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In the world of IT, acronyms are everywhere. It can be hard to keep up, so sometimes, you need to break down the acronyms to solidify what they mean and why they matter.

Applying that idea, today, we’re going to talk about MDF and IDF. These are key areas in large-scale networks, and while they sound similar in name (and appear similar in function), the key distinctions between them mean everything.

What Is MDF?

The main distribution frame (MDF) is something you see in sufficiently large networks. Commonly in data centers and enterprise networks, this is a communications point where you link external networks to your internal network.

Consider a data center as an example.

In this case, the MDF is where you terminate internet connections. They join with the MDF, and all of your major server connections also terminate in the MDF. This allows your highest level of networking to communicate with the outside world.

Even if your large network doesn’t communicate with the internet, your MDF would still connect it to any external networks. In the case of remote monitoring, you might not want your monitoring data to be internet accessible. Regardless, the monitoring stations need to connect with the central network for data processing. That junction point would still be an MDF.

What Is IDF?

An intermediate distribution frame (IDF) is where endpoint devices connect to an MDF. The IDF is also sometimes called an auxiliary frame, and it’s essential for connecting users in a network to servers in the same network.

Large networks might have multiple IDFs. One IDF might connect a floor of an office building or a single workgroup in a company. It all depends on the overall network design, but IDFs allow for connection management between subgroups in a network.

How Do the Two Fit in a Network?

Sometimes, the concepts of MDF and IDF are best understood through a basic compare and contrast exercise.

An IDF needs to connect to an MDF, but the reverse is not necessarily true. The MDF is primarily there to connect your internal system to external systems. The IDF needs access to the MDF so endpoint users (connected to the IDF) can reach external networks, like the internet.

Additionally, a network will usually have only one MDF. It’s already the junction between your network and the rest of the world, so it’s abnormal to try to have more than one such junction for a single network. That said, it’s common to see multiple IDFs because they split the greater network into more manageable parts.

More than anything else, though, you can distinguish the MDF and IDF by what kinds of devices connect directly to them. The MDF primarily connects servers and top-level networking devices. The IDF connects endpoint users.

Thinking in these terms, you can more readily distinguish between an IDF and MDF. With this knowledge, you have a little more power when it comes to networking, and in practical applications, you can think in terms of IDF and MDF to streamline troubleshooting when network issues arise.

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