I had the same question at the beginning of my networking career, now I can't imagine a server room without patch panels, here is a good explanation :
Why do we use Patch Panel?
A patch panel provides a convenient place to terminate all of the cable runs coming from different rooms into the wiring closet. Of course, one could skip the patch panel and just connect all RJ-45 connectors directly into the hub, but one may miss the following advantages:
You can label the patch panel so you know which room the cable run goes to. Putting the labels on the cables is tougher to read than labels on a patch panel and also there is risk of having the cable labels fall off. A patch panel is a step up from a punch-down block. It usually has a 110 style connectors on the back for the cable to run to the stations. Each of those connectors is wired to an RJ-45 on the front. The RJ-45 on the front provides a spot to plug in a patch cable that goes to the hub. The Type 110-style connectors are usually color-coded with 568A or 568B to match the color of the cable pairs.It is always essential that the style (568A or 568B ) on the patch panel matches the style of the wall plate.
In a few words patch panels gives you a very good cabling organization.
I hope this helps you.
Patch panels are really useful. They offer much more flexibility than simply connecting devices. e.g.
* Allow you to insert a data test set on wan circuits for the purposes of testing and verifcation
* Allow you to change a network configuration without having to rearrange equipment and re-run cables
Because 66 blocks just weren't cutting it anymore.
Seriously though, as many have mentioned, it helps in keeping things clean, you can label them with something useful to help identify drops between offices and the patch panel, and it stabilizes the wiring. By terminating it on a fixed point like a patch panel, you can secure the cables. If you ran a cable all the way back to the drop, through the wall, and out to the computer, you have a very "loose" and not very trustworthy infrastructure.
I've seen folks take the time to run the wire through the cieling, down a wall, just to cut a hole and run the cable straight to the back of the PC. Over time that cable had to be re-pulled because with all the plugging and unplugging being done over the years when the PC had to be worked on, or the desk moved, etc - it wore it out.
Now, had they terminated the run properly into an electrical box that was anchroed to a stud, which had a face plate on it, with the correct punchdown, that cable could have been ran back through the proper cable management, and then terminated securely on a patch panel. In which case, over the years, you spend a few bucks on a patch cable instead of $500 to run a new cable and rip out the old one.
Everyone is talking about keeping cables titdy which is a valid point. But there's another really important point.
Imagine a workplace without a patch panel or wall jacks. You would have to connect your laptop/desktop straight to the switch with a really long cable that would either be on the ground or behind the wall. So when you think of a wall jack, patch panel etc.. just think of it as an extension cord.
The cable runs from your laptop to the wall jack. Then another cable from the wall jack to the patch panel (which is normally set during building construction. Then another cable from the patch panel to the switch/other device.
The switch doesn't know/doesn't care about the seperate cables. It just thinks the laptop is plugged straight in to it.
Patch panels will also give you the flexability to change ports around really easy.
Their are advanatges of each one and dis advantages. I have some sections that have patch panels and cables stright into a switch so I see both sides of the event. The main advantage of the patch panel is that they are usally a lot eaiser to read the information on them about where the cable comes from. You can always unplug and test to make sure the connection is good or you do not need it. But you also got to think that with the extra connections you have with the patch cord that you will need, that adds more equipment that can fail and takes up more room.
Without the panel you can run cables into the switch and same some cost of putting in the patch panel and the cables, but if you want to pull or dis connect the cable it is a lot harder to do it. Unless you know that area will not be changing much if at all. So look at the areas that they will be going in and make the call for your area.
Posting in a long dead discussion, but I happened on this while googling about patch panels so that I'd have a good explanation to send to someone. There are of course many valid points above, but everyone seems to have missed the most important reason that patch panels are used.
We've established that if you don't use patch panels, every cable runs directly to a switch. This means that even the unused cabling is taking up ports in your switch. Commercial switches are not cheap, (especially if they come from Cisco). If you look around any of the closets where I work, you'll typically see only half of the panel jacks are in use. That means that without the panels, we would have twice as many switches - or at least twice the capacity. So you double the initial cost, double the amount to manage, then there are plenty of other added costs for more racks, more power, etc.
It was mentioned above that patch panels also save you significant cost when cable damage occurs. That's the other most important point. This is the real world explanation - patch panels are very cheap compared to provisioning switch ports, and they continue to save cost of their entire lifetime.
Hope this helps for anyone else who ends up here. If any of the original commenters are reading this, I'm sure you learned the value of patch panels long ago.