Cabling? Why are we talking about cabling? Is this not something you install and forget?
Yes and no. Till now we were all only working on local area networks where computers were linked to each other, to a server, and to the outside world through the Net. Connectivity issues were not really that concerning. You can always move and sit at another desk, or if you had a wireless in the office, you could just connect from anywhere. Even if the network was not working for some reason, most of us would never even be aware of it. We would curse the slowness of the connection, just resend the email, or log out and login again.
When you move on to using the LAN and it’s connectivity for literally every operation of your business, cabling could become an issue if not handled properly. For example, let us say you are just closing a big deal with a client and are making a presentation though VoIP, and the VoIP line starts misbehaving – this is something we would consider unacceptable. Researches have shown that the most common cause for bad connectivity is bad cabling.
The installation of cables for local area connectivity, connectivity to the router, modem, or any other device that connects you to the Net is called structured cabling. Structured cabling divides the entire office or building infrastructure into manageable sub systems or blocks. These blocks are then integrated to each other to deliver a high performance network system. A cabling that is well structured and uses high quality cables and connectors will work tirelessly for years. This is what we all take for granted.
In addition to working well, structured cabling also provides for administrative and management capabilities to the network administrator. Colour coding, cable ties, and proper and well thought out labels allow for easy servicing and maintenance. It is also important to ensure that structured cabling is always be designed for changes and upgrades.
Some of the advantages provided by structured cabling are shown below:
- Consistency. Structured cabling should be capable of carrying all your requirements including, data voice, multimedia, and video.
- Multi-vendor support. Structured cabling must make it easy to connect any hardware from any vendor.
- Support for moves, changes, additions. Business entities are living mechanisms. Employees will join and leave, new hardware or software may be added, and new application requirements to handle more business may be installed. Structured cabling must work with all these changes and enhancements.
- Easy trouble shooting. When a network error occurs, your network administrator must be able to locate and isolate the error and then rectify the issue immediately.
- Support for hardware and software upgrades. Computers and computer related accessories are constantly evolving. Modern software is not optimized for memory any more. You should be able to use such software without a hitch.
In most cases, cabling constitutes less than 5% of total investment. But since this 5% forms the backbone of your connectivity, it must be spent well and with the knowledge on what is being installed.
Sometime ago we spoke about sub systems or blocks. Let us try to understand what these are:
- Building entrance. This is where the internal cabling interacts with the outside world. The physical requirements are defined in the EIA/TIA-569 standards.
- Equipment room. Equipment rooms house your servers, common drives and other expensive equipment that is shared by everyone in the office.
- Backbone Cabling. This connects your telecommunications closet, equipment room and the entrance facilities. Backbone cabling is managed by patch cords, jumpers, and mechanical terminations. This also provides vertical connection between floors, and cabling between buildings if necessary. Think of it as a large railway junction, where trains are welcomed and then sent on to their destinations.
- Telecommunication Closet. All telecommunication equipment such as modems, routers, switches etc., are stored here. The cabling system defines the way this closet is connected to everything else.
- Horizontal Cabling. This extends from the telecommunication outlets in the work area to the horizontal cross-connects within the telecommunication closet.
- Work Area. This is where you sit and work. This includes station equipment such as workstations, desktop computers, printers, fax machines, scanners, telephones, cameras etc. It also includes patch cables, adapters, baluns, etc. Some of these will be external to the telecommunications outlet.
Now you understand why it is not as easy as fit and forget? All these various cabling systems must be installed and integrated with knowledge and intelligence to work seamlessly.
Though we will discuss this in detail next month, let us take a quick look at the type of cables in use.
Unshielded Twisted Pair
Unshielded Twisted Pair or UTP as it is called covers everything from telephone cables to high speed internet cables. The cable has four pairs inside which are twisted to eliminate interference. UTP can support telephone at 4 & 16 Mb/s, Ethernet, 100 Mb/s Ethernet, 155 Mb/s ATM. The most common and well known is Cat(egory) 3 and Cat 5. There is also the enhanced Cat 5 called Cat 5e.
Shielded Twisted Pair
UTP is susceptible to radio and electrical interferences. Shielded twisted pair protects you from this. The cable, because of shielding, is bulky. It uses Universal Data Connector as well as RJ-45.
Fiber-optic cable uses a glass core to transmit data using light rays rather that electrical currents. Though expensive in terms of initial installation and maintenance, fiber-optic can carry data at very high speeds including Gigabit Ethernet.
Structured Cabling is not as simple as it may seem or sound. There are number of technologies available as well as standards to follow. All these must be understood and put together with intelligence. An experienced vendor such as Tri-Tel will first understand your requirements and budget. He will work with you to project your requirements for the next 5 years. After all you cannot keep ripping and reinstalling cables every year, can you?
Knowledge and experience in handling cables is of critical importance. It will be fit and forget only if planned and executed well. Always work with experienced and knowledgeable vendors such as Tri-Tel.
For over 28 years now, Tri-Tel has been delivering advanced telecomminucation products including IP equipment and advanced cabling, paging, conferencing solutions as well as local and long distance Internet access. Tri-Tel services cover Chicago Metro, Northwest Indiana, Rockford, Elgin, and Schaumburg.