Blog / Life Without Wires

We were at a venue this week where a significant building re-wiring was underway.  This is an older building with a heritage designation, so there were severe constraints on what the contractor could do. There were thousands of feet of blue network cabling laying on the floor and several electricians were looking frustrated.

At another venue, they had just finished migrating their server rack to an upstairs room in a remote part of the building – some 150 feet from the main office location. The do-it-yourself network cabling job was strung along the walls and held up by tacks.  Of course, we all know where the next single-point-of-failure is. I’m thankful we don’t manage that site.

So here we are, a solid 3 decades into the personal computer revolution.  We rely on this technology to manage just about every aspect of our business and personal lives. Yet, the network cabling looks like it’s from the forties.

The current standard for office network cabling is either CAT6 or Fibre. CAT6 uses traditional copper wire in a special 8-strand configuration.  It’s the familiar-looking blue cable.  But don’t be fooled by cable colour.  Blue cables can also be CAT3 or CAT5 – both of them much slower. CAT6 cable can also be any colour; black, white, red … Fibre is a fibre-optic cable that uses light to transmit data.  These cables are very thin and flexible and are often yellow in colour (but not always). Fibre is most often used to interconnect servers, network switches, or multiple network rooms in a large building. They are rarely seen in regular offices to connect desktop computers. CAT6 can be installed by electricians; Fibre is installed by network cabling specialists. Fibre requires special tools and safety handling procedures; it can be dangerous to cut, splice and terminate Fibre, as the glass fibres can penetrate the skin and get into the blood stream.

Technical jargon aside, CAT6 supports network speeds of 1Gbps (Gigabytes per second).  This is as fast as the current network connections in most computers.  Fibre supports up to 10Gbps, but there are not many desktop computers that have Fibre capability.

The fastest Wireless (WiFi) speeds in offices is 54Mbps; some 20 times slower than a standard CAT6 network.  WiFi is also a shared service; the more people using WiFi, the less bandwidth there is for each user. With a wired network, each user has the maximum speed capability.

So, we’re stuck with network cables of one type or another for the foreseeable future. But network cabling done-right can be expensive – easily multiple thousands of dollars. If you’re faced with a re-cabling project – or adding to an existing network, here are some tips to avoid trouble in the future:

  • From each office location, have the cable run back to a central location (network or server room) that will house the network connection switch.
  • Where practical, pull extra cables into offices; the number of network-connected devices is growing, not shrinking.
  • Remember to allocate cables for printers, WiFi points, and other network devices (security cameras, phones, HVAC systems, etc).
  • Have all cables terminated in a patch bay in the network room (think old-style telephone jack system).  Patch bays allow the network engineer to connect only those ports required to the swtich and servers.
  • Have BOTH end of the cables labelled for future identification.
  • Have each cable tested and certified to the highest network speed.
  • Where possible, employ a certified network cabling specialist. Network cabling requires special skills that most electricians do not have.

The life of most buildings is measured in decades, but network cabling rarely survives a 10-year anniversary.  Thus, expect to be involved in a building re-cabling project every 7 years – and budget accordingly.

Trouble with network cabling can impact the whole network and can be notoriously difficult to troubleshoot; they may appear as random slow-downs, dropped connections, corrupt files, or crashed computers. It doesn’t pay to skimp on the cabling job. Even though it’s hidden behind the walls, it’s every bit as important as the fancy new laptop on your desk, or the new server that cost more than your car.

Thanks

Dave White 
Trinus Technologies Inc
dwhite@trinustech.com 


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