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Feature; Work continues In The CMS Space

It's going to take some time for intelligent cable management systems to become pervasive .

November 1, 2002  

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Glenn O’Donnell, program director with the consulting firm Meta Group based in Palmerton, Pa., is cautious when it comes to predicting what lies ahead for cable management systems (CMS). While the value of using intelligent algorithms cannot be disputed, it still remains a work-in-progress type of market.

“We’ve put a whole lot of investment into network management, but we’re really managing the applications, the protocols and the stuff that’s riding across the wires,” he says. “What we haven’t done much of in the past is actual manage systems for the wiring infrastructure itself mainly because it’s hard to do.

“There hasn’t been any way to accurately identify when a cable was disconnected or when a cable broke. The fact is when you go to a wiring closet and somebody is making changes to the cabling, the way we’ve managed that in the past is through the use of databases, but that involves humans and let’s face it, we’re error-prone.”

That is until recently. In the December 2001 issue of Cabling Systems, Fred Klerks, vice-president of business the Clear Edge, a provider of Web-based cable and change management systems, wrote that industry surveys indicate that 70 per cent of all service calls are cabling-related, and that technicians spend 80 per cent locating end-to-end connectivity and 20 per cent actually fixing it.

According to Klerks, the 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, which ultimately enables personnel to be more proactive in contributing to the profitability of a business.

“As networks have evolved into mission critical business systems, managing them has become increasingly difficult,” a Clear Edge white paper states. “The foundation of any network, whether it be a small 50 person firm or large multinational corporation, requires an effective management approach to cabling and electronic connectivity.

If the market has been sluggish to date, it’s because a typical CMS is not a cheap investment. “It does require modification of the cabling infrastructure and there is a certain amount of cost associated with that — as much as 20 per cent more,” says O’Donnell. “That’s an impediment, however if you do the ROI analysis and look at how long it takes you to find the problem so it can be fixed, that 20 per cent increase in the infrastructure cost can be justified.”

And while he predicts that it’s going to take “some time for this concept to become pervasive, mainly because it’s so different,” there has been a flurry of activity in the CMS space during the last 12 months.

Among a group of companies making some noise, he says, is Chicago-based iTracs Corp., a provider of intelligent cabling management systems. The fact it’s offering can retrofit to any cabling equipment and eliminate the need for an organization to replace its existing wiring, is viewed as a an industry-first.

The system, the company says, simplifies the management of the cabling infrastructure through automated discovery of all network devices and their connections, real-time detection of changes in network connectivity, and automatic updating of network documentation. It also identifies unauthorized changes, sends alerts when a problem is discovered, and issues work orders or trouble tickets to initiate corrective action for quickly restoring service to end users.

In June, it teamed up with Tyco Electronics to release AMPTRAC, a CMS offering that minimizes downtime, reduces IT staff workload, and streamlines moves, adds and changes (MACs). The system is made up Tyco’s AMP Netconnect premises cabling combined with proprietary patch panels, patch cords, sensors, analyzers and Itracs monitoring software. The software itself provides real-time access to analyzers over a LAN, WAN, Internet, or any TCP/IP network.

Itracs is not alone in this market. Last January, Fluke Networks Inc. formed technical alliances with cable management software vendors Tempo, Planet Associates and Clear Edge as well as with labeling vendors Brady and Silver Fox. The intent was to provide installers and end users with comprehensive documentation for an integrated documentation system.

“Many companies have jumped on the bandwagon to aid in producing sensible CMS solutions,” a Brady-Fluke position paper stated. “This includes manufacturers of premise wiring hardware, cable management and documentation software … Comprehensive documentation should be developed as an integral part of the cable plant design.

A properly-designed CMS, says O’Donnell, should allow network managers to instantly identify whether a problem is related to wiring or not. Having that ability, he adds, can make an enormous difference to an overall operation. “It’s a pain point that needs to be addressed,” he says.

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