Wireless networks have evolved from a “nice-to-have” feature to a mission-critical component of the IT infrastructure. Organizations that depend upon mobile devices are equally dependent upon Wi-Fi — sometimes more than they are the wired network.
But even organizations that rely primarily on wireless still require a high-performance, back-end wired network. In fact, the wired network becomes even more critical. Popular applications such as IP telephony, videoconferencing, digital signage, video surveillance and streaming video require significant bandwidth for a high-quality user experience. The influx of mobile devices onto the corporate network – devices seeking to simultaneously access these applications – can push bandwidth demands to the limits.
When people think about network upgrades they generally consider switches, routers and other gear. Structured cabling is an often-neglected component. It is the foundation that supports and connects most of the network infrastructure, yet it garners just 5 percent of IT investments.
“Many organizations expect their cabling plant to last almost indefinitely,” said Krystal Triumph, IT & Telecom Advisor, Atlantic-IT.net. “But every time you add an application to your network, you increase the demand for bandwidth. If the demands you’re placing on your network go beyond what your infrastructure was designed to deliver and you’ve noticed declining performance, it could be a sign that you need to upgrade your cabling.”
There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding structured cabling. Organizations often view cabling as a “commodity” to be purchased as cheaply as possible. Depending upon state licensing requirements, they may ask their electrical contractor to pull network cabling along with other wiring. As long as the wiring closet looks neat, they are satisfied.
“Just because you know the purpose of each cable and your cables are not in a tangled mess, that doesn’t mean you have structured cabling. It just means you are neat and organized. Structured cabling has a bit more science behind it,” said Triumph.
What Is Structured Cabling?
Structured cabling is a comprehensive system of cables and related hardware that provides a flexible, future-ready infrastructure for business communications. This system enables the continuous flow of information, from data and voice to security and wireless connections.
The Electronic Industry Alliance/Telecommunications Industry Association (EIA/TIA) has developed standards for structured cabling in conjunction with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Standards are important because they establish technical criteria for the design, installation and documentation of a structured cabling system. This ensures consistent performance, simplifies maintenance and makes it possible to build modular, vendor-agnostic environments that are capable of accommodating new technology and changes to the network.
“As IT infrastructures have become denser and more complex, the value of structured cabling has been magnified,” Triumph said. “Structured cabling makes it easier for your network to grow with your organization, using a modular design that supports new equipment and applications regardless of vendor. It establishes consistency in the network infrastructure, simplifies maintenance and troubleshooting, and reduces total cost of ownership.
“In fact, the International Engineering Consortium found that standardizing cabling components and consolidating cable delivery methods reduces initial construction costs by up to 30 percent. It can also cut network maintenance costs by up to 40 percent.”
Up-to-date cabling is a must for organizations looking at technology upgrades. For example, 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) technology enables efficient data exchange, simplifies connectivity and administration, and expands bandwidth capacity. This requires a solid cabling plant to take full advantage of the benefits. For organizations making the jump to 40GbE or 100GbE, the performance of fiber-optic cabling is critical.
“10GbE is an important consideration for organizations planning to take advantage of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard to improve performance and handle increasing wireless traffic volumes. That means the cabling plant often must be upgraded to support the latest wireless network technologies,” said Triumph.
Planning Is Key
Many technological upgrades offer only modest performance improvements, but that’s not the case with the latest cabling standards. For example, the Category 5 cabling still common in many installations can handle throughput of up to 100Mbps, while Category 6a cabling can handle throughput of up to 10Gbps. To put that into perspective, it takes 10 hours to download a 450MB file over Cat5 but just 6 minutes over Cat6a.
As a result, it’s important to understand current cabling trends before moving forward with the design and installation of a structured cabling system. Many organizations are moving from copper to fiber-optic cabling in order to increase data transmission speeds. Thinner, lightweight cables can help improve airflow and make installation and cable management easier.
Proper planning is also essential. Cabling systems have a much longer lifecycle than most other components of the IT environment — typically 15 to 20 years.
“Although standards provide the foundation for structured cabling design and installation, it’s important to plan with the future of your organization in mind,” Triumph said. “Consider the number of users, the location of those users, and how much bandwidth will be required to meet growing demands. Will you need Power over Ethernet to run power through data lines? Will you need to account for additional wireless access points? Will you need duplicate pathways in order to create redundancy? These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered when planning for structured cabling.
“Whether you’re looking for a turnkey solution or a consultant to advise your staff, Atlantic-IT.net provides a full range of structured cabling services. Our certified team can design your network cabling infrastructure, develop specifications, conduct a planning and engineering review, and handle installation from end to end. Let us show you how structured cabling can prepare your organization for growth and boost your bottom line.”