Top 4 Reasons Structured Cabling is Critical Infrastructure
It’s every IT director’s nightmare: phone calls come in from end users saying the system is causing problems. The CEO is depending on today’s teleconference for a large sale, but individual work stations are having trouble even loading spreadsheets. Is it a network security breach? Software and hardware was recently updated, so what could the problem be? One common answer is this: the cable plant.
To ensure the integrity of any network, structured cabling should be seen as critical infrastructure, just like power and gas. But that’s often not the case.
“What we have is good enough,” you’ll hear IT managers say. “Other things are higher priorities.” Or a company’s CEO, CFO or security director may cut spending for structured cabling – until the first time IP devices are unable to connect. And then the fix may be extra expensive. In some cases, more glamorous considerations take the spotlight (new real estate, software, hardware, training, marketing), and the cable is left as a dreaded last-minute task – or maybe forgotten altogether.
“No, cabling isn’t sexy,” Steve Kanne laughs. He is Cofounder and VP of New Business Development of Prime Communications, Inc. (PCI). “But it’s more important than some people treat it.” Sometimes it comes down to a simple lack of knowledge, he explained – a network manager or IT director with a tight budget might believe an inexpensive or outdated cable plant is just as good as a plant based on latest cabling standards.
Brian Kenkel, Cofounder and CEO of PCI, has seen cabling fails more often than any IT manager might like to admit. “When structured cabling is an afterthought, a company will experience a network failure and users won’t be able to connect. They get errors or experience network latency.” He added that if a company is trying to run PoE [Power Over Ethernet] devices using cobbled-together cabling, those devices may not work at all or intermittently.
On the other hand, if a company is willing to allocate time and money appropriately to a well-planned, structured cabling system, the benefits abound. Before we get into those benefits, let’s talk about what we mean by “structured” cabling.
What is Structured Cabling?
In the old days, IT professionals were sometimes thought of as technical mavericks who could patch together available equipment and come up with creative solutions to support data racks and get desktops perking along. During those times, the industry was still in early stages of development and cabling was just a way to connect all the machines.
Today, the IT industry has evolved. Almost every piece of tech in any business is IP based, from network devices to phone systems to electronic security appliances. Data demand has increased exponentially. This makes it more important than ever to ensure reliability of data systems. But that’s okay, because technology (BOTH software and hardware) has advanced to the point that systems can handle all that demand.
We know we need the latest software and hardware, but for some reason it’s tempting to think we can cut corners when it comes to cabling. The truth is, cabling may be one of the most important components of a network. Substandard cabling can reduce the effectiveness of today’s sophisticated systems and take away some of the technological edge we believe we’re getting from advanced software and hardware. Any system is only as reliable as its weakest link.
Structured cabling is an explicit discipline that has evolved to solve this problem. The term “structured cabling” refers to the standardized infrastructure of communications cabling that supports network components. The industry standard is a voluntary standard specified by the EIA/TIA TR-42 committee with input from many others in the networking industry.
Top 4 Benefits of Structured Cabling
The benefits any organization can gain from intentional use of structured network cabling fall into four main categories:
1. Better Reliability and Speed
“To me, the number one need of any network is stability,” Kanne said. “With structured cabling, it’s less likely a network will lose packets, and you won’t have drop-off and latency.” In addition to reliability, a well-organized cable plant using the latest cabling technology can provide a high rate of data transfer: speed. Cables are designed to carry so much data these days that it is imperative to have cabling with a large enough bandwidth to provide the speed necessary to complete daily tasks. Using the latest products also allows a company to wait as long as possible for upgrades.
For companies with multiple locations throughout the U.S., reliable cabling infrastructure that is standardized from one location to the next can save time and money exponentially. “The value is consistency,” Kenkel said. “This is one reason to find a cabling vendor who has the capability to efficiently manage infrastructure consistently over many locations within the same enterprise.”
2. Less Time and Money
Industry standards were designed specifically to deliver efficiency to those who follow the standards. “A lot of thought has been put into those standards and the training around them,” Kanne said. “There is a reason they were put into place. Without a proper structure that includes proven labeling, terminating and operation best practices, a system will cost too much in wasted time and labor.”
