By Dennis Mazaris, President & Founder, Concert Technologies
Published in BICSI News
The growth of the cabling industry has been well documented over the last 10 years. Two of the major reasons are:
- The release of the TIA/EIA-568, as well as the ISO/IEC IS 11801 standards and subsequent releases, has paved the way for component homogenization in the structured-cabling system. These standards bodies, primarily driven by large manufacturers, have clearly added legitimacy to the industry.
- BICSI, boasting a 10,000+ membership, has been a leader in the education of the industry and the installer in particular. It has introduced a wide variety of programs. Some of them are: RCDD program, international conferences, and now the new cabling installation training program. These programs have put BICSI at the forefront of the structured-cabling movement.
- These programs have done a tremendous job, but there is one crucial area in structured cabling that needs more emphasis for the industry to realize its potential--aesthetics.
- Aesthetics? Anyone who has worked in a telecommunication closet long enough knows that this is a problem that has plagued the industry from day one. Primarily, the problem is at its worst in the most visible location--the patch-cord management system. This area (Fig. 1) is sometimes referred to as the "rat's nest," "spaghetti," or "the jungle."
Aesthetics of the structured-cabling system are difficult to quantify. The standards address this issue in passing, with few directions to the end user who employs this system. Are aesthetics really important?
Aesthetics are a component of the system functional performance level, which measures the true performance of a system. System functional performance level (Fig. 2) can be broken down, similar to a three-legged stool, into three interdependent elements:
- The component performance level. It is addressed by standards bodies and manufacturers and is the first line of defense. If a component does not pass specifications, there is nothing that can be done except to replace the faulty component.
- The installation performance level. This is addressed by BICSI and others. Manufacturers build their components based on certain installation requirements. If the requirements are not met, system integrity can be lost.
- The aesthetics performance level. This is only lightly touched on in the standards. Aesthetics performance level is the impact that aesthetics has affecting the speed with which faults can be identified and rectified.
The 568-A mentions in "Cabling Practices, Telecommunication Closets," section 7.4, and "Equipment," section 8.4: "Appropriate cable routing and dressing fixtures should be used for effective organization and management of the different types of cables in telecommunications closets."
The 11801 addresses this issue in "Connecting Hardware Requirements, Installation Practices," section 9.1.6. "The manner and care with which the cabling is implemented are a significant factor in performance and ease of administration of installed cabling systems."
Below are some examples of typical situations that demonstrate the importance of aesthetics (or the lack thereof):
You have been involved in the installation of a brand-new cabling plant. All the components tested well, and the installation firm did a great job. However, two years later "Frank" moves to another office. You have to patch Frank to his new office. It takes a few minutes to pick out the patch cord in the "rat's nest." Then it takes a few more minutes to search out the appropriate color and length patch cord from the inventory spread across the floor in little piles. After a thorough search, you find that you need a 5-footer and have to use a 7-footer. Rather than order a new cord, you make do. After all, you have 10 more move orders to fill.
The bottleneck to the functional performance level of the entire system in this case is due directly to aesthetics. Extra time (and money) is involved, as well as the cost for mistakes. According to LAN Technology, "Seventy percent of network downtime is cable related." With the industry awareness of the standards and installation practices these days, you can be sure that some of this downtime is due to aesthetics.
Besides affecting the functional performance level, aesthetics can create an impact on the emotional level. This has been detrimental to the industry.
A Fortune 1000 company is relocating its corporate headquarters and is interviewing prospective Systems Integrators to handle its information systems relocation. This includes the design and installation of a structured cabling plant. "Dana," the president of Acme Integration, gives the grand tour of her firm's impressive facilities.
Unfortunately, one of the visitors walks over to the "spaghetti mess" that is Acme's patch-panel system. The rest of the group wanders over, scribbling notes in their notepads. The MIS Director of the Fortune 1000 firm says as he leaves, "We'll give you a call." He never does.
Even in its relative infancy, the cabling industry has been an important discipline that is integral to today's business. Unfortunately, the perception of the cabling industry from the outside is many times one of the "Joe Six-Pack" mentality. Joe Six-Pack is a rather disheveled individual who leaves fingerprints on ceiling tiles and trash in whatever area he was last working in. He is responsible for the "rat's nest" in the company computer room.
The myth of Joe Six-Pack is more than a funny misconception. It is a justification to treat the cabling industry with less respect than other disciplines. Ultimately, it is possible that this "lack of respect" could be translated to a "lack of fair compensation" to the men and women of the cabling industry.
Last year I wrote a piece in this space about 1996 being the "Year of the Installer." That moniker fulfilled itself as BICSI rolled out an impressive Cabling Installation program and TIA/EIA started an Installation Requirements Task Group. It is time for the leaders in the industry, including BICSI, TIA/EIA, ISO/IEC, manufacturers, installers, and end users, to work as a team and make 1997 the "Year of Aesthetics."