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Focus on… Engineering & Design: The lost mile

In an effort to reduce discrepancies between the actual network and the network maps on paper, many organizations have turned to automated systems.


November 1, 2001  


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During the past ten years, high tech companies grew significantly and began to expand their network infrastructures. However, most of these companies did not develop labelling or mapping systems that would allow them to keep close tabs on the location and exact quantity of their cabling infrastructure. This overbuilding and lack of infrastructure record keeping has led to significant inefficiencies within these organizations.

This problem is starkly highlighted during economic downturns, when necessity to generate the most production from the least resources is on the top of every company’s priority list. While the acquisition of additional equipment during times of expansion was an acceptable practice at this time last year, market pressures and economic uncertainty have recently forced organizations to reassess their expenditures, especially those costs that do not have an apparent, positive impact on revenue.

MAKING CHANGES

Because of these economic forces, IT departments — which had grown accustomed to unlimited resources — have been forced to remake themselves into smaller revenue centres. Estimates show that as much as 70 per cent of network downtime is caused by improperly mapped infrastructure. This means an organization’s success can literally rest upon its ability to maintain a current database of its cabling systems.

As the goal of reducing expenditures becomes increasingly important, corporations are focusing on the costs associated with networks, forcing them to maintain accurate records.

On the flip side of these cost reductions is the trend of IT departments to affix monetary values to network downtime. Many companies across a wide range of industries have discovered that for every hour their networks are down, thousands of dollars are wasted in employee productivity and troubleshooting expenditures.

Attributing monetary value to downtime validates the need for secure, accurate, Web-based infrastructure management that is built into the physical layer of the network. Intelligence at the physical network layer not only assists an IT department with maintaining accurate records and reducing downtime, but helps justify expenditures for hardware expansion when necessary.

FROM DATA ROOM TO DESKTOP

The challenges of balancing an increasing number of users on a growing data network and meeting current business demands for immediate access, create a paradox in which new users are added to the network without proper assessment of port availability. As a result of improperly catalogued ports, new equipment is often unnecessarily purchased and a number of cables are left unaccounted for — what can be referred to as “the lost mile.”

In most circumstances, unauthorized moves, adds and changes (MACs) are not carried out maliciously, but are executed by support personnel in an effort to correct existing problems. For example, if a CEO’s workstation is down, IT staff does whatever is necessary to make it work again — including switching the location of the CEO’s data port. Everyday situations such as this cause cable management records to become inaccurate over time. This ultimately leads to the acquisition of excess equipment, simply because there is no certainty about how many ports are available for new users.

In addition, there are often times when IT staff disconnect patchcords to discover whether a port is actually in use. If no one complains, the port is considered to be available and is given to someone else. This method can work, unless the person who should be connected to that port comes back from vacation and reports a non-functioning PC. However, most network managers will not run the risk of inadvertent disconnects, so the alternative is to purchase additional hardware.

Often, companies that do attempt to map port connectivity keep records manually, with network diagrams tracked on spreadsheets or in written documents. These are insufficient methods for maintaining connectivity records in dynamic organizations, as frequent personnel changes quickly render even the best paper records inaccurate.

In an effort to reduce discrepancies between the actual network and the network maps on paper, many organizations have turned to automated systems.

DISCOVERING THE LOST MILE

Automated documenting systems come in several varieties, from purely software-based applications to a combination of physical network intelligence and sophisticated software. By adding a layer of intelligence to the data network, IT managers are given a real-time snapshot of existing network infrastructure, and records are changed and updated as MACs occur.

The most sophisticated systems can even incorporate security features that will create alarm conditions to notify the proper personnel when unauthorized MACs are made to the network. These alarms can be as simple as automatic audio messages triggered in the wiring closet to warn the culprit that the change is “unauthorized.” In addition, an e-mail alert can be sent to a network manager, complete with a picture of the person responsible for the change.

One of the biggest advantages of today’s intelligent infrastructure systems is the integration of the Internet and Web-related services to mission-critical support functions. Intelligent physical networks become even stronger tools in maintenance, accuracy and system uptime when records are readily available online. This enables IT managers to remain up-to-date on the status of a company’s networking infrastructure, regardless of where in the world they may be located.

As a result of these advancements, companies can no longer view their networks by geographical domain structure, but must consider them as transparent global communications vehicles for all information needs. Globalization makes accurate physical layer management even more crucial to saving time and money.

WHAT LIES AHEAD

While there is an increased need for organizational and network efficiencies, convergent technologies have also started to infiltrate the corporate communications structure — further stressing the data network. This demand for large-scale, mission-critical data transfer has escalated at an exponential rate as organizations begin to feel the impact of convergence.

As a result of this trend, the network is no longer used solely as an e-mail and Web facilitator, but rather as a technology that enables advanced functionality such as application sharing, mobile access device usage and voice transmissions. The resultant increase in necessary bandwidth has begun to strain the network in ways that require a more hands-on approach to its operation.

Convergence will make network performance even more mission-critical than it is now. As companies continue to rely more heavily on the data network for voice, video and mobile access, knowing how the network is performing at all times and being able to pinpoint individual failures will become critical applications of intelligent networking systems.CS

Jonathan Blitt is president of ITT Industries, Network Systems & Services – Americas. He has extensive experience in the telecom and infrastructure industries, and has worked for such companies as Metropolitan Fiber Systems and AT&T. Most recently, he was president of Allied Global.

Anthony Cicero is Director of Technology at ITT Industries, Network Systems & Services – Americas. Before joining ITT, he was VP of the office automation department for HSBC Bank in New York and a senior engineer and product manager for American Express.

Many companies across a wide range of industries have discovered that for every hour their networks are down, thousands of dollars are wasted in employee productivity and troubleshooting expenditures.


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