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A Look Forward (December 01, 2001)

Was 2001 really that bad? Can we expect more doom and gloom in 2002? For this third annual feature, Cabling Systems rounded up some of the best and brightest in the structured cabling and telecommunications arena and asked them for their insights.Here, John Bakowski of Bell Gateways, Masood Shariff of Avaya Inc., Scott Dawdy of Panduit Canada, Michael Spencer of IntegCom and Brad Masterson of Fluke Networks in Canada share their views on the year behind us and their predictions for the year to come.


December 1, 2001  


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Tough Decisions Ahead

By John Bakowski

It used to be that when a client wanted voice or data cable, the choices were clear and the options were limited. However, since the early 1980s, there have been a myriad of mind boggling choices available: copper, fiber and Category 3, 5, 5e, 6, etc.

Today, the client faces an even greater burden with an even larger menu of choices. In addition, there now exists the problem of selecting administration, performance and application options and figuring out how they will all match up with the other options in the IT portfolio.

BUILDING ALLIANCES

In 2001, it has become very clear that clients must become educated or look to educated professionals to fulfil the IT demands of the business. To maximize the expense of any sized IT infrastructure, the client must now rely on a trusted partner or internal resource to design, implement and manage an installation.

The trend seems to be building towards a client and an infrastructure provisioner forming a trusted alliance in which they both have a financial and business interest in the infrastructure provided. Large IT cabling and infrastructure systems are now in dire need of management, but with the costs of systems at a premium, the client and the provisioner are at a crossroads.

In 2002 and 2003, many clients will be faced with the tough financial decision of selecting a tool to balance the cost of labour for ongoing accountability and software to improve overall performance. System downtime has always been an issue, but today that issue is bigger than ever. The selection of management systems is large and options abound, but few can step up to the full needs of all clients. Watch for new business opportunities in this somewhat new, but promising, field of expertise.

COPPER VS. FIBER

The second big issue that will impact this industry in a big way next year is the “copper vs. fiber” decision. I have said in the near past that copper has not matured and that the final limits have not been reached. Copper will continue to grow in the market, largely based on the installed base. But as new applications come on board, new limits are being reached every year.

No doubt fiber will continue to reach closer to the desktop, but it too has it limits. Many fiber manufacturers are designing infrastructures that reduce the need for equipment rooms, increasing drop runs as means of cost savings. But is this really a savings? I have read a number of articles on this item that offer interesting perspectives, but have you ever tried to replace a 175 m run of fiber through five floors and a bundle that is 100 mm in diameter? This discussion is far from over, but fiber is not the panacea that some would like us to believe.

A WEAK LINK

Last but not least, the issue of patch cords will be another heated point of discussion for 2002. This is the one weak link in an IT structured cabling system, whether that system is copper- or fiber-based.

I have had rather lengthy discussions with several manufacturers regarding the entire patching concept. In my books, in 2002 and 2003 the challenge before all manufacturers will be to develop (and I will use a term coined by one of co-workers) “the wireless patch panel”. Think about it: remote MACs, increased remote diagnostic capabilities, improved and accurate inventories, to name a few benefits — not to mention reduced finger problems and no more fumbling in a bundle. It is not a bad concept.

So, the challenge stands: who will be first with a simple, flexible and cost-effective system?

John Bakowski, RCDD/LAN Specialist has worked at Bell Canada for 36 years. He is currently Product Manager for Cabling & Connectivity with Bell Gateways. Mr. Bakowski is BICSI’s Board Secretary and a member of the association’s RSSC Committee.

Cabling Industry Trends

By Masood Shariff

It is a pleasure to share some of the trends in the cabling industry in order to understand what may be ahead as we prepare and plan for the future. It is both interesting and challenging to extrapolate current events into trends for tomorrow.

