Chaos in the Cabling
Cabling can compromise your network environment in so many ways, but simple steps can help you avoid problems.
As yet another round of campus network troubleshooting has made clear, band-aid solutions prevail and installing whatever works at the moment is the norm. E-rate support seems to be a common thread -- vendors approved through the program have done the work, and the work is unprofessional, doesn't follow best practices, and ignores building codes.
E-rate isn't my complaint, but unscrupulous vendor practices are the root cause of many network and user issues. This doesn't mean all E-rate vendors are bad, but it does signal a severe gap in accountability.
Cabling that doesn't meet fire codes is a pervasive problem I see in small and medium-sized organizations. Many installations are not in compliance for three key reasons:
- Penetrations in walls and building firewalls (not to be confused with IT firewalls) are not sealed and have no fire stop
- Cabling often lays horizontally below the grid and rests on ceiling fixtures and tiles
- Materials are substandard for fire safety, which means PVC (CMR) runs in lieu of plenum (CMP) cabling
Cabling, which is so important for any network, is often compromised for many reasons. The older the site the more compromises, and contributing to these are moves, adds, changes, and deletions. Abandoned cabling must be removed; otherwise it becomes a code violation and often a management nightmare in untangling an accumulated mess that translates to costly troubleshooting and high time-to-repair/restore.
Then someone finds a shortcut or a penetration where a cable will fit, and creates another problem. Using the same penetration for something other than low-voltage wiring isn't always a good idea. These same penetrations often become the source of code issues because they remain unsealed.
Some structures are difficult to install cable plant, and understandably so, but using an indoor wire for an outdoor application doesn't make sense. It's typically a gamble against time, weather, and UV exposure not breaking down cable pairs, and that's a bet you aren't likely to win. Temperature changes, exposure to rain and or snow, and freezing temperatures along with sunlight are sure ways that installed plant will lead to many issues.
While not everyone has cabling expertise, companies can avoid some of these issues by inspecting the materials (cable) and looking at the cable jacket imprint. Does it read outdoor-rated or CMR or CMP? Inspecting the cable paths means looking at the wiring and following it from end to end. Is fire stop, or sealant, provided in areas of penetrations? Is cabling resting on sprinkler systems or the ceiling grid, or does it wrap around pipes and duct work?
These are clues that your network will experience problems, campus or not, and may indicate blatant code violations. Don't be caught unaware.