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Intelligent Cabling & the ITIL

If high availability, converged networks are to become a reality, a fundamental change in network infrastructure change control, configuration and problem management processes will be required.


September 1, 2007  


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Corporate information networks of the 21st century have become the core upon which successful organizations are based and their competitive advantage derived.

The critical nature of the corporate network is beyond doubt and its importance as the primary source of commercial activity and communication is growing exponentially. Consequently, there is a rapidly growing demand for network infrastructures that offer levels of IT service availability akin to those provided under a utility business model.

This demand has also been fuelled by the trend toward the convergence of voice, data and video services, to include non-traditional IT service systems (HVAC controls, Lighting controls, IP security surveillance and access control systems), a move which will only be possible if the near 100%, 24/7 service availability currently enjoyed by voice networks is not compromised.

The migration toward the goal of high availability, converged corporate networks is set to provide a considerable challenge to those wishing to reap the undoubted business benefits.

It will require system downtime reductions in excess of 80% to achieve this goal, however, it is extremely unlikely that improvements of this magnitude can be delivered by the manual infrastructure management systems and processes in use today.

If high availability, converged networks are to become a reality, a fundamental change in network infrastructure change control, configuration and problem management processes is required.

The realization that the 100% availability of IT services will assume ever-greater significance has led to the introduction of IT Service Management. Setting the benchmark for ‘best practice’ in service management is ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library), which has been adopted as the de-facto global standard.

While past attempts at service improvements were primarily focused on investments in technology, the ITIL approach differs in that it defines the processes within the particular services to be performed, thereby providing a ‘best practice’ framework for continuous IT service delivery and management.

Change management

At the core of the ITIL framework is the network configuration and change management processes. The accuracy and quality of the information contained within the main configuration management database (CMDB) is fundamental in ensuring the effectiveness, efficiency and quality of all associated IT Service Management processes, particularly in complex environments.

Similarly, the management of changes to this information is also critical as the network manager must know the exact implications of carrying out any changes before they take place. Avoiding the potential for a ‘butterfly effect’ to develop as a result of a poorly executed change or problem resolution is essential if 100% service availability is to be maintained.

Creating such systems and processes based upon a traditionally managed cabling infrastructure is an impossible task, as the connectivity and asset information contained within traditional tools and documentation processes, being manually maintained, is inevitably inaccurate, outdated and therefore cannot be integrated into the core CMDB. This creates a large degree of uncertainty concerning the physical location and associated connectivity and accountability of network devices. It also severely limits the quality of IT service delivery and management.

By adopting the correct “intelligent cabling management system,” which involves both hardware and software tools as a key part of their cabling strategy, organizations can create a platform capable of addressing these problems, providing a 100% accurate, real-time, trusted source of connectivity and asset information that can be integrated within the core CMDB and consequently, the associated IT Service Management tools and processes.

Any physical changes to the network configuration are automatically updated and reflected across all management processes, aiding communication between organizational work-streams and co-ordinating events.

Market acceptance growing

Intelligent cabling infrastructure management systems have been on the market in excess of five years from a number of different manufacturers.

Most importantly, they have experienced continuance improvements both in hardware and software plus overall reduction in price and ease of installation.

Now it is possible to say that reliable, cost-effective systems are on the market, which meet the needs and requirements of an effective cabling infrastructure management system to support IT services.

Market acceptance over the past five years has been mixed depending upon the industry and the customer location. No doubt the industry that has accepted the intelligent cabling infrastructure systems has been the financial industry closely followed by any customer data or call centre locations.

Other industries where adoption is strong are communications and media providers, health care and government institutions.

Oddly enough, the deployment of intelligent cabling systems have seen the greatest adoption in what would be considered the “developing countries” such as India, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Mexico and Russia. The country of exception would be the United Kingdom where this technology was first introduced and has seen widespread adoption based on the recognized benefits.

