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No doom, no gloom

Analysts are projecting that the structured cabling industry will see increased activity in 2007 in a number of areas. Two that stand out are data centres and the digital home market.


November 1, 2006  


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Much of the work in the years ahead will be devoted to the Internet, primarily to make it more interactive, characterized by what some futurists call Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004. Web 2.0 refers to a second-generation of Internet-based services — such as social networking sights, wikis, and other communication tools — that allow people to easily collaborate and share information online in previously unavailable ways.

Social networking will likely spark another increase in Internet deals centred on online entertainment, collaboration and community building. For example, when Google Inc. agreed to buy YouTube Inc., a video entertainment site for US$1.65-billion in stock in October, it was the highest price paid for a consumer-generated media site.

YouTube, a Silicon Valley upstart that has spearheaded the video-sharing craze, grew in 19 months from a start-up in a garage to serving up 100 million videos daily. It is likely that many more billion-dollar deals for the new generation of user-participation weB sites are in the making.

Such market activity bodes well for the structured cabling industry in a number of ways. For one, network planners have to address the need for a highly secure and fast Internet that can eventually carry gigabits per second of voice, data and video to both commercial and residential users.

That being the case, most analysts predict that the structured cabling industry will see increased activity in 2007 and beyond in the following six areas: network security, agile optical networks, interactive Internet, fiber optic cable, data centres and, of course, 10-Gigabit Ethernet.

10-Gigabit Ethernet: Ethernet technology, which dates to the early 1980s, has advanced to meet the increasing needs of packet-based networks.

“Ethernet’s popularity has grown that nearly all traffic on the Internet originates or terminates with an Ethernet connection,” states a recent white paper from Intel Corp.

The 10-Gigabit Ethernet standard (IEEEE 802.3ae) written chiefly for fiber optic cable not only increases the speed of the Ethernet to 10 Gbps, but also extends the working distance to 40 kilometres when operating in single-mode fiber.

“The advantages of reaching new distances give companies who manage their LAN environments the option to extend their data centre to a more cost-effective location,” Intel says.

It looks as if 10-Gigabit Ethernet will become a de-facto standard. In September, NetXen Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., announced that its network controllers have been integrated into Hewlett-Packard’s 10-Gigabit Ethernet network adapters, thus bringing 10-GBE to the mainstream market. “Customers have been excited about 10-Gigabit Ethernet technology, but they have not been sure about how to start deploying it,” said Jean Bozman, research vice-president in IDC’s global enterprise solutions group. “HP is one of the largest players in the x86 server market worldwide, and thus has a significant influence in driving market trends and adoption of new technologies.”

As for copper and Ethernet, it has a decided future, albeit for shorter distances. The 10GBASE-T standard uses Category 6 or Category 7 cable. Augmented Category 6 cable designed to reduce cross-talk between UTP cables would allow 10GBASE-T deployment at the full 100 metres distance specified for LAN wiring.

It will work over shorter distances, up to about 56 metres, with existing cabling, with the possibility of longer distances, up to 100 metres, for new cable installations designed for 10GBase-T.

Most of the world uses shielded cable, Canada and the U.S. being notable exceptions. Mark Maloney, senior consultant (telecom standards and practices) with Toronto-based Ehvert Engineering and a member of the CNS editorial advisory board, says that “now that we are into augmented Cat 6, there is a lot more talk about using shielded cable.”

Data Centres: The burgeoning market for 10-Gigabit Ethernet is expected to hit 10 million units in 2010, with almost 50% of these links over copper, reports the Dell’Oro Group, a market research firm based in Redwood City, Calif. More than 70% of the current enterprise and data-centre links are 50 metres or less.

The fact that copper has closed the transmission gap and can deliver equivalent performance, over reasonable distances, but at a much-reduced cost has necessitated a re-think for the fiber business.

“There has always been a buzz about low-cost fiber, but sticking with copper and making it work is what data-centre people are interested in,” says Tony Stelliga, chairman and CEO of Quellan Inc., a manufacturer of analog components in Santa Clara, Calif.

