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Intelligent buildings are the IT future

As Dubai continues on its quest to be a modern day business hub, the standard of IT infrastructure within new buildings across the city is increasing. Zoe Naylor reports on how the demand for cables and intelligent buildings has created a niche business for some firms.

Gone are the days of constructing a high-rise building and then deciding what type of IT systems to install. These days, IT solutions providers work closely with architects, consultants and main contractors to decide upon the best IT infrastructure, long before the first pour of concrete. And it’s not just the mega tower projects that rely on efficient IT project management systems — even a single villa needs IT solutions.

“For any infrastructure, be it a tower, villa, a hospital or an airport, you will need an IT infrastructure,” says Pete Gough, regional manager, datacomm, Panduit. “Even in a single villa you will now expect telephone connection as standard, and maybe Internet connection — therefore you need an infrastructure. It may well be just one phone, but the socket still needs to be connected somewhere. Therefore I don’t see any kind of construction being built without an IT infrastructure in place,” he adds.

Established in the US in 1955, Panduit is a global firm offering IT solutions across a range of projects. As the only structured cabling company in the world to have a relationship with Cisco Systems, Panduit develops its technologies alongside Cisco and vice versa.

In a bid to capitalise on the GCC’s rapidly growing construction sector, Panduit opened an office in Dubai’s Internet City in December 2004. “We’ve been servicing the region remotely for some years, but to actually be taken seriously you need to have a presence here,” says Gough. “We don’t just sell components, we sell solutions to the end user.”

And this means liaising with consultants and architects at the initial project stages to find out about the specifications within the building i.e. what it will look like and what services will need to be running within the structure.

According to Gough, this is the point when it’s imperative to start looking at the IT infrastructure: “The building itself doesn’t exist — the ground hasn’t been broken, it’s still just a concept and is on paper. But this is when you should start looking at the design and structured cabling within it.”

This means thinking about what type of services will be run in the IT environment — IPT (internet protocol telephony), video on demand, intelligent and smart building applications. Since all these services will be run within the infrastructure, they need to be involved from the start.

“If your IT infrastructure is built on a cheap cable installation then the services won’t work. You’ve really got to start off with solid foundations,” says Gough. While there are buildings with cheaper IT solutions, this may mean that the team is trying to cut corners or there is no room in the budget for IT infrastructure.

“This requires an investment — you can’t put in a cheap service solution into an infrastructure after you’ve run out of money.” “If you’re building a tower to the highest specifications and want to run the full range of services for your end-users, then you really shouldn’t be putting in a poor-quality IT infrastructure.”

Cost-wise it is also important for IT project managers to work with the main contractors to understand their requirements and budget for the project, to make sure that the structured cabling comes in at the cost that’s been allocated. This is key — especially in a construction market such as Dubai that is so price sensitive.

“It’s about working with the consultants and main contractors, trying to meet their requirements and give them the best that they can get for their money,” says Gough. IT-related products range from copper solutions to fibre solutions through to consolidation boxes — anything that can go into small spaces within a confined area within a building.

Using professional IT project managers not only ensures that the cabling comes in at the allocated budget, it can also help to maximise the space within a building. Rather than setting aside valuable construction areas for a communications room, by utilising false ceilings and floors, it is possible to put a communications rack or mini communications room in a ceiling or underneath the floor.

Rack and cable management is an integral part of Panduit’s IT solutions, and the firm provided all the rack and cable management for Capital Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road. “As well as being space-saving, if the cables are managed correctly there’s no strain on the terminations and no degradation of performance,” explains Gough.

And what of the status of Dubai’s IT project management sector? With such a fast-moving construction sector, is the IT market playing catch-up? Not according to Gough: “Dubai is pulling in professionals from all around the world and is fast catching up with the European market in the sense that people expect quality.

“While there may still be some way to go, Dubai has grown on the world’s experiences and has brought in the technology and people to make it happen fast and make it as professional as it can be.” He says this follows the same kind of requirements coming from Europe, the US and across the world in that people are asking for more and more from IT infrastructure.

“Pushing the boundaries means making sure the whole package is great — the building and the solutions inside it. So I don’t think we’re seeing different things here that we don’t see in any other part of the world.”

Keeping pace with new demands placed on IT infrastructure means new product launches. “We released a power over Ethernet (PoE) panel mid to late last year,” says Gough. According to Gough, this is a cost effective way of enabling power devices to receive power i.e. to power IP cameras, wireless access points and IP telephones across Cat 5e cabling.

“This technology is enabling the whole industry — whether it’s construction or any kind of IT industry — to power devices off an ethernet cable rather than running mains electricity to it.”
Future solutions look likely to centre on smart and intelligent buildings. “Go on the internet and you can look at the security on your house via an IP camera; you can even turn on your cooker,” says Gough. And this sort of infrastructure is not just limited to villas — it can also be applied to hotels.

All this is good news for Dubai’s IT professionals, as there are plans to add some 18,000 hotel rooms in the city by the year 2008. “Companies such as Honeywell and ABB are already looking into intelligent buildings — this kind of technology is being built into buildings nowadays and will come to Dubai.”

IT project management systems have mushroomed in the
construction sector in recent years, and nowhere are they
more important than on the time-critical construction sites of
the Middle East. As more and more demands are placed upon buildings’ IT infrastructure, it’s more important than ever to make sure that the IT systems are up to the job.

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