Most enterprises today pay little attention to the type of cabling they use when laying the framework for their IT infrastructure. When in fact, cabling supports every part of an enterprise – from business services to cloud access and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies – and is the foundation for all the commercial strategies related to the basic infrastructure.
With increasing intolerance for downtime, the choice of cabling can have a direct impact on a company’s market reputation. Since the initial publication of the Ethernet standard almost 30 years ago, data rates have skyrocketed. The 40 and 100 GbE standards ratified by the IEEE 802.3ba committee in 2010 are a far cry from the early 10 megabits per second connections of the 1980s. With this pace of technological change increasing every year, many CTOs and IT managers can be understandably confused by the choices they face when selecting the best cabling for their company.
It’s clear that deploying solutions today that will require time-consuming and expensive upgrades in the future is by no means a cost-effective strategy.
With virtualization, cloud computing and high-bandwidth services, like video-on-demand, driving the need for increased access speeds across networks, CAT 6 cabling and above has become the base-line for today’s video standards. For new deployments, CAT 5e should never be considered by any enterprise hoping to maintain a facility longer than five years. Such forward-looking infrastructure deployments are more critical than ever for enterprises. Over time, they may have to physically rip and replace their network cabling – often with a very negative impact on the bottom line.
By selecting cabling that opens the door to 10GbE, enterprises can ensure they are ready when the rest of their active infrastructure in the switching environment moves up to this level.
To infinity and beyond
The argument over the perceived benefits of shielded cabling versus unshielded cabling often creates confusion in the enterprise market. What’s more, the part of the world your network is located in is more likely to dictate what kind of cable is used, rather than any tangible benefits of one over the other.
Enterprises looking at global expansion will encounter this debate as they look to build new networks in unfamiliar territories. Whether an organization expands from an area where unshielded cabling is prevalent to an area where shielded is more common - or vice versa - it is essential to have a team of experts or suppliers that can take the same strategy and roll it out wherever they are.
Regardless of the decision, the enterprise must look for quality components. Rolling out a solution that does not meet the highest standards, either on shielded or unshielded cabling, will never achieve the same level of performance of a network that does. Therefore network managers will only have the quality assurances they need if their suppliers can guarantee the end-to-end performance of a particular network. Companies should focus on the performance they need, not the underlying technologies.
Copper vs. fiber
For many companies, fiber is the industry standard which is used as the “backbone” of the main infrastructure and for conference suites; while copper is used primarily for the horizontal cabling. Yet, fiber-to-the-desk can be a better choice in very high performance end points, such as R&D facilities and high-end computing environments, but this usually accounts for a low percentage of installed ports in the overall LAN environment.
Copper holds a dominant position from an installation point of view and in terms of cost, with copper-based interfaces being the most affordable technology compared to any alternative, including wireless and optical. This makes copper very dominant in LANs up to 100 meters supporting up to 10GbE.
At some level, it is not possible to predict what technologies will be available in the future and the demands they will place on the network. For this reason, enterprises should make sure they give themselves the best chance of being able to rollout game-changing technologies as soon as they are introduced and steal a march on their competitors. They can accomplish this by selecting the best infrastructure they can realistically afford, given the strategic goals for the business.
Rob Wessels is vice president of Cable Research and Development for CommScope, a global leader in infrastructure solutions for communications networks. For more than 20 years, Mr. Wessels has held various engineering management positions at CommScope. He has been involved in the design and development of twisted pair, coaxial and optical fiber cable for cable television, local area network and wireless applications.
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