Date posted: 24 September 2018 – Category: Cabling Services
In the early days of computing, cabling was largely point-to-point, going direct from the server to each endpoint, or via a ‘daisy chain’ of systems connected to each other, usually via coaxial cable. While this worked, it was inflexible and created problems if you needed to move things around. You would also need different types of cable for your computers and for your telephone system.
The idea behind structured cabling is that one set of cables can support different types of hardware. In most cases today this means both computers and phones. Structured cabling uses the same type of cable and the same type of wall outlet for both. This means that if you want to move things around it’s easy to do so without having to run new cables. It also has the advantage of being relatively future proof, so that if your hardware changes or you switch to a different phone system, your cabling can stay the same.
When it comes to installing a structured cabling system, there are a number of factors you need to consider to ensure that it properly meets your needs now and into the future.
The first thing to look at is what your office needs. You might start from the position that each employee needs a phone and a data point on their desk, but you also need to take account of your expansion plans and whether you will need to rearrange your floor space at some point. Consider how you will cope with a need for temporary access for contractors, for example.
It’s also important to understand how people will be using the systems – data networks in particular – as this will drive the amount of bandwidth that you need. You also need to look at housing the hubs and other hardware that make up the cabling system itself. Will you need to add items such as wireless access points to allow mobile devices to access your systems.
A major factor in specifying structured cabling are the systems and tech you will be running on it, as well as the volume of data it will be handling. The volume of network traffic is a key factor, especially when you consider that many businesses are now adopting VoIP for their voice calls and this will call for extra data bandwidth. Unlike older networks, where voice and data were largely kept separate, this is putting a lot more demand on modern structured cabling networks.
Your cabling installer will need an understanding as to how you are going to be using the system in order to be able to recommend the most effective approach to building the network.
There are a number of different data cabling standards for network cables and these have evolved over the years to cope with demand for faster transmission rates. CAT-5 is probably the best known, using an eight-core, twisted pair cable and capable of performance of up to 100 MHz. Later standards, such as CAT-6, allow for more bandwidth and faster data. There are also variations allowing for shielding of the cable, and in modern installations, the option of fibre optics too.
This an area where it’s worth over specifying as data requirements only tend to grow over time and you don’t want to risk being left with a network that is struggling to cope with your needs. Having to strip out and replace your cabling at some point in the future is expensive, time consuming and disruptive, so if you can avoid it by spending a bit more now, you need to do so.
The cabling standards used also come into play when looking at your environment. If you have electrically noisy equipment that is likely to create interference – this might be found in a factory or healthcare environment for example – then you need to ensure that your cabling is shielded to ensure that it will operate reliably. Again this will cost more in the short term but will deliver greater reliability of operation in future.
You might wonder why training is needed for a cabling system, but it’s important that you have someone in-house who understands how it has been installed and how it works. This means that, for example, if you need to move pieces of equipment around, you can do so without having to call in an engineer. You need to understand any colour coding used to differentiate phone and data circuits, as well as the numbering system used to identify ports on the network.
In-house IT staff should have some involvement in the planning and cabling installation of the network so that they are able to understand what’s happening and be able to rectify any minor faults.
We’ve already talked about the importance of in-house knowledge in solving minor problems but there may be times when you have a more severe problem. To cope with these, you’ll probably want to have some sort of ongoing maintenance arrangement with your cabling installer. Many will offer a warranty on their work to cover you for any issues arising from the initial installation, but you may want to look at some form of ongoing plan to cover not just faults but any changes that you may need to make in the future.
21 Station Road Workshops, Station Rd, Bristol, BS15 4PJ
Michael Turner, ICT manager, Downend School