Data Centers

Will copper always be the networking standard?

Copper cabling has been the venerable media for IT for a long time. In this blog post, IT pro Rick Vanover shows reasons why copper will remain as the standard for a while.

There have been two popular posts on this blog about copper cabling that got me thinking about the future of this medium for networking. The first was a good refresher from Jack Wallen on how to create your own CAT-5 cables, and the other was Michael Kassner's detailed information on how twisted pair cabling works. All of this is really good stuff, but I posed a question of why are we still using copper networking effectively the same as we have since the early 1990s?

Since that time, copper media has been the standard for inside the data center for server connectivity as well as to endpoint devices, such as PCs and printers. There are many reasons for copper media being successful, including:

  1. Low cost and interchangeable use: Copper media is very affordable for PCs, servers, and printers. Aside from any color preferences, it is versatile enough to work for all of these devices.
  2. Easy to make: Because copper networking is relatively easy to work with (compared to fiber), IT groups can make their own cables for specific length requirements, if needed, as well as reducing costs.
  3. Features keeping up: Twisted pair cabling has increased features over the years, most notably support for 10 Gigabit Ethernet and Power over Ethernet.
  4. Security concerns: While wireless technologies are increasing, most workplaces still don't embrace them entirely at the endpoint and hardly at all in the data center.
  5. Distance: Copper media delivers a "good enough" distance for most situations; this may be simply because this is almost exclusively what we have worked with.
  6. Mixed compatibility: Revisions going back to category-3 cabling allowing backwards support for token ring and 10 megabit Ethernet networks are handled easily with backwards compatibility during periods of transition.

Even with these benefits, copper media still may not be the only cabling used. Fibre still reigns supreme in most large storage networks and wireless is gaining in the endpoint, primarily with new consumer-focused devices morphing into mainstream environments.

What will it take to move copper media from its stronghold? A new media doesn't seem likely and wireless probably won't scale and deliver the speed needed in the data center. I don't see copper ever losing the throne. Share your comments on where you see copper media going.


Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

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