Patch panels are used as the central point in a network where all the network cables terminate. It is the grand central station of the network. Networks that use these panels (and almost all modern networks use this technology) are consider “star-networks” or they use the term “star-topology.” This is because if you look at a drawing of your network, all the network nodes (nodes are end-points on the network and include things like computers and printer) all connect back to the central “hub” and it looks like a big starburst. Another term is “spoke-and-wheel” where the “wheel” is your hub and patch panel and the individual cables going out to your nodes (computers and printers) become the spokes.You may want to check out 24 port patch panel for more.
They come in various types and configurations from the simple wall-mounted 12-port patch panel block, to elaborate 96-port (and more!) rack-mounted patch panel. As was mentioned above, patch panels are rated for speed. So if you are running Cat 6 cable, you will need a Cat 6 patch panel.
Network panels come in various designs and styles. There are patch where the cables plug-in straight (90°), or angled at a 45° angle downwards; there are panels with 110 style punch downs on the back and ones with tool-less punch downs; there are various number of ports on the panels. Check the internet for the vast array of styles available. There are also two different standards for network panels: T568A and T568B mentioned above. Be sure to buy the correct ones for the installation!
It is best to buy patch panels that are rated for both standards. Since the only difference between the two standards is the order of the colored pairs, most manufacturers rate their patch panels for both standards. They simply have both wiring diagrams affixed to their patch panels.