Stelliga says that for data centres, copper is superior to fiber in that it still costs less, generates less heat, and there is no need to digitalize the signal.

For example, Quellan in partnership with W.L. Gore, a cable maker based in Delaware, has designed a low-power 4 mm x 7 mm analogue chip that is inserted into connectors.

The chip extends the reach of copper cable to more than 50 metres, chiefly by eliminating the noise and boosting the signal. As Joel Goergen, vice-president of technology for Force 10 Networks in San Jose, Calif., puts it: “Extending these links with low-power embedded silicon is extremely valuable and will accelerate 10-Gigabit copper deployment.”

Fiber Optics: That certainly does not mean that fiber optic cable’s future is bleak. Its fortunes are linked somewhat to the price of copper, which has risen 72% this year to about US$3.50 a pound.

As with oil and other commodities, much of this price increase is a consequence of rising global demand due to economic growth, particularly in places like China and India. As the price of copper increases, fiber optics becomes a more economically attractive choice, notably when comparing it to augmented Category 6 structured cable, say fiber advocates.

“At 10-Gig, the price differential has all but disappeared,” says Jeff Hoffstetter, strategic relations manager for Toronto-based Anixter Canada Inc., a supplier of communication products and electrical and electronic wire and cable. Hoffstetter says that Category 6 is being pushed to its limits, which will become noticeable if 100-Gigabit ever becomes the standard. “With fiber, if you look beyond 10-Gig to 100-Gig, copper can’t perform.”

Given the interest in high bandwidth applications, it’s only a matter of time, Hoffstetter predicts, that 10-Gbps will become the norm. “You don’t need to have the applications that require 10-Gig, but once you have one-Gig, there’s no in-between — 10 Gig is the next step.”

Perhaps so. Yet, the cost of such high-end Ethernet cable will likely make businesses more cautious to install it, particularly if most do not require such bandwidth for applications like spreadsheets and word processing. “I am suspicious of all of this talk of 10-Gig to the desktop,” says Maloney. “Customers are just now starting to use one-Gig.”

Fiber-to-the-Home: One expected significant area of growth for fiber, however, is in new home construction, where the price difference between copper and fiber has shrunk to about $200 per home.

According to Jim Hayes, president of California-based Fiber Optic Association, it’s a technology that is going to spread very rapidly simply because homeowners expect the service. “We are ready for high definition over the Internet, and the only way to do it effectively is via fiber to the home. IP TV is what is really driving all this,” he says.

Technological advancement is undoubtedly creating a market. “The big homebuilders have discovered structured cabling,” Hayes says. “People will pay big money to have structured cabling in their new homes.”

To be sure, the Internet is facing a transformation with the specific aim of giving users more control of the content, thus service providers such as cable companies and telcos are morphing into content providers.

In addition, it seems as if the residential consumer are dri
ving the market changes that are currently in the planning stages. “Various statistics show that by 2011, the bandwidth from consumers will exceed the bandwidth from businesses,” says Ken Davidson, vice-president of marketing for Meriton Networks in Ottawa, a maker of agile optical networks.

“Users are working to have a more interactive experience. In five years, viewers will be able to interact with reality TV shows, rather than being passive viewers.”

Interactive Internet: Simply put, entertainment to the home will drive bandwidth increases, where at least 20 Mbps will be the consumer standard for Internet TV (IPTV), double the current fastest DSL and broadband cable speeds of 10 Mbps.

The structured cabling industry will benefit from these changes and enter a golden period, driven to a large degree by the need for increased bandwidth and advances made in both copper and fiber-based technologies.

As Davidson puts it, “the real requirement right now is not only to provide the pipe — whether copper or fiber — the drive is to push high-capacity pipes with various technologies to the user.”

If the shift to the consumer marker takes place, as predicted, network planners have a challenge, because, as Davidson says, “current models have a hard time of predicting when a spike in bandwidth will occur.”

This might become problematic when IPTV takes off and, say, 52 million subscribers are all concurrently viewing and interacting in real-time with a particularly popular media show.

