Cabling infrastructure makes up a fixed portion of any given facility, and it affects daily operations. Because of this, it is important to view cabling infrastructure as a long-term investment. To ensure long-term worth from this investment, it is important to foresee how systems can be modified during renovation so that they are prepared for upgrading later, i.e., future proofing.
To ensure long-term worth from your investment, it is important to foresee how systems can be modified during renovation so that they are prepared for upgrading later, i.e., future proofing.
Where to begin
Prior to NFPA 75, 76 and 90A and the 2002 National Electrical Code (NEC) ruling, common practice included running new cabling alongside the old cabling. Though not the most aesthetically pleasing cable run, it worked well and saved time and aggravation, as old cables can be very hard to remove, depending on the structure and the layout. Today, leaving those old runs in is no longer a viable or acceptable option. Therefore, not only do you have to future proof, you also have to remove old cabling.
According to Robert Zahr, systems engineering manager with the AMP NETCONNECT division of Tyco Electronics, “Prior to installing new network cabling infrastructures into a facility with existing cable, consideration should be made to remove old cable from an environmental standpoint. It is important to note that the NEC has mandated removal of the old cabling in many locations and under certain conditions.”
During a renovation, it is important to plan that newly installed infrastructure is robust enough to support systems five, 10 or even 15 years out. Current technologies are ever-changing, but the supporting infrastructure is not easily swapped out whenever a new technology or application hits the market. Therefore, cabling systems need to be designed and installed for the future.
Doug Coleman, manager, Technology and Standards, Private Networks, Corning Cabling Systems, agrees.
“When considering your cabling infrastructure during renovation, a critical aspect of future proofing is, of course, to plan for not only your current needs but for the changes that will almost inevitably come,” Coleman said.
Using integrated design from the beginning considers varying factors from the start, but this type of design is generally found in new construction projects. However, in major renovation projects, it is advantageous to use integrated building design and should be considered and discussed among the interested parties.
When it comes to choosing a cabling system that will support future applications, two options exist: copper and fiber. Copper remains the predominant choice.
“Copper cabling to the workstation is still the preferred choice due to cost. From a bandwidth perspective, however, fiber makes the most sense, because it does not need to be replaced every time the industry develops a new application requiring a new copper cabling platform because the old one wasn’t capable of supporting it,” Zahr said.
If the cost difference can be justified, then it appears installing fiber is the way to go because it will help future proof. Coleman supports the fiber solution, as well.
“Bandwidth demand continues to grow; what you need today will certainly not be what you need tomorrow,” Coleman said. “That’s why we recommend optical fiber solutions to our customers who are planning for both now and the future.”
Many are still hesitant about migrating from a copper to fiber solution, but there are some strong arguments supporting this move, especially regarding future requirements.
“What is not always considered, as much as it should be during renovation, is the value of optical solutions over traditional copper solutions in the building,” Coleman said. “Copper is struggling to keep up with the trend towards 10 Gbps and beyond, and while it’s managed so far, it’s doing so at the expense of pathway, space and ease of use with larger, more unwieldy cables and more complicated installation. Fiber solutions, conversely, are becoming even faster and easier to install, with cable designs that are dramatically smaller and less complex than their copper counterparts.”
Though cost still remains a driving factor in the decision-making process—thus keeping copper as the dominant player—things are beginning to change there as well.
“Today, a standard 50-micron multimode fiber can be deployed in a horizontal telecommunications enclosure architecture ... is proving to be 30 to 40 percent lower cost than copper to the desk,” Coleman said.
This doesn’t mean that enhanced copper solutions—mainly Category 6 or higher shielded cable—is not a viable option. It still remains the dominant choice, as mentioned, mainly because most construction projects, including renovation, are based on cost factors.
What about installation?
The physical installation is just as important in renovation as cable choice. One popular solution has been to run the cable in a raised floor for easy access. This allows for future additions to the cabling system to be easily accessed, thus eliminating the need for additional work in the ceilings.
It is also been touted that installing in a grid format and having workstations close to each other makes future changes easier because less reconfiguration is necessary in such a setup.
When occupants of one area of the building are relocated to another area, a phased renovation may need to be considered, depending on the customer’s daily needs. A common type of phased renovation is when one building floor is renovated at a time. The first area is renovated and occupants are moved back in. The process is repeated until all areas have been renovated.
Managing network infrastructure is becoming a difficult task as networks are becoming larger and more complex. New advances in management are helping ease some of the burden. It is during renovation that building owners and contractors should discuss potential infrastructure and system changes to prepare the facility for the future. Major infrastructure and cabling system changes generally occur during this stage of renovation.
Adding another layer of protection to the renovated system is the intelligent infrastructure management system (IIMS). The cabling system should be, if an available option, integrated into an IIMS. It is still not a mainstream system, but as communication systems become increasingly complex, IIMS is poised to be the next best thing in terms of infrastructure management.
Intelligent patching systems are another player in intelligent infrastructure. These software-driven systems monitor networks in real time, just as IIMS do, and they continually keep records updated so network administrators are always aware of what connections are active and where they are located.
This new breed of infrastructure management solutions are helping make cabling systems more intelligent and easier to maintain as they do most of the work that has been traditionally done manually. Automating this process is beneficial to both installers and end-users as it helps keep constant tabs on the infrastructure.
The other trend to keep in mind during a renovation dealing with networks is the move towards wireless. As wireless solutions and elements become increasingly popular and pervasive, it should be considered during a renovation project.
Many may not be ready to plunge into wireless, but that can change. This is why it is important to have cabling systems in place that are ready to support such a move when the time comes, mainly because wireless access points are critical components to wireless solutions and they need to be installed in precise locations. The name, wireless access points, is misleading since they need to be hardwired to the network. Consider setting them up as a future-proofing measure.
Renovation requires monitoring and anticipating future trends and technologies. But, keeping some of these key points in mind can help stave off problems down the road. Renovating for future use, not just current use, can give contractors an added advantage of being able to line up work for the time being as well as the near and distant future. EC
STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.