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The CMS Comes of Age

A good cable management system (CMS) can make a world of difference to the management and control of your organization's network infrastructure. It can also do wonders for the corporate bottom line.


December 1, 2001  


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Information is one of today’s most valuable commodities — and the lifeblood of many organizations. Businesses depend so heavily upon computers and telecommunications that being without these services can often result in lost revenue and communications chaos.

Industry surveys show that 70 per cent of all service calls are cabling related, and that technicians spend 80 per cent of their service call time searching for the problem and 20 per cent actually fixing it. Most of that 80 per cent is spent locating end-to-end connectivity, and this situation worsens when the connection spans multiple floors or buildings. This is hardly surprising when considering the amazing speed of growth of information technology (IT) and telecommunication infrastructures over the last decade and the scarcity of cost-effective tools available to manage these infrastructures.

Managing change and resolving problems within a network infrastructure can be a daunting process, especially if you do not have a clear view of the big picture. For instance, how does an IT manager know exactly what is on the network and where it is all connected? A cable management system (CMS) can help with all aspects of the management and control of the network infrastructure design, connectivity, configuration and ongoing changes and developments.

WHAT DO THEY DO?

A CMS is software that typically provides critical information on who is connected to what; where network or sub network infrastructure components are located; and how everything is connected.

These systems provide the functionality to manage and control structured cabling and campus networks, MAN and WAN network infrastructures, network equipment, and the connectivity for voice, data, video, power, security, fire safety, and environmental applications across the corporate enterprise. Today’s systems also include network design and documentation, physical connectivity and configuration management, network inventory/asset management and change management.

CMS inventory management can be provided for passive as well as active network components — the network’s wiring and cable plant (from hubs and PBXs to patch panels and wall plates) and all attached devices, including mainframes, servers and PCs. With a CMS, detailed information and reports about the network’s operability, physical connectivity, asset records and maintenance contracts can be provided.

Some of today’s leading CMS applications present a graphic visualization of the detailed network information, such as space and rack layouts, generated automatically from the system’s data repository.

CMS BENEFITS

A primary benefit of a CMS is that it enables IT and facility personnel to significantly reduce the time and cost of problem fixing and implementing change. This ultimately enables personnel to be more pro-active in contributing to the profitability of the business.

In addition, the movement of IT and facility personnel between companies means that knowledge moves with them. A vast proportion of IT time is spent learning about the network infrastructure at the expense of the organization. This knowledge should be in the hands of the company, in addition to individual IT and facility personnel.

With a CMS, a business can:

reduce the time and costs of the network infrastructure design process

reduce the time (and expense) needed for new IT and facility personnel to learn about the infrastructure

reduce the time and costs of Moves, Adds and Change (MAC) management

isolate and resolve network problems without appreciable downtime and cost

eliminate overspending on under-utilized circuits and equipment

improve the co-ordination of design, installation and operational activities

increase responsiveness to users and business needs

improve the ability to monitor and control costs

reduce the costs and time associated with diagnosing and servicing IT outages and changes in order to maximize business uptime.

Implementing a CMS must be based on sound and quantifiable business reasons. A good deal of work has been undertaken by leading research consultancies and vendors to qualify and quantify the cost benefits of implementing a CMS. The justification revolves around two key criteria. The first is the Return On Investment (ROI) — how quickly will the investment made into CMS be paid back? The second is the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) — how much will it cost to keep the system “fed” and up to date with valid and correct information? If it is going to cost more than current practices, without tangible and quantifiable cost savings, then why bother?

COST SAVINGS

A CMS can also provide significant cost savings to an organization when it comes to finding and fixing problems.

We have all experienced network downtime — it occurs, on average, about once a week. Studies have shown that the average network outage is 1.5 hours and usually impacts some 50 users on the affected network segment. If the average cost per user is US$70 per hour, there would be a productivity loss in access of US$275,000 annually.* Since a CMS allows a technician to find things faster, it can be shown that the “find and fix” time is decreased by up to 50 per cent for most companies deploying such a system.

Cost savings can also be realized when it comes to the inevitable MAC scenarios that most companies face. Companies typically move approximately 40 per cent of their employees each year, with an average labour cost of US$250 per move. The cost associated with using a CMS-driven methodology is US$95.10 — a savings of 62 per cent, or US$154.90 per move. Imagine the savings for a company that performs 20 moves per week — over the course of one year (and 1,000 moves), a savings of $154,900 can be realized.

TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP

Documenting a cabling infrastructure can be a time-consuming and expensive exercise that can be a complete waste of money if the company — from senior management to field technicians — is not committed to it.

