Up, down, or sideways – it’s all relative, isn’t it? Actually, it’s not—not when you’re talking about network switches and ports, anyway.
We’re all used to hearing the term “download” in relation to images taken with a mobile phone or emails coming into our devices. Think of it in terms of the internet being an invisible presence that spans the globe, which is not really that far from the truth. Anything you get via the internet must be downloaded physically to your device to be able to open it.
Conversely, when you post photos to an Instagram account, you’re “uploading” them to the IG server, which is powered by the internet. That makes an uplink synonymous with an outgoing connection from you, and a downlink relates to an incoming connection to you.
Here’s how an uplink port differs from a normal port and why it could make a difference to you.
What is an Uplink Port?
An uplink port is a computer port designed to accept cables connecting your internal network with networks outside your own. These include WANs, routers, or hubs, which can be internal to your company but outside the network or device you use. Often, these networks are external, so the uplink port is the link between your network and the outside world.
For example, an uplink port might be used to connect a broadband modem to your home router for internet access, connect a small network to another one to expand your networking capabilities, or transmit data via satellite to radios and television.
How an Uplink Port Differs from a Normal Port
“Normal” computer ports (a.k.a. downlink or downstream ports) come in several shapes and functions. These ports are used primarily for transmitting regular data between devices on a network. They support copper or fiber optic network cables and transmit data at a specific rate over fixed distances. Some commonly used downlink ports include RJ45 ports, SFP ports, SFP+ ports, SFP28 ports, QSFP+ ports, and QSFP28 ports. They support fibers or network cables used to transfer regular data.
An uplink port, however, usually offers faster transmission. It either connects a device to other higher-speed devices in the network or connects a network to the next upstream device.
How an Uplink Port Works
A network is usually segmented into a core layer, a distribution layer, and an access layer, each of which has a corresponding switch that includes an uplink port and a normal port. An uplink port offers greater bandwidth than a normal port because it’s used to aggregate traffic between different network layers.
Uplink ports can also be used for stacking, which is the connection of several network switches to each other to operate as a single component. Switch stacking enables IT teams to scale a network’s size to meet demand without having to invest in a completely new infrastructure. This option can even work over long distances in some application environments.
When to Use an Uplink Port
So, when (and why) would you want to use an uplink port in a business environment? For several reasons, actually. Consider the following scenarios:
- If your company takes part in a merger or acquisition with an enterprise more than 100 km away, and you need to combine two completely disparate networks into one corporate environment. Instead of investing in a whole new network and migrating all users over to it, you could potentially (if the networks meet certain criteria) connect them via uplink ports.
- You work for a retail or tourism organization whose operations are mostly seasonal. During winter, business is quiet, and you have only a few employees and devices. During summer, however, you must scale significantly in a very short time. You don’t want a huge (and expensive!) network infrastructure that’s idle during the quiet months, but you need to be able to operate at full capacity when required. Uplink ports can allow you to expand your network to include other hubs, routers, and user devices during busy periods.
- Your organization has researchers conducting experiments out in the wilderness and sending the data back for analysis. The research team doesn’t need advanced computing where they are, but they do need to send back vast quantities of data as fast as possible. An uplink port provides a quicker, more reliable method of transmitting the data to the cloud for processing.
There are multiple other uses for uplink ports, and, in some instances, you can even use an uplink port in place of a normal port.
Essential Uplink Factors
Some of the factors to take into account when you’re considering using uplinks in your business include:
- Optimizing your physical network layout to avoid oversubscription ratios for uplinks and prevent network loops
- Making sure you connect uplink ports to network switches capable of providing line-rate traffic throughput.
- Using a low latency Ethernet switch for predictability regardless of packet size or traffic patterns.
- Avoiding the use of shared port-buffer architecture to minimize the risk of packet loss from oversubscription.
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