Today’s increasingly intelligent buildings continuously respond to changes in usage and occupancy. This requires integration of technology, communications, building and energy management systems. Today, organisations need to rethink their physical infrastructure and technology needs. How is this changing the way in which structured cabling design is deployed, administered and monitored?
When designing or modifying in-building networks, several new developments must be taken into account. Buildings are increasingly integrating IT infrastructure - servers, data storage, networking equipment and infrastructure management software… - with camera systems, telecommunications, LAN, access control, video systems, imaging systems, energy management, safety/fire and environmental control and more. Formerly, IT departments determined what was and wasn’t possible, but now, everyone from Facilities, Management and HR need to get involved. In fact, the Facilities department has become a major stakeholder in specifying and integrating infrastructure solutions and cabling.
All devices use the same cabling system, simplifying design and implementation.
Tying all these systems and functionalities together with structured cabling boosts performance and reliability whilst enabling innovations. It helps smart systems improve energy efficiency, productivity, performance and utilization of space. A structured cabling system should support all products and vendor platforms. However, although critical to modern networks, structured cabling is often overlooked. The emphasis is often placed on the upfront investment, which can be more easily calculated and verified.
However, this can also lead to cutting corners. Between 40 and 50% of networks breakdowns today can be traced to low quality connectivity and the resulting poor performance of physical networks. Often, we’ll see bandwidth bottlenecks and latency. It’s worth pointing out that latency means more than slower data transfers - the quality and reliability of the system as a whole can be impacted. Once an infrastructure has been successfully installed and tested, it rarely shut down completely. Users may complain about slow networks but rarely do they lose full connectivity. Errors are generally caused by human intervention.
However, this can also lead to cutting corners. Between 40 and 50% of networks breakdowns today can be traced to low quality connectivity and the resulting poor performance of physical networks with users complaining about slow networks. Often, we’ll see bandwidth bottlenecks and latency. It’s worth pointing out that latency means more than slower data transfers - the quality and reliability of the system as a whole can be impacted, potentially effecting the performance of your smart building.
The number of data points has reduced drastically over the past 10 to 15 years. Traders would typically have 12 outlets in the past, but this has now halved to six at the most. Back office staff now also have less outlets, reduced from 3 to 2. Often there’s only a single outlet required for both data and IPT.
In contrast, the number of high-level outlets has increased and the flexibility once attributed to the low level cabling is now needed in the ceiling, instead of in the floor void. For the planner, it has become easier to establish the number of user connections (low level) than the number of outlets that will be required to run a variety of smart building systems, such as wireless, access control, CCTV, lighting.
Ever increasing demands are being placed on the outlet grid at high level and defining the location as well as the quantities can be problematic location as well as quantities are hard to define . Cabling grids are becoming smaller with larger port counts to provide for the future needs at high level. From an admin perspective using colours to define the various services can be useful and for critical circuits such as CCTV and access control the use of lockable patch guards an advantage
As more people bring their own devices to work, they expect hassle-free connectivity. All this requires more bandwidth and increased flexibility, but it’s not just a question of putting in as many cables and ports as possible - they also need to be installed in the right places. Sufficient access points in the right places are required, as well as cabling that accommodate multiple users. Otherwise, available bandwidth has to be shared amongst so many users that it becomes unusable.
So what might seem like overcapacity now is a necessity in a multi-user wireless environment. 100 Mb/s downlinks and Cat 5e cabling may often suffice today, but this is not a future-proof solution. If your choice of cabling doesn’t provide the performance you had hoped for it is usually too late to fix it. Retrofitting cables and other system components can be extremely costly and causes disruption.
The importance of monitoring
In recent years, physical networks have grown increasingly complex. Integration of Intelligent Infrastructure Management (IIM) / Intelligent Physical Layer Management (IPLM) with energy, building and other systems enables efficiency enhancements and development of advanced ‘smart’ applications. To make the best-informed decisions, you need to have access to audit-proof documentation and the most accurate, up-to-date data. Network visibility can help significantly enhance performance, improve response time and future-proof your network. However, it shouldn’t be added as an afterthought. One highly effective solution is adding Traffic Access Point (TAP) Modules. These enable ongoing monitoring of network and application performance using passive optical tapping that is fully integrated into the structured cabling infrastructure.
Network connectivity needs to be evaluated as a key component of physical infrastructure. That means understanding where you are, where you want to go and what it will take to get there. Compliance with the relevant industry standards needs to be closely examined and you must determine whether the network is capable of supporting current needs and future business initiatives. In short: greater data throughput and smaller latency also results in higher availability and significantly better overall network performance.
The latest technologies, which offer the best shot at ‘future proofing’ networks, are Cat6a and Cat8 with standard RJ45 connectors rather than Cat7 systems that use proprietary connectors such as GG45. For most current building-based applications, this technology seems to have become obsolete. The same goes for Cat5 - even though many people think 1G bandwidth is all they’ll need for the foreseeable future.
Cabling should support several consecutive generations of active equipment and shouldn’t need to be replaced each time new active equipment comes along. Reliability, quality, ease of use and bandwidth need to be as high as possible. Ensuring your network lives up to a high standard, making it future proof and allowing it to support multiple generations of active equipment, could simply require no more than investing 1% extra on the total budget.