Ideally, a CMS should be implemented when a company is re-locating, expanding or consolidating into a new facility. As this is a “green field site”, standards can be imposed on the various vendors to produce the cable plant information in certain formats, which will allow for easy importation into the CMS.

Some systems can be used to design the cable plant and produce the cable pull schedules and labels, while producing all the associated work orders necessary to manage the cable vendors and contractors. Some systems will also provide integration with cable test equipment to download cable numbers to the test equipment and allow test results to be uploaded into the CMS’ database.

A few systems also have extensive import and export data loading tools and templates that make it cost effective to document existing facilities. Pre-defined templates can save more than 70 per cent of data entry time. Comprehensive CMS equipment libraries will also allow new devices to be entered with speed and accuracy.

The real key is that the operation of the CMS should be as intuitive and easy as using an Internet Browser with “point and click” technologies. This way, CMS users need not be CAD operators or relational database experts to do their jobs.

A LOOK AT DOCUMENTATION

A CMS will provide comprehensive documentation of all communications assets and structured cable systems. With a CMS, you have a complete picture of your communications infrastructure, including all services, circuits, cabling, routes, connections, outlets and devices.

A system with the ability to generate work orders can be an effective way to manage multiple contractors or vendors. These work orders can be used as a means to track how effective a contractor or vendor is at handling emergencies, multiple projects and contractor-to-contractor communications. This type of system makes it possible to collect, manage and control all of the information needed to make quality decisions.

As with any complex system, documentation is essential for operating, changing, or analyzing today’s sophisticat
ed networks with their various components, interdependencies and capabilities. Complexity requires documentation that is sharable and available to those who are responsible for maintaining the distributed system. No single individual or ”brain trust” group, regardless of capability, can retain all the details of a complex network model in human memory. Such information must be recorded, consolidated and standardized in objective documentation, and then made available throughout the organization to those who need it, when they need it and how they need it.

DISASTER RECOVERY

Although the recent attack in New York conjure up awful memories, it is important to look at the value and immense benefits that a CMS can provide in disaster recovery scenarios.

Disaster comes in many forms and often strikes without warning. Developing an effective disaster recovery strategy not only safeguards your business’ data but also enables your company to sustain the disaster and continue operations. It is estimated that an hour of a downtime in the financial industry could lead to an excess of two million dollars in losses. The appropriate planning will help your company limit downtime, which will result in a substantial cost savings.

CMS products streamline what has historically been a complex and labour-intensive process. A system allows a company to quickly identify lost equipment and resources, and replace or re-route the connections to other locations and back-up facilities. A good CMS can quickly generate the necessary reports and place orders to replace damaged equipment.

CMS EVOLUTION

Providers of cable management software fall into two categories: those companies that aim their products and services primarily at the telecommunication carriers, and those companies that target major enterprise companies outside of the telecommunications sector.

CMS companies that aim their products and services primarily at the telecommunication carriers provide systems conforming, in part, to the Operational Support Systems (OSS) layer of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecommunication Network Model (TNM). These vendors focus on service provisioning tools that provide carriers with an inventory, WAN and cable plant infrastructure management, coupled with integration into synergistic systems and applications, such as service and logical network management systems, accounting and Helpdesk systems.

Other CMS companies target their products and services at major enterprise companies outside of the telecommunications sector. The enterprise sector consists of key industry sectors such as finance, transportation, utilities, retail and government. These CMS systems provide fast and effective importation tools, a true physical connectivity model, and inventory and desktop management, in addition to integration with cable testers, Helpdesk and SNMP-based network management systems and intelligent patch panels.

There are several types of systems available on the market. These systems range from low-end, single-user software, to systems driven by relational databases with links to CAD and graphical applications, through to Web Intranet systems and Application Server Provider (ASP) CMS hosted services.

WHO NEEDS IT?

A variety of professionals, from network technicians to cable designers can benefit from a CMS. With a good system, network technicians will be able to ensure that MAC projects stay on schedule. They will also be able to validate that network installations match accompanying documentation, instantly access network designs and connectivity information, and attribute data, as well as status and user information, to anywhere within the enterprise network.

Network engineers can also benefit from a CMS. With a system, engineers can quickly and cost-effectively implement customer service requests to resolve problems, update work orders and inform the customer and other parties when the problem has been fixed. Network designers can create new designs and track changes to existing designs with a CMS, and also keep track of the variations that occur between the “as design” and the “as installed”.

