This paints an almost passive picture of cable planning, but nothing could be further from the truth; the accelerated move to virtualization, for instance, has driven – and has been supported by – a radical review of cabling strategy and guidelines. The increased data load that it generated had to be handled at all levels, from servers and switching equipment to interconnect – that is, cables. Despite living in the so-called “wireless era”, office cabling still plays an important part in construction planning and even in building planning. We all know that today’s businesses can’t afford to be slow. Speed equals a bigger market share in any industry, not just tech.
In terms of costs, this was relevant on both sides of the proactive/reactive border: companies that could scale their cabling infrastructure quickly enough, in order to support the higher-speed equipment, had the business edge over those that had to overhaul their infrastructure. Wired networks dominate the workplace today, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, and they play an increasingly active role for modern businesses. Since 2010, the costs of data center outage have increased by more than 30%, and more than 75% of downtime costs can be directly related to reduced worker productivity. An efficient, high-performance, low-maintenance network is a driving factor of a business’ efficiency, and the data backbone – the data cabling – is the first layer of its foundation.
Office Cabling Is not just Laying Cables
The fact that office cabling plays such an important role in modern businesses is not a new discovery; in fact, it has been recognized for such a long time, that many of its fundamental aspects have been standardized by international regulatory bodies. IEC has standardised generic cabling requirements for more than 20 years now, in IEC 11801, and specific requirements exist in other standards aimed specifically at commercial building telecommunications infrastructure, optical communication infrastructure, and even at how to administer commercial telecommunication structures. These standards describe a paradigm known as structured cabling, in which the cabling infrastructure is broken down into standardized smaller elements.
The planning and deployment of office cabling is therefore not done haphazardly, at the planner’s discretion. But standards and regulations are only half of the story. Standards prescribe basic requirements, which aim primarily to harmonize and offer minimum quality guarantees for commercial deployments. Respecting industry standards guarantees that an installation built to these standards will be able to support any higher-level networking equipment that is also built to these standards, from CCTV cameras to servers and from VoIP telephones to routers, that trained technicians will be able to find their way through the network, and that the network provides a solid base for any higher-level certification requirements, such as data security certifications and standards.
The other half of the of the data cable planning and deployment effort is driven by customer requirements, by the specifics of their premises and by their long-term business plans. The landscape within which planning happens is itself shifting radically: the move to cloud and hybrid applications, for instance, has had a radical enough impact over business’ bandwidth requirements that Microsoft is offering bandwidth estimation tools for their
Office 365 suite – a problem that barely existed five years ago, when the very idea of moving a company’s full office productivity software in the cloud barely existed.
Office Cabling and Efficiency: Risk and Optimization
As with many elements of infrastructure, cabling is something that most users rarely notice when it works well, but can immediately tell when it doesn’t. Indeed, the most obvious risk that proper office cabling addresses is the risk of work efficiency loss.
Cable defects that result in connectivity loss have an immediate impact, but improper planning or deployment can prolong this effect. Cables that are difficult to reach or do not follow colour codes so that they can be easily identified, for instance, can dramatically increase intervention costs and downtime duration. They also make maintenance more difficult, which creates a vicious circle: IT and management avoid maintenance activities, because they are difficult and costly – which in turn increases the defect rate and further decreases productivity.
Inefficient routing and planning can also cause performance problems and dramatically decrease the ROI on network infrastructure equipment. For example, according to the ISO/IEC 11801 standard, the maximum length of a Cat 6 cable for 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GBASE-T) is 55 meters, even though the same kind of cable can carry 1 Gigabit Ethernet (1000BASE-T) signals over a length of 100 meters (90 meters of running cables, plus 5 meters of stranded cable at each end). Equipment connected through wires that exceed these lengths will exhibit poor network performance (if they will have network performance at all), and moving to 10GBASE-T equipment will have very little performance impact in an improperly-planned network.
The quality of the installation work itself can have a major impact on the reliability of an office network. Even seemingly irrelevant details, like how much a cable is bent, can have a significant impact over a network’s lifetime and defect rate: ISO/IEC 11801, for example, dictates that the minimum bending radius of installed horizontal cables must be 4 times the outer cable diameter. Simply bending a cable past this limit (or installing cables that do not conform to this requirement) can lead to degraded network performance or connectivity loss.
At the other end of the spectrum, properly-planned office cabling allows you to exploit your network infrastructure at its full potential, thus maximizing the efficiency of any investment in network equipment and workstations. Efficiently structured cabling reduces installation and material costs, allowing you to focus investment on other critical areas of your business, and reduces your long-term operational costs.
