Cabling Life Cycle TCO

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Cabling Life cycle

What the standards mean to your network cabling life cycle

With the IEEE 802.3an 10GBASE-T standard complete, performance demands on cabling infrastructures are expected to increase over the next few years. Cabling typically represents 5-7% of an overall network budget.

Some specialty materials such as industrial rated products, conduit and limited combustible products may increase costs slightly higher. However, relying on price as the sole deciding factor is rarely a wise decision.

Cabling systems, both copper and fiber, are designed to perform for 10 years (cabling life cycle), supporting 2-3 generations of active electronics. Overall lifecycle costs should be closely considered.

Cabling standards are regularly written and reviewed. For instance, ANSI/TIA/EIA (Now TIA) standards are reviewed every 5 years. At the end of the 5-year cabling life cycle period they may be reaffirmed, rescinded or revised. ISO/IEC standards are written with a target lifespan of 10 years.

IEEE application performance standards are written, revised or amended based on current manufacturing and product capabilities, application needs and contributions from companies, including cabling manufacturers, that participate in the standards process.

In some instances, overall network capabilities change at a greater pace than originally expected. This can shorten the cable life cycle of a cabling system. Category 4 is a good example. This cable had a very short life cycle due to expanding network performance requirements and the capabilities of higher performing category 5 and, eventually, category 5e.

With the advent of 10GBASE-T, a higher performing category 6 cable known as Augmented Category 6 (6A) has been introduced. So the question is posed: how do I maximize my cabling investment, and what category of cabling should I install in my facility?

Active electronic manufacturers design equipment based on three factors: capabilities of the underlying infrastructure, industry standards and market share of the installed base of infrastructure.

The technology must be technically feasible, have broad market appeal, and provide a unique feature set while coexisting with other technology. It would be virtually impossible to sell any active equipment that automatically requires replacement of a cabling plant.

Based on estimates from the major chip manufacturers, each iteration of a chip costs a developer approximately $1,000,000.00 and requires roughly 18 months from conception to market. Facing costs like these, most equipment producers are hesitant to venture too far from the standards.

As standards eliminate or rescind support for cabling systems, the active equipment manufacturers will, as history shows, follow suit. There is an intricate balance between forward movement in technology and addressing the needs of legacy systems.

In discussions within the 10GBASE-T study group, all categories, including 5e, category 6 and category 7/Class F, were examined to determine what the cabling would support and market share percentage held by each category. While category 5e has a greater market share, the cabling was not capable of supporting 10G b/s over distances more than 15 or 20 meters.

Understanding that networks people have installed cabling lengths in excess of this limited distance, category 5e was written out of the standard and is not being considered.

The final cabling choices for the pending 10GBASE-T standard is installed legacy category 6 with a supported distance up to 55 meters, augmented category 6 and category 7/class F, with the latter two supporting a distance of up to 100 meters.

It is important to note that the Data Center standard states that all horizontal cables shall be run to accommodate growth so that the horizontal cabling does not need to be revisited. This is due to the significant cost and risk of downtime to adjacent systems.

It is estimated that a data center will be in service for a period of 20 years (cabling life cycle) and 10GBASE-T electronics will be added within 2-5 years.