Finance and administrative staff can obtain inventory, asset, user, and service information quickly for billing, reconciliation and budgetary requirements.

Cable designers and installers can use the CMS to provide detailed cable pull schedules, labels, work orders and schematics for implementation, while keeping track of the instructional variations and generating the appropriate change orders.

System integrators and design and facility consultants can use the CMS to deliver sophisticated designs and engineering information for LANs, WANs and MANs. These personnel can also integrate the CMS with customer-required software or systems, developing customized interfaces to legacy systems, as well as network element and workflow management systems.

THE IMPORTANCE OF STANDARDS

The Telecommunication Industry Association (TIA) has developed, and recently updated, a set of standards for the administration of telecommunication infrastructures of commercial buildings. One important standard is ANSI/TIA/EIA-606-93.

The purpose and intent of this standard is to provide a uniform administration scheme that is independent of applications, which may change several times throughout the life of a building. This standard establishes guidelines for owners, end users, manufacturers, consultants, contractors, designers, installers and facility administrators involved in the administration of the telecommunications infrastructure or related administration system.

When selecting a CMS, make sure that the system conforms to the 606 standard. If the system does not conform to this standard, make sure you get a commitment in writing from the vendor stating the product will conform to the standard at no cost.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

There are several new developments in the CMS arena of late. One of the many developments has been the introduction of the “intelligent patch panel” auto-discovery CMS. The auto-discovery facility allows the CMS to detect and record port connections. These systems are dependent on compatible hardware in the form of patch cord cables with embedded sensors coupled to scanning devices, which poll each port to see if it is connected. When intelligent patch panels are implemented in green field sites or new cabling projects, results show an ROI in months versus years.

There are a few other developments that have had a great impact on the usability of the CMS and the improvement of the ROI. For instance, the development of the handheld PC has enabled Web-centric CMS vendors to incorporate the browser’s functionality to allow field technicians to undertake work and change orders at remote sites and immediately update the CMS via the Internet or wireless cellular connection. This capability improves the accuracy of the data and encourages staff to keep the system up to date.

Power management is another area receiving much attention these days. The growth and proliferation of networking equipment in communication closets and rooms has been going on unchecked. Similarly, the amount of IT-related equipment has dramatically increased. This burden on the power supply has lead to power blackouts in buildings throughout Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. The challenge is to develop a power module that co-exists with the CMS or in a standalone mode that will calculate loading factors on a per device, per rack, per UPS, per floor, per building, per phase, per PDU, per back-up generator basis. A number of CMS vendors are working with customers and facility management vendors to this end.

LOOKING AHEAD

Many organizations that are considering buying a system usually find that establishing the “need” requirements causes the biggest headache, as the CMS system cuts across many of the traditional departmental boundaries. This causes friction and creates unrealistic priorities, and many CMS projects die at this point. Without effective leadership and senior management commitment, the CMS project will not suc
ceed.

In general, make sure that the CMS system you are considering:

adheres to both industry and corporate standards

provides horizontal and riser cabling

provides copper and fiber cabling

provides data network and telephony systems

provides market data systems

provides inter- and intra-building networks

provides pathway capacity and thresholds

has the ability to provide true MAC management

provides product features to aid the day-to-day administration requirements

supports corporate hardware platform and RDBMS

provides an open interface structure, such as XML, to integrate with other synergistic systems

provides data importation templates for easy bulk data loading

provides product scalability using server and ASP systems

supports standard Internet browser with intuitive user-friendly interface enabled ease of use and simplifies training

is backed up by vendor experience, customer references and site visits, or user telephone discussions

Organizations may opt to use outside consultants, avoiding the political “in-fighting,” to advise and recommend a CMS. Be careful: many consulting firms claim to have the expertise, but very few have practical experience in implementing these systems. It is common for many of these firms to use the opportunity to “learn on the job” at the customer’s expense. However, theory and best practice can be worlds apart and can impact the ROI and TCO.

Lastly, a CMS must be easy to use and maintain. If it is not, it will likely end up gathering dust on your shelf.CS

*Figures derived from an IDC study carried out in 1994 and updated from the work of the author while working at Cambio Networks.

Fred Klerks is VP of Business at the CLEAR Edge, of Berkeley Heights, NJ, an international provider of web-centric cable and change management systems. He has more than 24 years of experience in network management consulting and solution integration. Prior to joining The CLEAR Edge, Mr. Klerks was VP of Sales, Europe for Planet Associates and CTO for Cambio Networks, where he was instrumental in specifying and developing the company’s original cable management documentation software.


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