These elements are especially relevant because cables tend to be the most long-lived elements of a network’s infrastructure. Generally, their cost amounts to around 11% of the network’s cost, so there should be little incentive to make permanent interventions, and installation can be intrusive, as it requires routing cables through walls, floors and ceilings. It is, therefore, best to be proactive and get it right from the beginning, as major overhauls can be costly for day-to-day business operations.
In others words, you can look at office cabling as an investment that keeps on giving. Get it right from the beginning and you’ll be free to focus on your core business full speed ahead.
Supporting Long-Term Development
Proper cable planning also plays an integral role in supporting the long-term growth of a modern business. This is especially true for technology companies, whose demands scale up at a particularly accelerated rate.
At its most fundamental level, growth in connectivity demands are primarily related to physical growth; as a business expands, its network infrastructure needs to allow for additional equipment installation and, then, for interconnecting several offices. Global companies interconnecting offices that are located halfway across the globe from each other has been common for more than a decade now.
But the growth of office network demands is no longer just about installing more computers. A Gartner study predicts a radical growth in the number of IoT devices employed by businesses, from LED lighting and HVAC equipment to new, more advanced physical security systems. It is expected that, by 2020, companies will spend more than 500 million USD on IoT hardware and services for their offices. Integrating these new devices, with a variety of wired and wireless connection protocols and specific access security requirements will bring its own set of challenges; structured cabling facilitates endpoint growth, both in number and diversity, but each company’s development plans and growth scenarios will dictate different planning and implementation strategies.
This is by no means a reason to panic. This development is something that we can be prepared for, especially since it will not happen overnight. The scalability of an office network and proper office cabling lie at the core of seamless IoT integration.
The shape of office networks is also undergoing a rapid change that is expected to become even more radical in the years to come. The factor that caused the first major rift in office network planning was the quick shift to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): companies began encouraging their employees to use their own computing and communication equipment, in order to facilitate their mobility and workplace efficiency.
This led to a proliferation of wireless access points that was quickly embraced by other devices; three years ago, Gartner predicted that, by 2018, more than 40% of enterprises will specify Wi-Fi as the default connection for non-mobile devices, including devices like desk phones and projectors. Whereas seven years ago, the wireless access point on the ceiling was the exception, today, the wireless access points sitting in almost every other room, in addition to the old wired infrastructure, are the norm.
The demands and diversity of office cabling deployment has been hinging on other factors as well. For instance, it is becoming increasingly common for companies to hold sensitive personal data about their customers, to the point where data is now being referred to as “the oil of the twenty-first century”. In the UK, the Data Protection Acts includes strenuous requirements regarding the safekeeping of such data, including requirements for securing physical and network access to it. This means that more and more businesses have to think about installing CCTV and access control equipment, using air-gapped networks for sensitive operations and network infrastructure segregation for BYOD scenarios.
The diversity of devices that drive network growth means that “patching up” cabling infrastructure as you go is no longer an option. Structured cabling remains the only viable long-term solution that we know of – and, for that matter, the only framework within which additional solutions are likely to be developed in the next 15-20 years.
Conclusions and Recommendations
It is clear that, in the data-driven, fast-paced business world of 2018 and of the years to come, a company’s network infrastructure is one of its most valuable assets. The company’s office cabling is the first element of its network infrastructure’s foundation; and, unexpectedly, it one of the least expensive elements but, at the same time, one of the most difficult to troubleshoot and overhaul, and one of the most long-lived ones.
Consequently, planning a company’s office cabling according to structured cabling principles is critical to sustaining its long-term growth and development. At the same time, proper installation is critical not only to the efficiency of day-to-day operations but also to the efficiency of planned and unplanned maintenance, long-term operational efficiency and maintaining a low downtime figure. Structured cabling is a well-established framework, which has seen a substantial regulatory effort in the last 15-20 years, but it is primarily driven by customer-specific business requirements which depend on the office’s activities, premises, location, access requirements, environmental factors and many other elements.
If you require cabling solutions for your office as part of your company’s long-term development plans, we are happy to assist you, from planning to deployment. In our experience, the defining factor of a highly efficient cabling solution is how well it suits the specifics of your activities, your development plans and your office’s requirements, which is why we start with what you need to do and work our way up to what you need in terms of cabling.
We have helped hundreds of businesses of all sizes boost their efficiency and productivity through smart cabling and other connectivity-related solutions. Take a look at how our clients are raving about our services here. Get in touch and find out what we can do for your business!