I have taken some degree of license as I put together my thoughts in this article, which are based on discussions with members of the standards community, web/magazine articles, and known product strategies revealed by telecommunications cabling manufacturers…

The structured cabling paradigm will extend into many new applications. The structured cabling paradigm was immensely successful in voice and data applications. The many reasons for this success include well-developed theoretical, measurement, and simulation capabilities; interoperable standardized products from many vendors; and generic cabling that supports multiple applications, to name a few. This success has raised the interest for developing similar solutions in other areas, including building automation systems (BAS), audio, security, residential and industrial applications. TIA standards are currently under development in all of these areas. These standards should become popular with customers who are interested in improving the cost and efficiency to support these applications by specifying generic structured cabling.

Applications will continue to converge over an ubiquitous cabling infrastructure. As the number, diversity and speed of applications continue to grow, the challenge for cabling design, installation and reliable operations will increase tremendously. For example, using Category 5e cables in an industrial setting will require more robust jacket materials that can withstand higher temperatures and harsh environments. In commercial environments, cable design and installation will have to take into account alien cross-talk from one cable supporting, for example, a BAS application to another cable supporting a gigabit Ethernet application. It is conceivable that additional engineering practice and guidelines will have to be followed to ensure the consistent and reliable operation of increasingly diverse applications.

Methods of adapting from one media to another will increase. Balanced twisted pair copper cabling continues to dominate the LAN cabling market because of cost and convenience. However, multimode fiber cabling offers many advantages to users, including greater distance, higher bandwidth, no alien cross-talk and greater security. Products called “media converters” are becoming available, which allow interconnections of copper and fiber systems. These devices will bridge the gap between copper and fiber and make standardized multimode fiber more viable in private networks.

Operational aspects of the networks will emerge as new requirements. Customers are well aware of the initial cost-benefit analysis of LAN cabling systems. Customers will focus on improving the long-term efficiency of premises networks by examining ease of installation, maintenance, technical support, upgradeability and life-cycle costs (as opposed to initial costs). This may lead to a reshuffling of decision-making processes and, consequently, the products and systems that are likely to win in the market.

40 Gigabit Ethernet will be the next target. There is consensus among application and cabling standards that the next target beyond 10 G is 40 G.1 This will pose interesting challenges and opportunities for the fiber and transceiver industry. One likely scenario is that multimode laser optimized fiber, which is one of the physical media dependent (PMD) solutions developed by IEEE 802.3 for 10G applications, will now be used for coarse wave division multiplexing (CWDM) to support 40 G using four channels or wavelengths in each fiber strand. Transceiver manufacturers will have to improve the component and packaging costs for four lasers and four detectors to allow these new, faster technologies to be widely adopted in the market.

The convergence of LAN, MAN and WAN applications will continue to increase. The 10 G application developed by IEEE for LAN applications aligns very well with the OC-192 data rates popular in WAN and M
AN networks. This, coupled with the fact that IEEE distances extend up to 40 km, makes 10 G Ethernet viable for MAN applications. IEEE has consciously addressed the need to improve interconnection between LANs and WANs, and has defined this area as the “first mile” (as opposed to the last mile as defined by service providers).2 Components that allow faster installation, quicker integration with existing networks, and easy transition from LAN, MAN and WAN networks will proliferate.

Management functions in the LAN physical layer will become common. Administration and management functions are generally implemented in telecommunications equipment to keep track of connected equipment and terminals. However, the physical media that facilitates this connectivity and the location of the physical media has not yet been integrated into these administration systems. It is expected that as the need to identify caller ID and location for emergencies becomes critical and the desire to improve operational efficiencies grows, management functionality for the physical layer will evolve and integrate with similar capabilities that are currently available for higher layers of the OSI model. Cabling administration systems will incorporate routing information, performance information and maintenance information over the life-cycle of the installation. Additionally, these systems will be linked to administration systems for other layers of the OSI model to support queries from several different perspectives.

