In a structured cabling system, everybody needs a rack. The rack is either a frame or cabinet with a locking door that contains slots for panels, switches, routers, and general shelving. This is the area where you organize all your network equipment and keep it in one place.
Racks come in many sizes and forms, at TCI we use 3 types, small wall mounted, large wall mounted, and floor mounted. The larger floor mounted frame includes a ladder bar which secures it to the wall and a wide base that screws into the floor. Our largest rack frame can accommodate 384 wires when deployed in an organized manner.
A keystone, or a wall jack, is installed in a standard faceplate that is screwed over a receptacle or outlet on your wall. Keystones come in all colors, Cat3 through Cat6A type compatibility, and can have extra features like icons or spring-loaded cable ejection mechanisms and dust covers. In the TCI structured cable system, we prefer to use Orange as our color but the client is always welcome to choose their own preferred colors for data jacks.
A patch panel can take many forms depending on the number of cables it needs to support but it generally consists of a series of keystones molded in plastic and grouped tightly together in rows. It can be used for ethernet, phones, serial lines, audio, and fiber optics depending on the type.
The main use of the patch panel is for both terminating your network lines and cross-connecting them to other devices. You normally run a short 2-foot cable from the panel to your switch, and if needed you can even connect one panel to another to extend a line. This way you can add and remove wires and devices in your cabinet without disturbing or damaging the wire that runs out to the wall outlets.
Switches are devices that make the network work. They keep all devices in sync with each other and allow communication between them. In a structured cabling system, each panel has a matching switch where the ports on the switch match the ports on the panel. In addition to this, in a proper system, switches will have uplink or stacking ports that connect to the next switch in the rack. It is critical to have uplink ports that are dedicated for inter-switch connections as using the standard ports will make it impossible to utilize all of the patch panel ports and will create an unsightly mess.