share the single connection between the sites, and you don't have the hassle of having to establish a dialup connection every time you access the Internet.  Usually, basic ADSL doesn't cost much more than adding another line to your phone system.  If you can't do DSL, go for Cable broadband...
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by:ShineOn
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Oops, I tyepd Cat5s when I meant to type Cat5e.
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by:qwaletee
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SteveJ,
> Actually the "2" in 10Base2 refers to the distance -- 200 meters
Learn something new every day... or is that something old?

I would replace the physical topology with something more modern even if it ain't broke... if the application is that data intensive, the increased bandwidth wil make you sit up and cheer.

That's one area where you don't want to go wireless.  At its best, 802.11g is only 22% of the speed of 100mbit, and as signal degared over distance and obstacles, it drops rapidly in speed.
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by:ShineOn
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qwal, steve - I missed that bit about 10-base-2 between you two -

To that bit of trivia I say "who cares?"  Thinnet Ethernet (the stuff 10-base-2 runs on) is not a current cabling technology, and you are unlikely to find any devices that can drive anything faster than 10Mbit/s over thinnet.  

If you can find any devices that will drive Ethernet over *any* distance on thinnet today at speeds better than the old, 10-plus-year-old 10-base-2, I would be surprised.  The distance factor should be negligible in this calculation, as not only is the medium obsolete, but the 300-feet distance is well within Cat-5 spec to give 10 times the bandwidth of 10-base-2.
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by:elwesternemt
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Thanks to all for the comments.  FYI - our current cable is buried and overhead, but we will be running conduit for new electrical and will be burying it.  Shineon - the info on fiber optic was timely as we would currently be connecting to copper.  And I take to heart Steve's comment about if it ain't broke...

DSL is $80.00/month with extra equipment charges - a bit pricey for our application and not very reliable yet.
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by:elwesternemt
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Follow up comment if anyone is available.  Reliability is crucial, speed is secondary.  I am more concerned about the amount of data over the cable.  There are no concerns about the software being out of date - in fact, our cable and network are currently not supported "officially" by the software company.  One of the reasons for our concern are the increased requirements for data load as they continue to upgrade their program.  Is there a "maxout" for 10 Base 2 data stream before it becomes unreliable?  
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by:ShineOn
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10-base-2 is *rated* at 10 megabits per second.  It can reasonably carry 6 megabits per second, allowing for overhead.  You might be able to squeak out anothe megabit or so if there are only two nodes on the network.

Please keep in mind that 1 megabit/sec = approx. 128 megabyte/sec. or less.  It is a common point of confusion.  A bit is one on/off toggle.  A byte consists of 8 bits (9 if there is a parity check on the bits.)

Disk storage and computer RAM is measured in bytes.  Data communications is usually measured in bits per second.

So, the old 9600 baud modems actually transmitted a tad over 1K bytes per second.  A 56K modem will max out at maybe 7 or 8K bytes per second.  

10-base-anything - the "10" part refers to the max mbis per second, translates to around 128 kbes per second.

I keep saying "around" and "approximately" because of the confusion surrounding the translation from binary to decimal.  A Kbit is not really 1,000 bits, it's really 1,024 bits.  A Mbit is not really 1,000,000 bits but 1,048,576 bits.  Translating bits to bytes means dividing the actual bits by 8 or 9 - 8 if parity checking is not active and 9 if it is.  Most analog communications does use a 9bit byte.  When speaking of memory, if you have "parity" RAM, or ECC ram. which is not common to the consumer and costs more than "non-parity" RAM. you are getting RAM with 9 bits per byte instead of 8, with a parity, "error-correcting" bit as part of each byte.  When you are talking disk storage, drive manufacturers commonly use a decimal calculation based on 8-bit bytes, so instead of a disk megabyte being 1,048,576 bytes long, it is 1,000,000 bytes long, and a disk Gigabyte is defined as 1,000,000,000 bytes, which explains why your 120 Gig drive only has 114 Gigabytes after you format it, because the OS calculates binary values rather than decimal.  Are you thoroughly confused now?  I am.

Anyway, you have to look at datacom in bits per second, using a binary measurement rather than in bytes per second using a decimal measurement.  A 10 meg data connection is rated at 10 megabits (binary) per second.

UTP Category 5, 5e and 6 are unshielded twisted-pair 8-wire cables as opposed to the thinnet center solid wire surrounded by insulation, with braided outer wire surrounded by insulation.  Coaxial cable can have a higher bandwidth transmission capability than that described by 10-base-2 but when you get to the higher bandwidths, you get more crosstalk and there are more attenuation issues with distance.

With Cat5, 5e, 6 UTP, you get a rating of 100 to 150 megahertz, with minimal crosstalk and attenuation at up to 100 meters, provided the connectors are terminated properly.  That means it can easily do 100 megabit/s Ethernet at 100 meters.  I don't remember what the distance limit is for Gigabit ethernet, but by using all 4 pairs, you can easily exceed 100 megabit/s throughput at 100 meters.

Since you are going to the expense of burying conduit, the added cost of fiber would be minimal, and you could easily get gigabit throughput, and possibly more, at something like 2.5 kilometers run length, with single-mode fiber.  All you would need at the termination points to hook them into standard Ethernet UTP devices is a simple converter box, which is pretty cheap.  Running more than one at the same time makes sense - the additional materials costs will be negligible.

Does that help you understand the spectrum of data-pushing capabilities with the different technologies?  

If you don't expect ever to have to have hundreds of nodes, or massive, high-definition data traversing this connection, then it makes the most sense to me  to go with AT LEAST 2 runs of Cat5e cable in your buried conduit, provided that the total distance between connections does not exceed 100 meters.

I would think that it would be more expensive and less useful to bury any thinnet coaxial cable.
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by:ShineOn
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If you have no UTP Ethernet connections on your hubs/switches but do have an AUI port, I believe you can still get a UTP to AUI converter to attach to you hub/switch, in case you're concerned about hooking into an existing thinnet-only environment.

I would not be surprised if you would be able to obtain 10-base-T to 10-base-2 converters as well, in case your downlink ports are all coax.
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by:elwesternemt
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Ummm...I think you just fried my brain, but I do get the message.  We'll be running fiber for now AND the future - eventually we would like to hook up all our cabins so we will need the capacity.  And I thought phone guys were the only ones who talked about twisted pairs...Thanks for the help, Shine On!
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by:ShineOn
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All us networking guys are twisted...
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by:SteveJ
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. . . particularly ShineOn, that crazy diamond.

Steve
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by:ShineOn
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hehe.
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by:elwesternemt
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ShineOn & Steve - you should both get points (deducted!) for those puns.... but I started it, so no one to blame but myself.    ShineOn - can I award points from follow -up?  Your bit/byte thesis deserves recognition.  
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