Shielded Cat6A vs unshielded Cat6A for 10gig?
This is a followup to my earlier post regarding Cat6 vs cat6A.
We have purchased a 16-bay Studio Network Solutions EVO unit, and will be installing it in a new facility which we will be moving into soon. This is a rough, annotated diagram of the new facility:
We will have at maximum 4 Mac Pro workstations accessing the EVO at any given time, working in Premiere for offlining, AE for VFX/mogfx and Davinci Resolve for grading and finishing. My desire is to run 2 Cat6a drops for each workstation, mostly for redundancy, but also future link-aggregation, if that's even possible/advisable.
I am getting conflicting advice regarding the need to choose STP Cat6a vs UTP Cat6a for 10gig applications like this. Our office is on the 5th floor of an 8 floor office building in a typical, medium size business district. As far as I know there are no giant radio/microwave antennas or other significant sources of EMI in the area (but in fairness, I'm just conjecturing...is there a way to know this for sure without owning thousands of dollars of testing gear?).
One vendor has quoted us $3000 (USD) just for the cost of STP/CMP 6A cable & jacks, and another $2700 for "labor, time and materials" to pull cable runs through the drop-ceiling to 5 separate rooms and terminate them on both ends. They also quoted $450 for a 24-port Cat6a rack-mountable patch panel. Since it is my understanding that STP 6A is 3x more expensive than UTP6A, I would obviously like to know if it's truly worth it to spend more for the shielded stuff.
$2700 for labor seems more than fair, but $3000 for the actual shielded cabling & connectors seems a bit much, if we don't really need that level of cabling.
Cat6 is rated up to 55 meters.
Cat 6A is rated up to 100 meters.
There is NO SPECIFICATION for Cat 7 (shielded) for 10G ethernet. It's all fantasy.
I use cheap Cat 6 for most of my installs. It certainly won't hurt to do Cat6A, for "future proof" (there is no such thing as future proof). If you are less than 150 feet, use Cat 6. If you are more than 150 feet used Cat 6A. Cat 7 shielded - really ?
The future is 40G ethernet, which is 12 strand QSFP fiber, not Cat 7.
Rescue 1, Inc.
Just to follow up on my own post, for the benefit of anyone who finds themselves asking this same question:
Pretty much all my research, as well as direct feedback from SNS, led me to the conclusion that for our particular facility, shielded 6A was way overkill. So we decided to bite the bullet on unshielded Cat-6A. And boy, it still hurt!
Studio Network Solutions support told me that while it's certainly possible to do 10Gig over Cat6, they don't recommend it for their SNS EVO product, if only because 10GigE certification over copper requires Cat-6A. They implied that tech-support for their product might be problematic without 6A certification, because they wouldn't be able to support a configuration that is technically not certified for 10Gig over copper.
In our case, it turned out that the cost of labor was actually lower than the cost of the materials, because not only did we have to spec 6A cabling, jacks and a patch-panel (almost all of which needed to be ordered from the mainland, because apparantly, 6A installations are almost never done in my city of Honolulu), the 6A cabling also had to be plenum-rated in order to meet fire/building code, which jacked up the price of materials massively (almost 2x-3x the cost of standard UTP/CMR Cat6 cable). The cost of shielded 6A would have probably caused us to jump out of the window, due to sticker shock and subsequent depression.
If you ask a potential cabling contractor to install 6A in your facility (particularly if they are merely "IT guys", to paraphrase one of Bob's favorite pet-peeves), don't assume that they appreciate the fact that our type business requires every last drop of performance and stability that is possible in a 10GigE copper connection.
My contractor, who clearly knows his stuff, was up-front with me in saying that 6A installations were basically unheard of in our town, surprisingly tried to convince us to go with cheaper Cat6 cabling instead. When I told him that my NAS vendor insisted on 6A, he sympathized with me, and proceeded to order the 6A parts. When he installed the "6A" patch panel in our rack, I noticed that the labeling on it simply said "Cat6". When I asked him if the panel was actually a 6A-certified panel, he said that the patch-bay vendor informed him that their Cat6 panel was effectively identical in performance to a panel that purports to be "6A", and it wasn't worth the added expense for us.
When the RCDD-certified cable-certification people came in later to run 6A certification tests on all the runs, using a horrifically expensive Fluke DTX-1800 cable analyzer, all of the cable runs "barely failed" 6A certification (btw, if you're gonna spend the money on 6 or 6A, insist on having those runs actually "certified" with a cable analyzer, and not just simply "tested" for continuity). The cabling contractor immediately blamed the patch-panel he originally installed, and within 2 hours of the test results, had all his guys come back in and re-install an honest-to-God 6A patch-panel (a shielded 6A patch panel, to boot) and re-test everything. I just got the general feeling that 6A is such a rare animal in the networking world, that even the product vendors themselves can't seem to be trusted to offer reliable information!
Now, from a "real world" standpoint, I probably could have gotten away with the "barely failed" 6A runs. But one of the main reasons why I pushed my company (a company consisting of only 4 people, btw) to plunk down a huge chunk of money on this new SNS EVO system is so that I can spend more of my valuable time and mental energy performing the actual roles printed on my business card--"Colorist/Finishing Editor"--instead of being the de facto IT guy/Google-searcher-by-proxy/Techsupport-bitch in the facility, simply because I listen to a lot of tech podcasts and fearlessly know my way around a Bash terminal session. It doesn't make sense to not be overly pedantic with things like Cat6A vs. Cat6, especially when the NAS vendor itself recommended against the latter.
I almost felt embarrassed presenting the estimated cost for this 6A upgrade to my boss, because it would seem ridiculous to someone who is used to the low cost of garden-variety Cat5e installations. But when I put things in perspective, the amount of money I might have saved up-front by going the cheaper Cat6 route could have ended up as false economy if we ended up having performance issues with the NAS later on. I can understand how SNS would have a hard time supporting their product, if they cant be assured that the physical connections to it are not up to an established spec.
Spending the additional money on 6A hurts like a mofo. But because I did so, I can now just tell my editors to call/email SNS techsupport directly, rather than having them bug me with their NAS problems whenever I'm in the middle of a color-grading session. In that context, trying to save a couple thousand dollars by cheaping out on network cabling is hardly worth it, because if I charged my company for being their Colorist as well as the in-house "IT guy", then my salary should be rightfully at least twice as much as it is now!