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Matt Brunk
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Matt Brunk | June 04, 2008 |

 
   

Cabling the Campus

Cabling the Campus What are you trying to pull? If it's cable for a network upgrade, this case study may offer some helpful hints.

What are you trying to pull? If it's cable for a network upgrade, this case study may offer some helpful hints.

Campus environments have always been my personal favorite to tackle, and they aren’t exclusive to education, but exist in enterprise and SMBs. For you folks sitting in a building, if you have floors above or below you or expansion joints in the building, then you likely qualify for fiber, a small factoid I wanted to put out there. Our recent campus job was however in a parochial school and it proved a challenging campus.

About eight years ago, I was introduced to the school and we invested some sweat equity into learning their campus and more about their needs. Our proposals were not accepted, we never heard why and only learned a couple of years ago that the parent volunteers and two people in charge of the computer lab thought they could build the network themselves, and so they did.

Because of what they built, we were called in over a year ago to meet with a new incoming team of one- the “team” being an art teacher with an IT degree, responsible for taking charge of the computer lab and IT functions at the school. Our long-term recommendation was finally taken seriously and last summer we completed Phase I of the network build out, which was to provide a fiber (multi-mode) backbone network for the campus with 1-Gbps managed switching.

We deployed multi-mode fiber with spare pairs using an armored cable. Too often, in office buildings, we find multi-mode fiber that is patch-panel grade, which offers no protection against other contractors, no durability in pull nor resistance to the installation process (wear, tear, rip due to friction). The fiber backbone provided the highway for the campus, eliminated latent long-copper drops and removed a host of sins associated with improper cabling methods. So, it was the big bang and we still think they got the most for the bucks spent, but we all knew it still wasn’t enough. Complete replacement of all drops, including new drops for LCD overhead projectors and unmet previous needs, would provide a stable physical network infrastructure that this campus lacked.

During spring break (VoiceCon Orlando), we were asked to complete Phase II of the project, which was to re-wire the entire campus. Phase III is a WiFi solution still being considered. Because cabling is disruptive, especially when you are intruding upon workspaces and places of business, scheduling the work is critical. It’s key in this particular niche that we serve. When the customer says we want cabling over spring break and gives you wide open access, you don’t wait, hesitate or give it a second thought. You act. So consider scheduling, and this applies to off-hours operations as well. Of course we also work odd hours to satisfy the needs of each customer and a little planning and understanding other vendor schedules, such as when floor waxing, carpet shampooing and cleaning cycles are scheduled and in which buildings and times. These are a few considerations to note upfront before you undertake a project.

WHAT WE OBSERVED

Cabling: Leave it to the professionals, and this means excluding IT guys, retired telephone company technicians or anyone else that just likes to dabble in cabling. Most don’t know what they’re doing and neglect the hard tasks or obstacles and implement a substitute instead, which at first glance might seem to make cabling easier.

Cabling is often dirty and hard work. That doesn’t mean any grunt can do it, but rather that someone is willing to do grunt work with the notion and mindset of what it takes to install a good network (cable plant). I’m always amazed at someone marginalizing cabling, and we always welcome volunteers who think it’s no big deal to exercise their talents with us on a job. Some customers take some of what you tell them and form a diluted concept and then, as the folks at this school attempted and failed, they proved saving money isn’t enough when your only backing is good intentions.

Common mistakes include:

  • Leaving too much exposed wire (conductors) on terminations
  • Wire bend radius: tie wrapping cables folded over
  • Crimps – tie wrapping wires too tight
  • Pair mismatches: color code not followed or inconsistent on the patch panel and faceplate
  • Neatness: It’s insignificant to data traffic on the wire whether or not the installer cuts the pull strings, I know. But let me ask you- would you get on an airplane that looked in disrepair?
  • Wrong cable for the application, using PVC cable for plenum spaces or in high-heat ceilings or spaces subject to UV (natural sunlight)
  • Cabling lying on the ceiling grid and tiles: this is one of the worst, as it represents sloppy work and poses as a safety hazard to firefighters
  • Lack of support (weight) for bulk cable runs, not using “J” hooks, cable trays or other means to adequately support cabling
  • Cheap materials: It’s always the cabling. Harry Newton often said of problems, “It’s always the cabling.”

    THE BIGGER PICTURE

    I’ve been pounding the same path to this school and I’ve walked through numerous times, met with staff, vendors and members of my team; and after each visit we come away with even more information or something we didn’t know before. It takes an investment of time to see the bigger and changing picture. Only during the past couple of weeks when we all agreed to meet onsite to collaborate with school staff, did we find additional hidden and unannounced staff needs. Turning these needs into opportunities still remains at the timing and discretion of the customer, and we are very comfortable with this.

    So engage and discuss with your team to focus and listen, because site surveys are used to unmask “the hidden” or “unknown”, reveal what’s on a customer premises and what brings to light any obstacles facing installation efforts. Then, lastly, put the sales process behind you and present the issues and the plan. Service still comes first.

    This customer is learning to use and leverage some good strategies for themselves, and they hope to develop a model for the other associated schools. Here’s a peek:

  • Leverage all 125 schools into a consortium to gain buying power. Currently all schools are autonomous and can remain so, but buying in bulk is a good thing.

  • Develop and maintain “technology committees” at each school to develop and translate needs and wants into technology plans, budgets and then convert them to installation.

  • Develop a best practice blueprint or boilerplate to acquire and implement technology and communications including key communications elements:

    a) telephone system
    b) paging
    c) emergency notification
    d) school clocks
    e) school bells/announcement system
    f) ISP and backup/alternative route
    g) Video streaming
    h) Class-2-Class conferencing (audio and video)
    i) Live video of science lab and hands-on applications



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