The world of IT cabling has changed dramatically over the years from the early vendor specific cabling methods to today’s Structured Cabling environments. It used to be only copper, then came various varieties of fibre optic cables, and WiFi, wireless and laser and free-space optical connectivity among others. Even copper as a structured cabling component is losing ground to fibre-based Passive Optical LAN cabling.
Part of the development of course arises from a demand for greater bandwidth capacity and networking speeds. More recently, another driver is digital convergence which needs unified Voice and Data cabling and currently, digital transformation which adds a host of new devices through the Internet of Things and demands for mobility through an increasing use of WiFi and Internet technologies.
Initially cabling was, to put it mildly, unstructured. Cabling was installed in the most convenient route and in the most convenient way. No problem dropping a cable out of the window or using a tree as support. There was no restriction on cable run length. Networks were often not reliable, and didn`t provide optimal service. Again, over the years, the concept of structured cabling to support both Voice and Data has developed to make physical networks more manageable, reliable and resilient.
As an example, installations of UTP structured cabling have developed from Cat3 via Cat5 and 5e to Cat 6, with Cat 7 waiting in the wings. Upgrades were almost always rip-out and replace projects causing disruption and mess in a business. Some cable upgrades were caused by the implementation of Voice and Data on the same cable infrastructure which needs UTP Cat5e as a minimum. Others were required to support new networking equipment.
Optical fibre runs have often been upgraded from multi-mode to single mode to increase distance and to support higher network speeds. Currently, some UTP copper implementations are being replaced by Passive Optical Lan cabling to future-proof the physical network infrastructure by making networks entirely fibre based. They are also cheaper to install and operate than the traditional copper cabling.
All-in-all, structured cabling makes life easier, both for the installers and later the network managers. Structured cabling environments also make it possible to install and use automated cable and network management tools.
Four overall benefits of structured cabling include:
Finding and repairing or replacing faulty cabling can be a lengthy and costly business, both in the cost or repair and in loss of business services. Structured cabling reduces the risk of cable faults, and by using cable management tools, faults can be located and repaired much more quickly.
Reductions in network downtime mean less cost to a business in both time, money and possibly reputation.
A major network activity in any IT Support organisation is network management. Monitoring how the physical network is performing and ensuring that service levels are maintained is often a KPI for IT Support.
Having a structured cabling environment brings greater network reliability and by using automated network management tools, easier identification of pending and actual network faults.
A network is very rarely static. Businesses evolve, and network requirements evolve with them. Sometimes, hardware developments mean network changes. For example, changes to a data centre layout or addition of new equipment needs network changes. A business may reorganise an office layout.
If the business operates a structured cabling environment, changes can be more easily accommodated and new or revised layouts brought into play more quickly.
Digital Transformation also plays a part in the need for network scaleability offered by structured cabling. The increasing use of multimedia and Internet of Things connectivity, coupled with demands for mobility though WiFi, drives a need for network to be reliable, responsive and easily scaled and managed. In short, simplicity, flexibility, scaleability and agility.
For example, factory floor automation using IoT connectivity needs high-speed and ultra‑reliable connectivity, perhaps over wireless to many devices. In many cases, this can be business or safety critical.
A structured cabling network is essential to provide those elements of reliability and scaleability needed for Digital Transformation.
Structured cabling has provided many benefits to network installers and managers, while providing a suitable platform for future growth at an economic cost and reduced disruption to essential business services.