Agile Optical Networks: Such a scenario is tailor-made for an agile optical network, or AON, which allows operators to remotely tune the bandwidth requirements almost instantaneously rather than in days, the latter requiring physically splicing the fiber and routing services over various strands or wavelengths.

“AON can deliver benefits such as greater service delivery flexibility and reduced network deployment risks, substantively changing the financial paradigm of new network rollouts,” says Daryl Inniss, vice president of communications components for Ovum-RHK, a U.K.-based IT and telecom consulting firm.

“The market for optical networking modules is rapidly transitioning from fixed to agile solutions — the agile optical networking module penetration of the over-all segment is expected to grow from 20% in 2004 to more than 60% in 2008.”

Although AON is inextricably linked to fiber optics, Davidson says that copper will be around for a while, mainly because, as he puts it, “copper is already attached to the house and the infrastructure is already in place.”

The challenge is to install the DSL equipment close enough to the user and ensure that the copper is of sufficient quality to support high-speed. If you can solve these two conditions, then you can use the current copper infrastructure.”

Telus Communications Inc. and Bell Canada have shown interest in AON as a way to upgrade their infrastructure to meet the pent-up demands from consumers for more bandwidth. “They have little choice,” says Ken Davidson of Ottawa-based Meriton Networks Inc., makers of AON equipment. ” Rogers is way ahead in their network infrastructure.”

Network Security: Security is also a growing business. For example, when AT&T Corp. surveyed 250 chief executives of global companies, network security came out as the most critical barrier to a converged IP, says Kees Voss, global portfolio management director for

AT & T Security Services in the Netherlands. “Before convergence becomes an everyday reality, clients and users must have faith that the IP network is secure from viruses, Trojans and other malicious attacks.”

With that in mind, the company has developed a network-security technology that monitors Internet traffic and provides a threat assessment that it forwards to clients before the threat takes place. Its alert-notification system analyses Internet traffic, which on the AT&T network alone is 4.5 TB a day, looking for abnormal patterns.

The threats are many. For example, AT&T’s technology has intercepted more than 3,000 viruses, worms and since January 2004. The company says that its alert-notification system, for example, would have provided an early warning to the notorious Slammer worm at least two weeks earlier than its attack date of Jan. 26, 2003. The compact program, only 376 bytes, was deadly accurate, spreading faster than any other worm ever seen, infecting the majority of vulnerable hosts within 10 minutes of appearing on the Internet and some 75,000 hosts over-all.

To be sure, for the Internet and the Web in particular to progress to Web 2.0, as futurists and planners see it becoming, it must be highly secure, though not at the cost of accessibility.

Voss foresees a day within the next decade when worms, viruses and denial of service attacks will be nothing more than a bad memory. Security technology will eventually triumph over the malcontents and mischief-makers responsible for such subversive attacks on the Internet. “In 10 years, we won’t be having this discussion,” he says.

Perry Greenbaum, a freelance business and technology writer, can be reached at pjgreenbaum@gmail.com.

SHOULD CABLING BE GETTING THE SHAFT?

By Robert Horne

As a cabling infrastructure designer and RCDD, I have often wondered if there is a better way to run riser backbone cabling in a building? If you are like me, this question might have kept you up nights trying to figure out a better mousetrap.

Working recently with one of our clients to help them better manage their riser pathways in multi-tenant office buildings I happened on what just might be the solution.

After many years of guessing or using the worst-case fire rating of a telecommunications room (TR) wall or floor, I sold a client on the idea of bringing in a codes expert.

I’ve been around long enough to know that the only person to use in Ottawa is Judy Jeske, senior codes consultant with Morrison Hershfield, a specialty engineering company with offices across Canada.

I knew that whatever Judy said, was pretty much what the city accepted. I met with her and asked her to review the TRs and typical floor plate of the buildings and to give me a report that clearly stated what the fire rating was on all walls, floor and ceiling.

With the report in hand, we then created a diagram of each closet with the fire ratings clearly posted, laminated each diagram and posted them in the TRs.

It was while talking with Judy about the mess we find in most core holes, and how many are so overfilled that doing an adequate fire-rating job was next to impossible that she gave me the idea.

