Power structure

Structured cabling forms the foundation of every IT infrastructure. However, it is all too often undervalued and ignored by enterprises.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  April 28, 2003

Solid foundations|~||~||~|When it comes to erecting a building, solid foundations are key to ensuring the endurance, sturdiness and stability of the construction. Similarly, when it comes to developing an IT infrastructure, establishing a reliable, well-planned and carefully implemented base is essential. So while structured cabling may generate less hype and enthusiasm among IT managers, its value cannot be underestimated.

“Cabling is the base layer and if you don’t have the base layer properly designed and implemented, and the technology is not correct, then all of the layers that exist on top of it will not operate properly,” confirms Martin Hennessey, sales director, connectivity solutions, Avaya, Middle East, North Africa, Turkey & Greece.

In fact research shows that 70% of network downtime and problems stem from the cabling infrastructure. Hennessey says this can be the result of poor design, product quality or the installation of mix and match solutions. Moreover, shoddily installed cables will impact the efficiency and running of a network.

“The criteria that customers need to look at is the fact that 70% of the network downtime is due to cabling. It has nothing to do with the active equipment, or the network interface cards (NICs). It is due to a loose connection, a patch panel problem, inappropriate patch cords, electromagnetic interference and so on,” affirms Tarek Helmy, regional director, Nexans, Gulf & Middle East.

“Failure to have the proper, reliable, cost effective design and high quality installation will have a negative impact on the IT network,” he adds.

The importance of correctly designing and installing the cabling infrastructure is also brought to the fore by the realisation that this technology is likely to be in place for 15-20 years. At the same time, any changes or corrections that have to be made to the cabling solution can prove both complex and costly.

“[Users] can change a network switch or router whenever they want, but they cannot change the infrastructure. Once a building is ready and occupied you cannot disturb the services,” says Kandasamy Ganesan, marketing manager, Online & Middle East district secretary for telecommunications association, BICSI.

With much of the infrastructure hidden under floors or in special containment units in the risers of buildings, accessing it can be difficult. Furthermore, with units designed to provide the correct amount of space for the cables, any disruption to one section can affect the whole infrastructure.

This was an issue that Citibank encountered when they moved into their new Dubai premises over a year ago. Although the building was unoccupied it had already been cabled, and with Citibank’s own strict technology standards to implement and plans to only take certain floors of the building, the group was faced with a complex recabling project.

“We had difficulty in keeping the main tech room. There was one room from which all the floors were wired and it happened to be on one of our floors, so we had to partition that room. It wasn’t really a problem it just made it more complex, however, we were helped in the sense that we were the only people in the building… we could take our time,” explains Narendra Kumar, vice president, technology head, Citibank N.A.

While Citibank’s recabling requirements were driven by the group’s IT standards that govern its vendor and technology choices, Kumar says the finance institute is well aware of the criticality of the cabling infrastructure and is not prepared to compromise on its high quality standards.

“We have paid as much for the cabling as for other active components. We have very strict standards — we even measure the number of twists that are there from where it [the cable] cleaves to where it is bunched in, and the length between the twist,” he comments.

||**||Cabling costs|~||~||~|Vendors also advise enterprises not to skimp on the cost of cabling their buildings. While the upfront costs may seem steep, they suggest that the total cost of ownership (TCO) is significantly lower than any other component of the IT infrastructure, as cabling only accounts for 5-10% of the total IT budget.

“Customers will find that they invest once in cabling compared to 10 ten times in software because they have to change software every couple of years, and their PCs every three years. And if you consider that 70% of your problem is solved, cabling doesn’t represent more than 10% of your IT budget, and it is an investment for 15 years… there is no point talking about [cutting costs] on cabling,” explains Helmy.

Aside from advising enterprises to think carefully before investing in cabling solutions, vendors are also looking to improve the knowledge of the various parties involved in the decision-making and installation processes.

As cabling is often put in place during the construction of buildings, vendors can find themselves dealing with contractors, architects and building owners, as opposed to company IT managers.

“We will typically be involved in a project 12 months before any concrete is even laid, so we are making the recommendations to the architects, consultants and ultimately the building owners and clients about what needs to be in that building before it is constructed,” says Hennessey.

Many vendors have been investing in seminars and training sessions to raise awareness to the importance of carefully planning the cabling infrastructure and to tackle the mentality of many contractors and consultants who are predominantly looking to bump up their own costs.

“The problem in this market is that the consultants and contractors are all looking to make money at the expense of the customers’ requirements,” comments Laurent Amestoy, regional manager, Reichle & De-Marrari (R&M) Middle East & Africa.

However, the message does seem to be garnering supporters, with vendors noticing higher levels of awareness amongst the various parties, and suggesting that cabling is beginning to scale the IT itinerary in terms of importance. “We deliver our message to all levels and sectors and we are finding that integrators are starting to ask technical questions… Similarly contractors are asking more and more about performance and this goes all the way to the end users. They have started attending training seminars as well,” says Emad Al Hasouni, general manager, Superior Technologies.

Furthermore, these parties are beginning to invest more time in the planning and design stages of cabling installations, rather than looking to rush into the construction stages of a project, and only thinking about the cabling when the active network components become an issue.

“We use expert designs and drawings to map the number of distribution points and then we design locations for the main active components. We design every single point considering the distance and the cable run. This is part of the project planning process. Then during the construction phase the assigned cabling company start to deploy the cables and they usually finish before the construction is completed,” says Waleid Ibrahim, director of International technical systems, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

||**||Setting standards|~||~||~|While the value of planning and designing the cabling infrastructure cannot be underestimated, the execution and implementation of such designs is of equal importance, as poorly installed equipments, lies at the heart of most network problems. Therefore, using certified installers is a key factor in vendor and product selection.

“We are worried about the skills of the implementers themselves, whether they are certified, whether they are recommended by the manufacturers. We want the best and we ask the manufacturers who their preferred implementers are,” comments Citibank’s Kumar.

When looking at the infrastructure for the Ritz-Carlton in Doha, Waleid Ibrahim assessed vendors on a variety of factors, but most critical was the availability of certified staff and previous customer reference sites.

“We looked at the different vendors available in Qatar and within the Gulf area and we considered the logistics, the availability of the staff, the number of certified persons each company had and projects these vendors had done,” he says.

Vendors have also been quick to realise the importance of having properly certified and trained partners. The argument is simple, you can have the best technology in the world, but if it has been installed incorrectly then it won’t perform as it is supposed to. As such, the likes of Avaya and Nexans have been investing significantly in training their regional partners and installers.

“If the cabling is not installed correctly you end up with a bad solution, so we train our partners. We don’t have many partners because we want to keep control of them, plus we carry out site inspections on all their installations,” adds R&M’s Amestoy.

Other factors, such as long term warranties that encompass products, installation and local support, are also important factors in the selection of a vendor. However, both the Ritz-Carlton Doha and Citibank attribute the success of their respective cabling projects to the strict standards the companies dictate.

These standards can cover everything from the vendor, to the category of cabling and the specifications for installing this cable within buildings. Additionally, certification levels may be stipulated and tested by outside parties before these companies are satisfied, and the vendor or installer paid.

“We have a criteria that includes some clauses that impact the quality level of the product to do with the cabinets, the cable runs, the certifications to Category 5e, which was the highest available category at that time [of our installation,]” comments Ibrahim.

“We have an engineer who goes around all over the group looking at installations especially when they are new and he will test them and certify them and only then will we pay installers,” adds Kumar.

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