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Converging Thoughts

CEOs and other senior executives are quickly realizing that the goal of any effective converged IP network is to help their company get the greatest return on their investment in the network infrastructure.


July 1, 2007  


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Best Buy Canada Ltd. recently announced it had partnered with Telus Communications Company to connect all of its Canadian stores using an IP network in order to leverage the business and customer improvements a converged network can bring.

Porter Neuroscience Research Centre in Bethesda, Md., a 600,000-square-foot facility that includes laboratories, offices, animal holding areas and meeting rooms, now runs laboratory inventory monitoring systems, instrument monitoring systems, physical protection monitoring systems, access control and video security over a converged IP network..

And the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), the organization responsible for staging the 2010 Winter Olympics, is planning to roll-out a converged IP network for the Games, one that will provide end-to-end network connectivity between and within the nine competition venues and the various non-competition sites, including two data centres, two media centres, the athlete villages, two ceremonial sites and VANOC’s headquarters.

These are just three examples of IP convergence in action, but there will increasingly be many more as organizations adopt a new computing model that the Gartner Group described two years ago as both “inevitable and irrevocable.”

Its supporters maintain that IP convergence allows companies to better integrate managerial goals, strategies and implement business objectives across the entire corporate infrastructure.

It also helps achieve greater business efficiencies by better controlling the costs with managing employees, processes, and simplifying the management and maintenance of such critical business applications as voice and data, for example, by moving them onto a single network.

A recent survey conducted by AT&T Corp. in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit, found that over 58% of North American executives are prepared to make substantial investments in order to achieve those efficiencies.

According to the study, some 72% of 395 of the senior executives interviewed said they expected their firms to increase spending on in converged IP networks by 10% over the next two years, and one in five of the executives said they expected to significantly increase their network investments by more than 25%.

Steve Taylor, vice president of sales for AT&T Global Services Canada, adds that corporate executives are also looking at their converged IP networks to handle a growing array of business and productivity offerings beyond the traditional voice over IP (VoIP) and data. They are now also looking at including high-definition video, security systems, building automation and access control to the network as well.

North American executives surveyed said convergence already extends to all or most of their business.

Executives interviewed indicated they were looking to use converged IP networks to better collaborate with customers, suppliers and partners and to provide a richer customer service.

Meanwhile, Brian Martin, chief technology officer for Best Buy Canada, says the company’s guiding principle is to develop and provide the best shopping experience: “Our IP network reduces operating costs and improves the experience for our customers who will enjoy the new efficiencies that let us better serve them.”

According to a release from the retail firm, the IP network will carry voice, video and data over a single network infrastructure. This should also allow Best Buy to roll out enhanced communications capabilities such as new point-of-sale systems, video conferencing, multimedia, gaming and music.

Philip Lofgren, senior associate with WB Engineers Consultants in Boston, Mass. said Porter Neuroscience needed to have a mission-critical network so its various security and laboratory and instrument monitoring systems could run 24/7 and be accessed by staff and managers at all times without disruptions.

“One such system they have running is a REES Monitoring System that monitors such things as the temperature of a refrigerator in one part of the building to whether a mixing procedure is taking place in a laboratory in another part of the building,” says Lofgren. “All that is running over the network right now.”

Roman Dabrowski, national sales manager with Netversity Solutions, a Newmarket, Ont. supplier of hardware and peripheral devices that support structured cabling and ITS installations, says the goal of any effective converged IP network is to help companies get the greatest return on their investment in the network infrastructure. You do that, he adds, by being able to roll out over time ever more powerful business and communications solutions for both the employees and the business’ customers and partners.

It also means bringing everything down to a single cable, and making sure it is capable of handling not just voice, data and application traffic currently on the network, but also applications such as high-definition video.

To that end, Frank Murawski, president of FTM Consulting Inc. of Hummelstown, Penn., recently reported that the structured cabling systems market will grow some 18.6% during the next five years. It is expected that by 2012, the market will be worth some US$15.9 billion, up from the current US$6.8 billion projected for the end of 2007.

This growth is being driven by the rolling out of more applications and services that are IP-based.

Cat 5e vs. Cat 6a

“Newer applications are arising that are all IP-based,” says Murawski. “This includes VoIP, video over IP and data centers. It is all based on IP protocol which is clean and transparent.”

This is causing not only a growth in the structured cabling market, but also something of an industry debate as to whether companies should be moving from CAT 5e to CAT 6 or CAT 6a. CAT 5e is a favorite among installers, some of who say it is very suitable for many bandwidth intensive applications and service in a converged IP network.