Cabling systems will be differentiated by carefree support from vendors. In addition to margin-to-standards specifications that lead to better throughput, cabling systems will be differentiated more and more by life cycle issues and carefree support from vendors. This includes quick support for technical issues, quick processing of warranty claims, and quick shipment of products where needed — resulting in an overall reduction in down time. This means that products will continue to be designed with significant improvements in robustness, reliability and consistent performance over the life-cycle of the cabling system.

1 TIA TR42.8 Optical Fiber Cabling Meeting Report, August 14, 2001, section 8.2

2 TIA-TR42.1 – Study Group, June 2001, p. 10

Masood Shariff is a former technical manager for the SYSTIMAX Structured Connectivity Solutions department for Avaya Inc. Based in the United States and recently retired, Mr. Shariff represents Avaya Inc. at EIA/TIA, TR 42 Building Cabling Standards and is chair of TR 42.7 engineering sub-committee responsible for all copper cabling system standards.

Was 2001 Destined For Failure?

By Scott Dawdy

It has been a while since I last wrote a article, and what a time I have chosen to write about the year 2001 and predict what we are in store for in 2002.

I am writing this article in the week following the New York catastrophe and I am sure that most of you will share my concern for the future of the North American continent. The last week has been quite an emotional one for all of us in North America and the effects have not just been in human loss. The World Trade Center was a focal point for business and, as a result of September’s events, stock markets have reacted and the global market as we knew it has been rewritten.

LOW SALES GROWTH

Analysts are predicting that overall Canadian sales growth in 2002 will be down by as much as two per cent. Computer and electronics are estimated to go down by as much as 18 per cent. It is estimated that manufacturing will be reduced by five per cent, and it is anticipated that positive growth will not resume until the second or third quarter of 2002.

Most companies are trying to continue with a ‘business as usual’ attitude, but there still remain burning questions as to what will happen next. What will happen in our personal as well as our professional lives? How will business change in 2002?

LOOKING BACK

In order to forecast the future trends in our business sector, we need to reflect on what happened in 2001. If you have kept up with the roller coaster ride in the stock market, or read one of 100 economic forecasts out there, you will have come to the same conclusion I have: 2001 was destined for failure.

The first sign of this came when the U.S. government issued a massive tax relief in the billions of dollars for the American public. This action was taken to stimulate economic growth and it was predicted that this would enable the GDP to grow over what analysts had predicted. As we all know, this did not happen — in fact, it seemed to send a message to the financial markets of a weakening U.S. economy. Most U.S. firms began to evaluate their 2001 strategies and some have made drastic changes.

This action also affected many Canadian organizations and set the wheel of events for 2001 in motion. Companies such as Nortel, Cisco and Motorola made significant cuts in staff and, once again, panic set in. Most organizations made changes to improve operations and to reduce capital expenditures during 2001. This, in turn, has affected investments made in previous years on network components and structure cabling and network infrastructures. Sales results in most sectors of the communications industry have been lower than expected, and it is anticipated that third and fourth quarter results in 2001 will also be low.

THE CHALLENGE AHEAD

Is there any good news for the communications industry? The answer to that question is unsure at this point in time, but one thing is clear: 2002 will be a challenging year, and it is anticipated that most organizations will postpone any capital expenditure for at least the first quarter.

As we await the outcome of current events in the U.S., I think most organizations should be evaluating their network capabilities. Back-up systems, file and system archiving and network redundancy should now become a priority. If it were not for the Y2K scare last year, most organizations would still have systems that are vulnerable. Many organizations that have already realized this are making the investment now so that they can be more efficient and ready to more effectively compete in the ever-changing global market.

Another market that seems to be showing signs of growing popularity is the residential market. For if the office environment is not seen as secure, perhaps the home will be focused on as the place of security. Many companies in this arena are reporting increased productivity.

Could this be the way of the future? One thing is certain for 2002: business will continue, and only companies that can adjust to changing market conditions will survive in this uncertain economy.

