Seven Deadly Sins of Cabling

 

Having professionally installed communications cable for over 20 years we have seen just about everything from regular Category 5 data cable strung between 2 buildings using a tree in the middle as support to cable splices housed in plastic pop bottles to keep them dry. The following is a list of what we would consider 7 of the deadliest sins you should avoid when planning and installing a data and telephone communications network in your building.

 

1. Any monkey can pull cable.

While it might be possible to train a monkey to install cabling and I must admit they work for cheap there is a hidden cost when not having professionals do the job. Trained professionals are experienced in the proper planning and installation of communications cable so that it adheres to not only cabling standards (IEEE/TIA 568C.1) but also National Electric Code (NEC 2008), National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA 70) and local city/community codes that may be required. If you don’t know what plenum rated means, what the maximum ft/lbs of force allowed when pulling cable, proper strip lengths, amount of untwist allowed and have a class three or better cable tester that will certify your cable run when complete ($7,000 or more) I suggest you call a professional.

 

2. As long as it is labeled Category 5 it must be OK.

There is a lot of marketing misinformation out in the networking world with regard to cabling categories. Yes there is a Category 5, Category 5e, Category 6 and Category 6A. There is not however a Category 5 “Big E little e” or an “enhanced 6” or “6+” or whatever the manufacturers are calling their product today. The standards are set by an organization called the IEEE and TIA. Cables are tested to either comply or not comply with these standards beyond that there is marketing. HOWEVER….. there is something to be said for products that exceed the standards. Bare with me a moment here. Most manufacturers have what would be called their “value line” or “minimal compliant” , their “enhance” product and then their “fastest grade” product in each of the standards category. The cable will not make your network faster but it just might put off recablingfor the next generation of equipment for a few years. When Category 5 came out we refused to sell minimal compliant cable, we chose to install a mid grade product that exceeded the standards it cost the customer more money and probably cost us a few project but we saw value in it. After a cable is installed and tested to the current standards it should continue to adhere to those standards for the life of the cable assuming that there is no change in the environment (new lights, alarm system, old lights going bad, office reconstruction) and we all know that environments don’t change RIGHT? Well you might not know this but installation practices and standards also change sometimes. Category 5e was developed because standard Category 5 failed to support the network speeds and environments as expected. We wanted more performance out of Category 5 then its minimal compliance could handle. A few new testing parameters were developed for Category 5 so that if your cable passed those tests it would support additional network technologies namely 1000BaseT. The new label for that cable was Category 5e. Because we had a number of customers who respected our experience and allowed us to install a better grade of Category 5 cabling we were able to simply go back in and retest their network to the new standard and prevent them from replacing a perfectly good cable environment. One customer saved over $40,000 by retesting instead of replacing. All this to say that all Category rated cable is not the same. Avoid minimal compliant products like the plague but don’t buy into the hype of installing the highest grade cable available unless you have money to burn or a crystal ball to predict the future of network technologies.

 

3. Oh yeah our new building needs cabling.. (after the architect has finished the plans and the foundation is in place)

This is one of my favorite sins. A customer comes to me with a finished set of blueprints and wants a fully compliant structured cabling solution that will meet all their needs today and into infinity and beyond. Most architects don’t have a clue about technology, they are bound and determined to utilize every square inch of real estate for offices, copy rooms, breakrooms. Aesthetics is the word of the day so creative ceilings and wall spaces are intricately designed and redesigned. Each location is critical to the operation of the company and no one is willing to give up a single foot of space for something as inconvenient as a computer room or a wiring closet. Our job is to install miles of high speed communications cables while making sure we take up as little space as possible and be visually invisible. It can be done but it usually requires compromises that will have a negative lasting effects on the business’s ability to maintain and grow their technology needs. Bottom line, make your technology and cable part of the original plan and not an afterthought.

