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The standard work area

As we continue our standards series let's look at why work areas need to conform to standards too.

We have been looking at standards and what they mean to your organization. Most of the discussed standards have...

considered your organization's infrastructure. I thought it would be a good progression to move out from the infrastructure and look at a "standard" work area. In a work area, you have not only your equipment, but also your telecommunications lines, phones and, sometimes, video capabilities, and all of these should conform to a set of standards as well.

TIA/EIA 568-B.1 mentioned in the first standards update stipulates that each work area should be cabled with a minimum of two outlets for telecommunications use. Pursuant to additional addendums, it is recommended that these be at least category 5e and it is no longer permissible to "split pairs" inside the wall. If any pairs are split out (pairs within a category 5 or better cable split to two cabling terminations) for other applications, it must be done in a manner as to be visible, in other words, in front of the jack. All cables must be terminated to an 8-position jack. It is also recommended that each and every workspace be cabled to account for a variety of applications and be cabled in such a way that the horizontal is cabled once and should not have to be revisited. The BICSI design guide recommends a minimum of three per work area defined as one work area per every 100 square feet of office area.

New applications seem to spring up daily, each offering a new way to connect and communicate. With VoIP, and wireless technologies (see the next tip for a wireless standards update) now available in the marketplace, one of the latest selling points is to justify the cost of the system as a savings in connectivity. There are some problems with this philosophy. First, no vendor should recommend that you go against the standards. Recabling is more expensive than running the initial cables. If the cable is in conduit, recabling later may require replacement of conduits to maintain the recommended fill ratios.

Redundancy is important. It is just as important for your network devices as it is for your servers and data. You should not count on a switch built into a device to "get around" the standards. These switches create a situation where the single cable becomes shared media. This means that while you are working on your PC, you may also be splitting your bandwidth with a voice call. The functionality of the integrated switch was introduced to address legacy applications where only one telecommunications outlet is data grade cable, while the other may be a category 3, voice grade cable. If your switched phone were to go down, your PC would also fail to communicate unless the switch can operate in passive mode. If the only cable available is damaged, you have two devices down until a new cable can be run. In short – DON'T TRUST YOUR BUSINESS TO A WORKAROUND FOR LEGACY APPLICATIONS.

In a wireless environment, around 20 users utilize a single access point. You may want to consider having dual drops to each access point for redundancy, and certainly, you will want a cabled alternative should the access point fail or there will be 20 users that are not happy campers. The costs are minimal compared to downtime costs and emergency visits to correct the problem.

In spaces that are large, it is customary to run two cabling connections on opposite walls to allow for moving furniture, adding transient connections for visitors, etc. This also helps to assure that the entire channel including patch cords do not exceed the maximum distance which will affect performance. A practice that is being seen commonly in today's savvy designs is to provide cables not only for workstations, but additional connectivity is being run to ceiling locations for video cameras, wireless access points, etc. Additional cables are also being run to allow for dedicated network printing and other shared peripheral devices. Another common practice is to cable with copper and run additional fiber connections that may be dark. Expandability is key. Anytime you have to revisit your cabling pathways and spaces, you do run a risk of harming what is already there.

In shared tenant spaces where walls move and light fixtures move, etc., you are better off with all of your cables run so that sources of EMI don't get moved too close to existing cables. This is very hard to do when there are cables run here and there. Many building owners are now precabling office spaces with enough outlets to assure that end-users won't have to recable when they lease the space. This also allows them to charge slightly more for what they are calling "smart spaces". The converse is also true, should you ever decide to sublet, sell or otherwise make a profit from your building, if recabling is going to be necessary, the price will be adjusted down.

Think of your work areas as a home. You want your end users to be comfortable, enabled and have the resources necessary to do their jobs. Each work area should be ergonomically friendly, safe from hazards including power and connectivity , and the space should accommodate visitors as well as being functional. Offices and people move. If properly planned, these moves can be accomplished with little additional expense. If poorly planned, they can be draining.

Carrie currently works with The Siemon Company where her responsibilities include providing liaison services to electronic manufacturers to assure that there is harmony between the active electronics and existing and future cabling infrastructures. She participates with the IEEE, TIA and various consortiums for standards acceptance and works to further educate the end user community on the importance of a quality infrastructure. Carrie currently holds an RCDD/LAN Specialist from BICSI, MCNE from Novell and several other certifications.

Carrie Higbie, Global Network Applications Market Manager, The Siemon Company Carrie has been involved in the computing and networking industries for nearly 20 years. She has worked with manufacturing firms, medical institutions, casinos, healthcare providers, cable and wireless providers and a wide variety of other industries in both networking design/implementation, project management and software development for privately held consulting firms and most recently Network and Software Solutions.
This was last published in March 2004

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