Scott Dawdy has been in the communications industry for more than 20 years and has spent most of his career in the network connectivity and telecom sectors. He is currently Business Manager at Panduit Canada, Markham, ON. He has been BICSI’s Region 5 membership and public relations contact for the past five years.

Technology vs. Business

By Michael Spencer

“Technology vs. Business” will be the big match in 2002. But which side will win — and what has each team got in store for the upcoming year?

In looking forward to 2002, we see a bigger challenge for IT departments to meet business requirements for both performance and reliability within restricted budgets. The economic outlook for the first two quarters of 2002 has a definite shadow cast over it, and the effects on technology may set some precedents for the future.

NETWORKING ALTERNATIVES

Over the last few years we have seen a major demand for bandwidth and good business cases to improve and increase network capacity and reliability. This has spread to all parts of the network — WAN, MAN and LAN. Initiatives in e-commerce have created a requirement not only for the IT department, but for the business itself to invest time and money into the strengthening the WAN for better B2B and B2C opportunities. However, traditional businesses are now looking closely at the return of investment on many of these initiatives. Larger co
rporations are finding that many of their clients are not able to invest as heavily in technology as they themselves are, which means a lower rate of return is realized through their investments.

As far as WAN and MAN infrastructure goes, we see many initiatives going forward. DSL and all of its flavours seem to be a strong leader at this point in time. However, Ethernet MANs have only just started to appear and may need a better economic picture for further growth, as the investment for “last mile” fiber and hardware is currently high. Other initiatives, including ” Resilient Packet Ring” (RPR), are also vying for a position in this market.

As for the LAN, we have been inundated by voice over IP (VoIP) and fiber-to-the-desk discussions, but neither has made it into the mainstream in most businesses today. These two initiatives have not been highly accepted, as the business case is not often warranted. The two issues surrounding these initiatives are “reliability” and “bandwidth to the desk”. 2002 should see an increased demand for network reliability. This will come at all levels — including infrastructure. Yet, as many recent reports indicate, most companies in Canada have upgraded their LAN infrastructures to Category 5 or higher.

As our industry struggles in finalizing a Category 6 standard, clients will continue to become impatient and continue to install the highest-grade infrastructure their budgets will allow.

WHAT ABOUT BANDWIDTH?

Making a prediction about bandwidth is difficult. I do believe in Moore’s Law, however we have certainly been seeing businesses struggle to justify how much bandwidth is required today. When we look at applications that are typically used, we see very little need to have 100 Mbs to every user. In fact all of those who are promoting wireless products are using this argument in order to make sales.

I see more corporations today, and into next year, strengthening Internet policies within their organizations as a result of abuse that consumes large network resources. We will likely see IT managers making various levels of service available to different user groups based on their needs.

Of course, we will also see some more wireless sales as bandwidth capability increases and everyone gets a taste of flexibility and convenience in the workplace. Architects and interior designers are excited about the possibilities of using this technology in their designs.

2002 will also bring us closer to a standard specification for cabling design and recognition by the construction community to add a “Division” (17?) in the standard construction specification documents. A growing number of architects are recognizing the need for cabling to be coordinated into their design as they look at the flexible use of space in buildings.

DISCUSSION ON TESTING

2002 will bring some further discussion on testing and its validity in our industry. With the standards soon to be ratified and testing equipment manufacturers continuing to develop new products, we, as an industry, need to solve a growing concern. With set standards and good equipment, testing requires a human element. Based on the ability and ethic of the those performing the testing, cabling test results can be made to reflect anything the client wishes to see. I believe clients will eventually demand independent testing as they question some of the warranties offered today.

So who will win in the “Technology vs. Business” match? Business definitely seems to have the strong hand going into 2002, but it looks as though Technology will possibly regroup and be ready for the next round of initiatives near the end of the year.

Michael Spencer is president of IntegCom/InnovaTec Professional Services Inc., an independent Electrical / Communications and Network Integration consultantcy in Toronto that specializes in the engineering, design and project management of technology systems for organizations across Canada.

