Power over Ethernet (PoE) is one of those technologies which, although intrinsically worthwhile, doesn’t fire the imagination. That’s because all it does is deliver power to network devices via their data cables.
In practice, however, that can be incredibly useful, especially when it comes to things like wireless access points mounted in places power lines don’t normally reach. It also does away with all those ugly AC adapters and messy wiring, making it very popular as a large enterprise solution. And now small businesses can take advantage of PoE, too, using products such as the PowerDsine 3006.
PowerDsine is a leading light behind the development of PoE and the PowerDsine 3006 is its latest small business solution. Officially known as a PoE midspan, the hardware looks much like an Ethernet switch and simply plugs in between the central network and the devices you want to power.
Up to six devices can be connected to the 3006 (hence the name), via two rows of 10/100Mbps ports on the front of the device. Cables from the central network switch plug into the top row, and power is added inside the unit then sent to end devices via the associated connectors underneath. Power to the 3006 midspan itself can be supplied direct from the mains or from a UPS (uninterruptible power supply), the UPS approach protecting the devices concerned against mains power-cuts.
A rack mount kit is available if needed and installation is about as close to true plug and play as it’s possible to get – simply plug in the various cables and switch on. No setup is needed and there’s no management or monitoring software, just a series of coloured LEDs to indicate normal, overload and short-circuit conditions.
In practice, such conditions should be pretty rare as the PowerDsine 3006 conforms to the IEEE 802.3af standard for PoE. This includes controls to make sure power is delivered at safe levels, and only to devices able to use it. So if you attach a device that doesn’t support PoE you can be sure it won’t be fried.
The PowerDsine 3006 midspan isn’t cheap, but it can power up to six devices and you’d need to pay a lot more to have new individual AC sockets installed. Viewed that way, it doesn’t seem so costly.
One drawback is the 13 watt limit the 802.3af standard puts on the amount of power each port can deliver which, by the time it reaches the end device, is reduced even more. As such you can’t use the PowerDsine 3006 midpsan to power notebooks or printers, but there’s an increasing list of devices that can get their juice this way.
Wireless access points and IP phones are the most common, with web-cams often PoE enabled too. Moreover, by adding a splitter it’s possible to power other, non-PoE, devices. Plus it’s worth noting that PowerDsine is leading a move to extend the PoE technology to allow it to deliver a lot more power over Ethernet in the future.
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