What is an Intelligent Patch Panel & What are its advantages?

We all know about Patch Panels and their role in enabling structured cabling in computer networks. Why not make these patch panels intelligent by enabling them to provide complete visibility of the network topology? Intelligent patch panels make trouble-shooting physical connectivity (cabling) issues easier and automates the documentation of adds, movies and changes in the network. Let us look at what intelligent patch panels are, and their advantages in this article.

What are Intelligent Patch Panels?

Intelligent patch panels are much like normal patch panels, allowing cables from the network devices to connect to connect to individual ports in them and in-turn connecting each port to their appropriate network switch ports / other network devices using patch cords. Unlike normal patch panels, they require power-supply and may have LED indicators for each port and centralized LCD display indicator for all ports.

Intelligent patch panels have built in pins and circuitry to allow remote monitoring of the connectivity status of devices connected to each of their ports using centralized software management tools that interface with all the Intelligent patch panels in a network either directly or through special control panels. Some Intelligent Patch Panels have intelligent modules built into them which directly communicate with the monitoring software, but others connect to each other and external control panels which communicate with the monitoring software in order to enable an administrator to get an overall picture of the physical topology of the LAN.

Advantages of Intelligent Network Patch Panels:

  • Helps identify network topology and trace cable routes throughout the network.
  • Identifies the type of network device connected to each port and provides connectivity reports. Some of them can even identify the IP address and MAC address of the devices connected to each port and automatically maintain a comprehensive database.
  • Rack View and Circuit Traces are represented visually either on a computer monitor on the monitoring station (or) in the built-in LCD display panels on some of these intelligent patch panels. One can visually see all the individual ports and their connectivity information.
  • Automates change management (adds, movies and changes) documentation thereby saving a lot of time for network maintenance professionals.
  • Drastically reduces the time taken to troubleshoot cabling faults – So, they can be very useful in bigger data centers as servers running critical applications cannot afford a downtime due to wrong cabling connections.
  • Changes in network connections, including the connection of unapproved devices and disconnection of approved devices are automatically reported to the network administrator.
  • Administrators are notified immediately in case of any connection issues/ problems.
  • Real time location information of all the devices, including the ones causing network trouble, can be tracked.
  • Since the network administrator has a clear view of his entire network, Intelligent patch panels can improve visibility and enable fuller usage of network assets.
  • The centralized monitoring/ management software that comes along with Intelligence patch panels maintains a log of network events, devices, connection topologies, etc in a database which can be queried any time. This aids compliance and investigation processes.
  • The network administrator can have complete visibility of not only his local network but also his networks in remote locations (where these intelligent patch panels are used) through the management software over Internet (VPN) / WAN connections.
  • Intelligent patch panels are available to monitor both copper cabling and fiber cabling infrastructure connected to them.
  • Intelligent patch panels need to be from a single vendor to provide centralized management via their monitoring software but can interface with network management software / other monitoring tools through standards based technologies like SNMP, etc. Some of them even provide an API – Application Programming Interface.

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