In Canada and the U.S., adoption has been slow, but growing with indications that numerous enterprise customers are giving strong considerations.

The primary reason that adoption has been slow here and in the U.S., is likely because intelligent cabling management systems are most cost-effectively implemented with new builds and major renovations versus trying to retrofit existing cabling systems. Additionally, it is often difficult to the reach the decision maker who oversees this area, and to get them to understand that there are now new and better methods

First and foremost, the customer needs to insure that the system supports their IT service practices and provides them the information that they need 24 hours, 7 days a week and that the process ensures 100% accuracy of the information.

The software along with the hardware must provide an automated, accurate, real-time physical layer management system.

This combined system should proactively respond to changes in connectivity and intelligently record your cabling system and its devices with accurate documentation. It should offer an integrated work order system, which can use the compiled information to provide automated design and change recommendations as well as monitoring the work order progress, therefore eliminating time-consuming, often paper laden manual work order processes.

From the hardware prospective, the customer needs to be assured that the system fully supports all the various cabling solutions available to include unshielded and shielded twisted-pair, and fiber optics to include 62.5, laser-optimized 50 and single-mode in the various connector types (Duplex SC, MT-RJ, and Duplex LC).

Especially for data and call centre applications the system should support the plug-and-play solutions involving MPO for fiber optics and MRJ21 for copper.

The hardware should be easy to install and most significantly not only support cross-connect applications (between patch panels), but also interconnect applications (between patch panel and switch).

Of significant importance is that the hardware system needs to be self-discovering of connectivity in the case of power, system or network outages so that information remains accurate and up-to-date.

What to look for

Additionally, it should support massive connective changes but not requiring patch cords to be removed sequentially or having to follow blinking LED lights, which would require mandatory use of a work order system. It needs to allow multiple technicians to work at the same time and to remove, add
and change patch cords in whatever way is most efficient for business continuity.

The hardware system should be fully-integrated with the software system to provide the technician in the telecommunications closet with the information and alerts necessary for them to perform their assigned work actions. It should also provide them access to their assigned work actions, both connectivity and general.

It should provide the technician with immediate positive or negative feedback on performing connectivity changes, such as good or bad audible tones. Finally, it should immediately feed into the software database connectivity changes, specifically the completion of work actions, as well as provide the technician the ability to input the completion or issues associated with general work actions.

The software in conjunction with the hardware needs to provide the following:

Real-Time Monitoring — this automates the process of discovering, documenting, monitoring, and managing the physical network’s connections and its devices.

Location Based IP-Device Discover — the system needs to not only discover IP-devices attached to the network and their status but also correlate that to the connectivity database to provide its physical location.

Flexible Alert System — the ability to send out alerts to designated individuals based on a flexible filter system based on such items as location, time, authorized or unauthorized changes.

Comprehensive and Flexible Work Order System – the ability to assign access rights and privileges as determined by the administrator allowing authorized users to select proposed moves of workstations, phones, printers or other equipment. Moves can be performed singly or in bulk, as in departmental relocation. The system should automatically generate auto-routing, and a step-by-step work order and schedule, which can be accepted or revised by the user. Tasks should be able to be divided and distributed between various supervisors and technicians. Work orders should include connectivity traces, wiring closet diagrams and floor plans.

Detailed Reports — the software needs to provide a library of detailed reports of cable, port and asset utilization and physical configurations. These reports are invaluable to network administrators and asset managers.

In conclusion, the adoption and implementation of an intelligent cabling and infrastructure management system can insure the optimization of ITIL processes and the resulting improvements in work-stream productivity and efficiency, ensuring organizations that automate and integrate the management of the physical layer as an integral part of the IT Service Management platform, will attain the goal of continuous service delivery and maximize the ROI on their IT investments.

Tony Beam is the product management director for AMPTRAC Connectivity Management System from AMP NETCONNECT, a division of Tyco Electronics. He can be reached at tebeam@tycoelectronics.com