The Future is Fiber

By Brad Masterson

Traditionally, the high cost of fiber optic cable dictated that users deploy copper cabling in horizontal runs between the telecommunications rooms and the workstations. Higher bandwidth fiber uplinks were used to connect several workgroup switches in the telecommunications rooms to the enterprise switch in the main equipment room. However, major advances in optical fiber equipment, design architecture and testing methods are driving optical fiber cabling to the point where it is becoming the transmission medium of choice for medium and larger networking installations.

While the most popular type of optical fiber for LANs in Canada is currently 62.5/125 m multimode, even greater gains are available with 50/125 m fiber. The 50/125 m optical fiber cable (as specified in ANSI approved TIA/TIA/568-B.3) offers over three times the bandwidth of the standard 62.5/125 m optical fiber at the short wavelength window of 850 nm: 500 MHzkm vs. 160 MHzkm.

The short wavelength is crucial to networks because low-cost 850 nm Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) sources are being deployed to support gigabit Ethernet applications throughout premises. In addition, substantial progress is being made in the development of a 50/125 m multimode fiber that is optimized for laser launch. The advantage of this new enhanced optical fiber is that it will support serial transmission of 10-Gigabit Ethernet up to 300 metres, easing the way for the proliferation of the centralized cabling architecture.

SMALL-FORM-FACTOR CONNECTORS

The development of a complete infrastructure based around small-form-factor connectors that dramatically reduce passive equipment costs, has provided a major boost towards fiber use in the LAN, since they are used with 50/125 m, 62.5 m multimode and singlemode cable. New component designs, including the interconnect and transceiver, have reduced the cost of the latest small-form-factor connectors to about 20 per cent of the cost of traditional SC and ST connectors.

A second factor driving the movement towards small-form-factor connectors is the fact that a complete standardized infrastructure can now be put into place. 10BASE-FL, 100BASE-FX and both multimode and singlemode Gigabit Ethernet products are all shipping. Complete end-to-end solutions include cable, outlet products, test equipment, patch panels, patch cords, sockets, tools, NICs, switches and media converters.

CENTRALIZED CABLING ARCHITECTURE

Another factor driving fiber implementation is the move toward centralized cabling architectures that take full advantage of the long link lengths offered by fiber (to reduce the need for full-size telecommunications rooms). Early fiber LAN implementations followed the same basic architecture that is used with copper — the fiber cable was deployed in horizontal runs between the telecommunications rooms and the workstations, while fiber uplinks were used to connect the telecommunications rooms to the main equipment room. With this approach, all of the telecommunications rooms used in previous copper installations were maintained. This approach fails to take advantage of key fiber features — the ability to maintain error-free data transmission over much longer link lengths than are possible with copper cabling.

A substantial improvement has been made in the wider use of the centralized cabling architecture. The rationale behind this innovation is that users who deploy fiber optic cable on the horizontal are not bound by copper’s 100-metre limitation and do not require media conversion from one physical medium to the other. Instead, users can connect the horizontal fiber runs directly to the centralized equipment or to fiber in the backbone, utilizing high fiber-count backbone cable.

IMPROVED TESTING METHODS

Improvements in testing methods are promoting further proliferation of fiber optic cabling in LANs. For instance, testing optical fiber for gigabit with laser sources will exhibit less loss as compared to measuring the same system with an LED.

New trends are coming together with the net impact of accelerating the use of
fiber optic cabling in LANs. It is becoming more and more apparent that fiber can simplify and increase the life of the cabling infrastructure while reducing costs. The equipment, methods and architecture are now available to allow cabling professionals and network owners to take full advantage of fiber to the desktop.

Brad Masterson is Product Manager at Fluke Networks in Canada, Mississauga, ON. With more than 20 years of experience, Mr. Masterson has particular expertise in electronic test and measurement in the high-tech and industrial markets. He is a Certified Electronic Engineering Technologist registered with OACETT and a member of BICSI.


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