In other words, it’s better to spend the money up front in order to save time and even more money later. If you do put a structured cabling system in place and eliminate the time it takes to wrestle with inefficient old technology, think of the other critical issues you and your team could be addressing to move your organization forward.
3. More Effective Support
According to Kenkel, one of the biggest cabling challenges is producing documentation that shows how the network and infrastructure are designed when troubleshooting is needed. “Labeling is so critical,” he explained, “as well as understanding the pathways where the cables run and having the data closet laid out efficiently. You have to have an understanding of where drop locations are going to.” He said network technicians can even do CAD drawings of where cables run and how they get there.
This is important in the data closet when doing patching, he added. “I’ve seen some horrible examples that look like spaghetti, and that’s a challenge when you’re patching.” Structured cabling with documentation makes updating, training and maintenance easier.
4. Compliance and Security
The trade organization governing the structured cabling industry is BICSI. They publish training manuals based on TIA/EIA/IEEE standards that have been painstakingly derived by key industry stakeholders. Many of the standards were created around the technical requirements of 90v PoE and IoT devices, which play a large role in any cable plant today. There are many reasons to stay compliant with these standards.
“Most manufacturers on the electronics side are going to 10gb and 40gb ethernet cabling, not just in the backbone but all the way to the workstation – to the edge of the system,” Kanne explained, “And you need a cabling plant that will support that.”
Structured cabling also provides an extra measure of security. “If you take the time to create a well-defined, structured cable plant, you know whether someone is making changes to it without your authorization,” Kanne said. He suggested taking photographs of the data closet and cabling connections to keep in file for reference. If it’s done right, following standards, it will be more secure. Without photos, CAD drawings, and documentation, it can be hard to prove someone has made an unauthorized change.
How to accomplish a structured cabling system
No matter what industry you’re in, structured cabling standards apply. To ensure your cabling system is up to standards so you can minimize infrastructure obstacles down the road, follow these best practices:
- Share the four benefits listed above as a part of your appeal to upper management to fund and schedule a structured cabling plan. Make sure any major system updates or new builds include a structured cabling stage in both planning and implementation stages.
- Find a qualified cabling partner with high-level understanding and capability in structured cabling to help you create the plan and implement it. Engage the assistance of a vendor who supports its team through robust education of the employees who will handle implementation and ongoing service.
- Get the latest category cable less robust CAT 5 cable (still being used by some), as well as the correct terminations and cabling product. If you aren’t sure what the latest is, lean on your vendor to determine what you need to fit your unique plant.
- Plan and prepare. Don’t leave cabling till the last minute. And insist on a vendor that includes a robust planning and preparation stage to account for future growth in the cabling plan.
Prime Communications offers many years of experience with nationwide multi-location enterprises and has a proven track record you can count on to ensure cabling is up-to-date, consistent and efficient for substantial savings in time and dollars. The company is organized to provide clients one reliable point of contact for all locations and all aspects of the work, which saves time, money and headaches.
“We also provide something that helps avoid a problem in this industry: vendors who do the work and then disappear without leaving documentation your team can use for ongoing operation,” said Brian Freeman, the company’s national sales manager. “You can bet on Prime being there to train your people, provide ongoing support, and help you with your next upgrade as technology advances.”
In fact, the company provides a proprietary software program called PrimeLive that contains any documentation you may want or need to support your cabling infrastructure. It can be customized to track an initial upgrade or new build in real time (engineering, design, implementation, maintenance), as well as capturing all the details of your cable plant for ongoing support (CAD drawings, specifications, project notes, test results, photographs, future expectations). With PrimeLive, as-builts get updated as soon as changes happen.
If you are ready to place your cabling plant squarely in the critical infrastructure column of your operations plan, contact Prime Communications today for a free consultation. We’ll help you analyze your need and create a cost-effective structured cabling plan that won’t let you down – even if it’s NOT sexy. Call 402.289.4126 and ask for Steve Kanne.