I asked her what my alternatives were to fire-rating the core holes. The ideal would be to have multiple open slots with ladder or basket tray attached to the walls to support the vertical cables, but how would you fire rate that.

Judy thought for a moment and said the easiest thing would be to make the rooms part of a fire-rated shaft. Basically, just ensure that two-hour rated doors are used in the TRs, and make sure that all walls are rated to two hours.

What is created is a vertical shaft that requires no firestopping between floors, only when exiting the shaft horizontally

Oh, the fire-rated shaft. Now, this topic may not get your engine revved up, but for me a solution to one of the biggest headaches for telecommunications designers and building operators would really be a coup.

I like to think outside the box because sometimes that is where the best ideas come from. Look at a problem from a different angle and stop doing things the same old way when times and market conditions have changed.

I’m sure I’m not the first to think of this, but I’d sure like more people to talk about it and start implementing it. Why? A fire-rated shaft for low-voltage cabling would not require any firestop when installing cabling vertically from TR to TR.

In addition:

* A fire-
rated shaft with slots along the walls would most likely mean never having to do core-hole drilling in a TR again.

* A fire-rated shaft would only require fire-stop when exiting the TR horizontally through one of the four walls. Most new and innovative mechanical assemblies address horizontal wall penetrations. Need a new hole in one of the walls? No problem, because it probably means no X-rays and no structural engineers.

* Slots have much greater capacity than sleeves, which is becoming an issue as more and more carriers want access to tenants on each floor, and

* Slots can be assigned to each carrier or type of cabling for better management and control.

As cabling designers we need to communicate these issues and solutions to architects and engineers whenever and wherever possible.

Also, talk to your clients when they are contemplating a new building and get them on your side.

You’ll need champions at every turn when you ask people to change something they’ve been doing the same way for ever and ever. But things have changed. Telco monopolies are gone and multiple service providers now must have a way to get cabling to any floor in a building.

This now means finding a way to manage multiple types and diameters of cables through core holes that were never meant to accommodate this.

More importantly it also means having to firestop core holes with variations that are too many and complex for manufactures of firestop assemblies to test. For building owners and property managers, that’s a liability nightmare.

There has to be a better way so why not give cabling the “fire-rated shaft” for a change?

Robert Horne is one of the principles of The Attain Group Inc., an Ottawa-based independent telecommunications consulting firm. He can be reached at Robert.horne@theattaingroup.com

CERTIFIED CABLE INSTALLERS IN DEMAND SOUTH OF THE BORDER

Many parts of the United States are facing a shortage of skilled cable installers, a result of the recent building boom and the move to bring structured cabling to homes. For example, when Verizon Communications Inc. had a shortage of 800 technicians to install fiber, it had to access the fiber association’s database of schools to fill the need in the northeast U.S., says Jim Hayes, president of California-based Fiber Optic Association, an international non-profit professional society for the fiber-optic industry. “There is a need for several thousand more people in the U.S. capable of installing structured cable in homes.”

METRO ETHERNET MARKET HEADING INTO MAJOR GROWTH MODE

Led by strong growth in Ethernet over copper and cable products and carrier Ethernet switches and routers, worldwide sales of Metro Ethernet equipment will surge, from just under US$5 billion in 2005 to over US$15 billion in 2009, a new report by Infonetics Research has found.

According to the report, “Metro Ethernet Equipment Worldwide Market Size and Forecasts,” Metro Ethernet equipment sales will accumulate US$49.6 billion over the five-year period between 2005 and 2009.

“Ethernet has almost universal appeal to carriers and their customers because it helps lower their telecom costs,” says Michael Howard, principal analyst and co-founder of Infonetics Research.

“Service providers increasingly deploy Ethernet solutions for a variety of uses, but mainly to offer new revenue-generating services.”

The two most popular types of Ethernet equipment are Ethernet over copper and cable and carrier-class Ethernet switches and routers, which together will make up over two-thirds of the overall Metro Ethernet market by 2009.

Ethernet access devices (EADs) are a particularly fast-growing segment and are expected to reach about US$685 million by 2009, the report says