Cabling 2004

Von Russell Bennett

Data cabling infrastructures are becoming ever more complex, as the quest for highest throughput continues to drive faster network connectivity at both the core and edge of the modern business communications architecture.

With new services, such as VoIP, set to explode onto the local landscape, these ever-increasing requirements will take another giant leap forward, and the cabling system become expected to cope with multiple new time-critical voice streams, as well as the higher loads which come with broadband access and distribution.

"The big thing to be aware of in the cabling infrastructure business at the moment is the trend towards facilities convergence. It is no longer merely data that gets transmitted over the cabling system, it is building control data, business-critical applications, voice traffic and much more. Everything goes over IP now, which is why we approach the entire infrastructure from an IT point of view, to add value to implementations," says Nick Shaw, solutions manager at Dimension Data Holdings PLC Advanced Infrastructure (DDAI).

"We have found that many customers come to us first to audit their sites, and to find out what needs to be upgraded or added in order for the network to cope with these increased demands," he continues. "We saw this trend beginning a number of years back and realigned ourselves accordingly, so that now we find ourselves ahead of the game."

In the environment in which DDAI is active, it is all about Cat 6 at the moment and going forward. Most of these organizations have yet to deploy Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop environment, relegating 10GbE to being purely a backbone technology. Should GbE deployment take off, this equipment will be necessary in the infrastructure to deliver data as quickly as the client systems can request it.

States Rod Anley, also from DDAI: "Guys in the market today are looking closely at their backbones to ensure that they are ready for 10GbE, and for VoIP. In terms of fibre cabling, all too often we come across old systems with huge loss, deficiencies which will be highlighted while auditing an infrastructure for carrying voice traffic. After all 10GbE copper solutions will still have distance limitations, making fiber still the only choice for long-haul transmissions."

The largest players in the active networking equipment space have already introduced switching solutions capable of delivering multiple GbE connections using a 10GbE backbone, while Cisco recently revealed a Guinness World Record switching product said to be able to transmit data at 90 terabits per second.

Already cabling vendors such as Systimax are preparing to make UTP solutions available to deliver 10GbE speeds without incurring the costs of FC, at distances of 90m or less of course. Despite the fact that the IEEE and TIA/EIA will only have standards ratified for this high-performance solution during the course of 2006, the cabling will steadily become more readily available for early adopters and organizations preparing for the inevitable.

Says Dieter Bodingbauer, MD of Systimax for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and African regions: "While the interest, and even orders, that we have already seen for our upcoming 10Gb cabling system have been very encouraging, we do not expect to see a massive uptake of this technology very soon. There are certain environments where we would like to implement such a high-performance network soon, like financial institutions or data centers, but for most customers it is very early in this technology"s lifecycle to be deploying it widely as yet."

He continues: "This year we have seen more and more multinational organizations realizing the benefits of a multinational cabling solution provider. Customers are also without a doubt more aware of their requirements today than they were six years ago, when GbE was introduced. In the SA market in particular, we are coming across customers who are far more educated as to precisely what the cabling system chosen can mean to a mission-critical infrastructure, and who understand the long-term costs of going with lower-quality equipment."

Systimax has had a very successful year, according to Bodingbauer, with the de facto standard for greenfield installations becoming Cat 6 or Cat 5e cabling systems. The organization has also recognized WLAN as a driving force behind a portion of its business. "At the end of the day, you need a good structured cabling solution in place to connect the WLAN node to the corporate back-end network, and customers are aware of this fact now," he explains.

"Pay as you grow"

South Africa infrastructure supplier Datanet Solutions Pty. Ltd. has also seen an active year, as it became an authorized Pirelli blown fiber supplier and trainer. This innovative fiber cabling system has become well known for its flexibility and "pay as you grow" model in the international market, and has seen good local acceptance, with a number of distributors of blown fiber systems apart from Datanet now available to local customers.

Datanet, through its precision-engineering division, Modrac, also became the first local cabinet manufacturer to produce and deploy its own envirorack solution. These enclosures provide all the facilities that a well-prepared server room should include within the server rack cabinet itself, making them well suited to rapid infrastructure expansion, even in environments where no dedicated and prepared data center exists.

Establishing new technologies in the infrastructure space is never as straightforward as explaining the benefits of the latest high-frequency CPU, for instance. Higher-quality cabling systems can perform exactly the same as inferior ones, but will maintain their throughput even when pushed to the limits of their abilities. Spending the difference, and going with a reliable product, is quite simply an investment in the profitability of your business. The communications cabling system is the foundation on which your entire mission-critical ICT infrastructure will depend, and problems usually relate directly to lost revenue.

A well-designed, correctly specified and deployed network infrastructure could mean the difference between your ICT equipment being the valuable tool that it ought to be, and a constant drain on the business, in terms of lost productivity and support fees paid.

For an organization to be prepared for at least the next five years from an infrastructure perspective, it is clear that currently Cat 5e is the absolute minimum starting point. This cabling type and Cat 6, are currently the only UTP solutions capable of delivering GbE performance faithfully in the Ethernet environment.

"More than product, it is the solution that matters in infrastructure. Put in the best cabling system you can today and you will realize cost benefits moving in to the future. Use a reputable provider, who offers an end-to-end solution, to ensure that the migration path is secure, and the infrastructure that you put in today will continue to pay dividends for years to come," concludes Anley.