Anyone who has spent time in the world of telecommunications cabling has seen the “spaghetti mess.” Competent cabling contractors build high-quality and well-installed networks consistent with industry management standards. But then entropy attacks, and disorganization conquers, transforming well-constructed telecommunications rooms into disheveled and disorganized messes.

Intentional and effective management of information technology (IT) racks is, ultimately, the only solution. But seeing both a need and a commercial opportunity, some manufacturers have designed solutions that can help prevent or even roll back such messes.

Patchcords

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. Messy IT rooms or not, wouldn’t it be great if contractors or IT staff members never had to pull and tug their way along patchcords to find the other ends?

That is the intent of the PatchSee patchcords, which have two plastic optical fibers (POFs) running throughout the length of each cord. The POFs are bent back 180 degrees inside the two RJ45 connector boots, so they face the user when a cord is installed in a patch panel. The system is completed by a handheld blinking light source (like a small flashlight) that fits over the boot of a PatchSee cord without detaching it from the patch panel. When the user turns on the light source, the POFs become two small, blinking luminous dots, which reveal the other end of the patchcord.

“With no further high-tech adjustments other than changing to PatchSee patchcords, [IT managers] get handling-labor savings, reduced patchcord inventory requirements, shorter network down times, and no need for identifying labels,” said Ken Eben, marketing/sales manager for Mitsubishi International, the North American supplier of the PatchSee system.

Intelligent patch systems

Intelligent patching solutions have a significantly higher level of functionality, but they come with a correspondingly higher cost. Similar to the PatchSee solution, an intelligent patching system provides visual assistance to on-site technicians, but it is more than just blinking lights on patch panels.

“It is a utility to provide system traceability from point-to-point and end-to-end,” said Michael Pula, MNS technical marketing manager at Panduit.

These systems provide extensive system-mapping capabilities, from user outlets and the equipment installed there, all the way back to switches and servers. They also automatically recognize and record moves, adds and changes any time someone plugs in or unplugs a patchcord, end-user device (e.g., computer, voice over Internet protocol phone) or other IP addressable network device.

Likewise, intelligent patching systems can predict and preauthorize rack changes. For example, when an IT manager authorizes changes to the physical network, he or she will pre-enter those changes into the intelligent patching system’s software. When the on-site technician enters the IT space and logs into the network there, the system guides him or her through those changes, using ordered blinking lights on the patch panels that correspond with the preprinted directions. To know what to do next, all the technician needs to do is look for the next blinking indicator light. Then, on completion, the system software can generate a report, documenting each move, regardless of whether or not it was preauthorized. In addition, an IT manager can remotely implement changes to the network from across a room or across a continent.

Worth the cost?

While the cost of an intelligent patch panel is significantly higher than that of a similar-count passive panel (by thousands of dollars), the increased control that such systems provide is, in the right situations, worth the cost. They have proven invaluable for many large enterprise systems, mission-critical systems, and systems spread over multiple locations.

“In modern networks, it’s all about risk management,” Pula said. “Intelligent patching systems anticipate and reduce potential risk to a network.”

These systems are becoming more compact, as well, thus requiring less rack space to implement. The best example may be the new Panduit PanView iQ system.

“This system is unique in that it consolidates all active management hardware into intelligent patch panels, which require no additional rack space,” Pula said.

Telecommunications contractors can expect intelligent patching systems to find more marketplace adoption. And while clients may perform the IT functions on those devices, contractors should be generally familiar with functionalities to effectively serve those clients. They also should be prepared for manufacturers requiring contractors to acquire specialized certifications to prevent the spaghetti bowls of the future.

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.