The network has become the do-all method of connectivity that provides a host of systems and services on its infrastructure. Interoperability, connectivity and convergence are the buzzwords of both the security market and the information technology (IT) industries, and the network continues to be the backbone to get the job done.

After all, it’s the Internet protocol (IP) intercoms, access control, video surveillance and more that can navigate the network freely. Where cabling is not practical or possible, there are wireless and mesh networks to piggyback systems—either as a stand-alone or a hybrid solution blending hardwired cabling and radio frequency infrastructures.

The Ethernet has long been the method of communication at the commercial premises and there is more potential than ever when it comes to this method of connectivity. Interoperability is at an all-time high, and installers will continue to see the release of more software and other devices to allow end-users and their formerly noncompatible systems to get in sync with building functions in a turnkey fashion. For retrofit IP applications, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater to get started. There are a host of products that can use the existing Ethernet more effectively—even turn analog cameras into data-hauling devices—with a little hardware and software assisting in the transformation.

New construction projects bring talk of the future to the planning table when it comes to network capacities. With transmission speeds at 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) becoming the latest standard of networking communications and 40 Gbps close on its heels, planning the infrastructure has become one of the most important considerations in deploying an intelligent, future-forward building solution to the customer.

According to James Carlini, a certified infrastructure consultant and principal of Carlini & Associates Inc. in East Dundee, Ill., intelligent business campuses hold the key to successful economic development. One increasingly intelligent amenity needed in the master planning stage of a property is a custom network infrastructure and not an off-the-rack solution.

“There is a new concept emerging of tailoring bandwidth and broadening choices of carrier services to the demands of tenants,” Carlini said. “One of the key ingredients is broadband connectivity and the ability to add this concept upfront along with power requirements as part of the overall master plan of a new campus environment.” If it’s not planned properly, he said, the result can be less than favorable economic development as a whole.

If planning doesn’t focus on the connectivity in the initial stages of new construction, the backbone of the network or the cabling infrastructure can be behind technology even as it’s deployed, Carlini said. Because the network holds so many services today it has to be up to the task and ready to handle the individual applications of the end-user and his facility. Overall, the industry continues to focus on providing the best network infrastructure and educating those who implement it.

More applications and devices are going onto the network, said Andy Jimenez, vice president of technology, Enterprise Cabling Solutions, Anixter Inc., Glenview, Ill. “Everything is migrating to the Ethernet platform. Interoperability over IP is critical, especially since there are more devices and more power being used. The relationship between the network infrastructure and data communications continues to deepen,” he said.

Distributor Anixter believes that instilling best installation and application practices can result in educated product purchases and successful network deployment. Anixter recently launched the Infrastructure Solutions Lab to educate customers on the latest security and networking best practices, standards and technologies, said Bob Grubbs, president and chief executive officer at the opening of the 4,000-square-foot facility in May.

“The idea behind the Infrastructure Solutions Lab is to provide proof of concept cabling applications so our customers can make efficient buying decisions,” Grubbs said. “Whether that customer is the security dealer, the end-user or the data center end-user, they are all going to become increasingly involved in information technology (IT) decisions. One of our goals is to help them migrate to the IP network by demonstrating how to use the cabling infrastructure effectively.”

Anixter said its new testing and demonstration facility is the only one operated by a distributor that conducts 10 gigabit performance tests on cabling. The Infrastructure Solutions Lab also can demonstrate the effects of networking and security products running over a single IP network, the amount of bandwidth an IP camera or other network device will consume and the impact a specific environment may have overall on cabling performance. Customers also can direct application-specific tests as determined by their needs.

More devices on the network require continuous clean, uninterruptible power and proper thermal management, especially in the data center. Network infrastructures also have been moving to smaller footprints, active and passive cooling and other techniques. Because data centers are massive power consumption facilities, on-site power generation and fuel cells may be a solution.

Starts with video

One product category is IP-based closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV). It uses the existing network structure and the Internet to transfer real-time images and provides remote and on-the-fly monitoring. IP video streams consist of an address or series of numbers that enable installers to readily identify each camera on the data network.

In camera technology and surveillance, CCTV presents some distinct advantages when using the data network to transmit images. Each camera can be assigned a unique IP address, thereby allowing operators to manually perform a multitude of camera-specific tasks. IP or digital video allows rapid searches of recorded scenes or other parameters, such as point of sale or numbers used in manufacturing. Some types of data also can be saved to the network or other recording device and linked with associated images for further identification purposes.

IT networking companies, like Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., are getting in on the action, a sure signal the market is set to explode. Cisco recently announced the purchase of BroadWare Technologies, a privately held video surveillance software company also based in San Jose. The BroadWare acquisition indicates Cisco’s continued commitment to the IP-video market and the firm’s desire to further build on its own video surveillance product offering and leverage the network and its capabilities for its customers.

Leverage the network

“Cisco views the video surveillance infrastructure market as an immediate high growth opportunity that requires the ability to support both IP and analog device installation,” said Martin De Beer, senior vice president of Cisco’s Emerging Market Technologies Group.

Companies such as Cisco are banking on the fact that you don’t need to rework or rewire the infrastructure to take advantage of the existing network and add functional services. Mixing legacy equipment with new technologies is no problem when a company and its service provider are network savvy.

“We were able to migrate from analog to digital and networked video surveillance without operational disruption,” said Dan Eitnier, director of surveillance for the Venetian Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. The Venetian Resort recently deployed Cisco products in its operations.

“The move was also invisible to our surveillance operators. Since we could continue to use our existing analog controls and displays, the operators did not have to be retrained but now enjoy new capabilities only available with IP-network technology innovations,” Eitnier said.

There’s much more than video on the network. There are data communications, access control, voice communications, HVAC and lighting. There’s also Power over Ethernet (PoE) and PoE Plus (the latest IEEE proposed standard). PoE technology allows IP telephones, wireless LAN access points, Web cameras and many other appliances to receive power as well as data over existing network cabling, without modifying the Ethernet infrastructure. In fact, the market for PoE-related products experienced double-digit growth, driven by demand for VoIP and WLAN access points.

Networking will continue to drive the systems integration and IT markets. To give you an idea of how big networking has become, consider the example of CXtec, a company that recently launched an “Equal to New” buy-back program. The program supports the customer for wherever their system—from legacy to leading edge—is, said Lisa Belodoff, director of strategic marketing for CXtec, Syracuse, N.Y. The company custom-tailors new and certified preowned computer technology equipment so its customers can stay current with their networking products without breaking the bank.

The network continues to foster new systems and services while providing a superior form of transport for everything from voice to video and more. Together, the end-result represents a significant stepping stone to a totally integrated environment. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.