Kevin Whelan, RCDD, and a designer with Ottawa-based Fleming Communications Inc., says CAT 5e has become the standard for Gigabit Ethernet as the original CAT 5 cable specification and design could be “tweaked so that you could create an enhanced CAT 5 cable that could run Gigabit applications using all four pairs (in the cable).”

Dabrowski predicts that CAT 5e is going to be around for quite some time still because not only has it been successfully installed across a wide range of companies, “it is also still fairly easy to work with and has matured over time to handle what comes down the pipe today.”

Simply, one can get many of the business and corporate efficiency benefits of a converged IP network without having to necessarily having to rip existing CAT 5e cabling out and installing anything new.

Take, for example, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The Games will host not only some 5,000 athletes from more than 80 countries, it will have to support some 10,000 media representatives and provide constant television and other media coverage for some three billion viewer in 160 countries.

In order to do this, Peter Carbone, chief architect with Nortel Networks, which is the converged network equipment supplier for the event, says the goal of the Olympic committee was to have a network that was flexible, allowing people to have access to the network from wherever they may happen to be staying or working, and for it to be able to handle the high volume of traffic and bandwidth-intensive applications such as real-time digital television.

“We are talking about moving away from a typical, static engineered network to one that is much more dynamic,” he adds. “In prior Olympics, you had a phone that was assigned to you and you had to go to the phone to make or receive calls. With this Olympics, using IP, it is very flexible. You log into whatever phone is near you and that phone is your phone.”

While the different venues and buildings will be connected together using optical cabling, enabling the carrying of high-defi
nition video, inside the data centre the cabling will be CAT 5e, which is indicative of how flexible this traditional cabling technology remains.

But some installers are suggesting that the move to have converged IP networks carry high-definition video, and more bandwidth-intensive building automation and security systems, will quickly tip the scales of adoption to CAT 6 and CAT 6a cable.

CAT 6 is considered by some to be the standard for Gigabit Ethernet. It is backward compatible with CAT 5/5e and CAT 3 cable standards, and has a maximum allowable length of 90 metres horizontal. CAT 6a (augmented) is rated to provide up to 10 Gbit/s bandwidth up to a distance of 100 metres and it operates at frequencies of 500 MHz.

WB Engineers Consultants’ Lofgren says many companies are starting to give serious consideration to CAT 6/6a, especially if the company is planning rollout of high-definition video applications or high-bandwidth productivity applications. “CAT 5/5e is good enough for some security applications, for example, but now that convergence is becoming popular, because of the cost savings it provides, it makes a lot of sense to install a high-end infrastructure to support what is coming down the pipe,” he says.

Streaming video

Fleming’s Whelan says that while the adoption of CAT 6/6a cabling is still in the early stages, many companies are beginning to give serious consideration to using this new cabling, especially CAT 6a in data centres.

“We have huge amounts of data being transferred from SANs to servers and then being redirected out to the client,” he says. “For that, the bigger the pipe you have, the better off you will be. CAT 6 will run 10 Gbit/s applications . . . and if you have multiple servers and SANS, you can effectively implement at 10 Gbit/s network.”

Colin Padley, president of Netversity, believes more companies will, in fact, over time move to CAT 6a as CAT 5e will soon reach a limit as to how much it can effectively carry and the every increasing convergence demands companies will place on their converged IP networks.

He also points to the fact that connectivity and cable manufactures are more heavily pushing CAT 6a products, suggesting a growing demand for the cable because of the increasing network and business demands companies have. Padley adds Netversity Solutions has spoken with some major Canadian companies about CAT 6a.

He says that it will likely first make its first major forays in vertical markets like medical, education and even in the hospitality industry where converged IP networks are being rapidly adopted and where bandwidth-intensive applications such as high-definition video are becoming the norm.

Richard Snyder, executive vice president of Carlisle, Pa.-based Z-Band Inc., an OEM that sells an RF broadband video distribution System that broadcasts satellite, cable TV, security cameras, and other video-on-demand (VOD) services overtwisted pair cable, says his company’s video distribution system uses CAT 5e/6 cabling and a one-piece video hub that delivers multiple video channels, as well as VoIP and other auxiliary functions such as streaming video.

A key market for this is the hospitality industry. Robert Stine, the company’s vice president of operations and engineering, says the reason the hotels and resorts are at the forefront for new structured cabling technologies and for IP convergence is that people are demanding more from their stays in places like hotels.

Today, guests are expecting such things as high-definition movies and televisions to be available in their rooms, along with such standards as Internet access.

“In today’s rapidly expanding communications world, video is fast becoming the media of choice to communicate, educate, train, inform and provide security in the workplace and institutions,” a fact sheet from the company states.

Ann Bartok is a Toronto-based freelance writer.