 

4. Labeling – we must be politically correct here

I understand the need to not “label” people.. we do live in a PC world but if your cabling network is not properly labeled then have fun troubleshooting that PC problem. I once had a customer who had been cabled by another contractor. They had cables labeled Joe’s office and “The Blue Room”. Guess what, Joe doesn’t work there anymore and every room in the building was blue. Word of advice, put a number at each end and make sure they match. Had another customer who wanted it labeled by department and number (TR-1 was training jack 1, ADM-1 was administration jack 1). Made great sense until training and admin moved to different offices. Word of advice, keep it simple. The TIA has a standard for labeling… I don’t use it because your faceplate would need to be 1 foot wide and it requires a special decoder ring to figure it out. 1-infinity works. If you have multiple floors or closets then you can add a closet number or floor number.

 

5. Cubicals – great for human density, stinks for cabling

Have you ever heard the phrase 10 pounds of “you know what” in a 5 pound bag? It is great when you can double or triple your office capacity by installing cubical furniture. It isn’t so great when you remember, usually too late, that each user requires at least a telephone and a computer connection. This is an area that we deal with daily. Cubical design companies seldom take into account the need for communications. Simple math, a row of 16 cubes will require a minimum of 32 cables in most cases. 32 cables will not fit down most manufacturers cube wiring ways. While there are some newer cubical lines that have focused on being technology friendly unless you have the benefit of deficit spending like our federal government most people are buying the old used refurbished products. Those products usually provide roughly ½” of channel space for those 32 cables to be routed down. It’s a matter of ratios, a 1 oz bird can’t lift a 3 pound coconut (just had to throw that in). Your choices are 1) Lots of cable lube and guys with big muscles 2) choose a better cube 3)plan on more power poles or floor access boxes. Before your have signed on the dotted line for a million dollars worth of cubicals, let a cabling professional look at the plans to determine how you will need to get cabling to the users. NOTE: option 1 would be a problem, see sin number 1.

 

6. Cable Management – we don’t need no stinkin cable management

Imagine if you will (spoken in a perfect Rod Serling Twilight Zone voice) a computer room with a wiring rack in the depths of a long forgotten storage room surrounded by once operational computer equipment. No one likes to come into this room, it smells funny, it’s hotter than heck and the lighting is horrible. But when a computer stops working or you have to move someone duty calls. Worse yet, the entire computer network is down and your boss is freaking, he has a major client presentation this afternoon and he needs the files off the server. Which cable goes where? They are all jumbled together like spaghetti, where do I start to look for the problem. Cable management to the rescue. Because you managed and routed the cables neatly thru cable management panels it is a simple matter of tracing the connection from the properly labeled patch panel down to the network switch. Nothing speeds tracing network connections faster than a properly managed wiring rack. I have walked in too many computer rooms where you couldn’t even see the switch behind all the cables that hung down in front of the equipment. Once you’ve had a managed rack you will never go back.

 

7. A patch cord is a patch cord is a patch cord

Truly the old adage “You get what you pay for” fits when it comes to your network patch and line cords. These cables that run from your wall plate to your computer and your network switch to your patch panel are the single biggest crippler of the most professionally installed cabling environments. There are some places in your cabling budget where you can trim a few dollars but this is not one of them. While these cords may be “compliant” we have had more unusual problems from cheap off-shore patch cords then I care to remember. This really came to light one day after we had been called by a customer regarding network problems. We had just finished installing all new Category 6 cabling and delivered a box of inexpensive cords so they could cut over to the new cabling during the weekend. Come Monday they called with all sorts of performance and connection problems. We had done everything right and had the test results to prove our work. Problem is most network testing is done without the patch cords in place. When we tested thru the patch cords we provided it failed miserably. There are 2 ways to test cabling: “Permanent Link” which is patch panel to wall plate or “Channel Link” which is testing thru the patch cords. The problem is that to properly do a “Channel Link” test you must leave the patch cords connected to the panel and plate when you are done. If you move the cords to another outlet then you need to retest the cable. The way to get around this “Channel” problem is to use the manufacturers approved cords. There are good 3rd party patch cords but they do cost more. Spend the money, your network will thank you.