“Structured cabling” might sound scary at first glance. Yet the benefits of structured cabling provide such a high return on investment, you can’t afford to not install it, whether you need it for an office, data center, apartment building or campus.
Chances are if your business is small and just starting to grow, you might only have a simple system to connect all of your hardware. That makes structured cabling the best choice for your business.
The Basics of Structured Cabling
What Is Structured Cabling?
Structured cabling is a cabling infrastructure for a building or campus that’s made up of smaller, standardized elements. Those smaller elements are called “subsystems” and give cabling its structure.
There are six kinds of subsystems that go into structured cabling:
- Entrance facilities: The physical point where the premises’ wiring begins and the telephone company’s wiring ends.
- Equipment rooms: Rooms inside the building or campus that house equipment or consolidation points.
- Backbone cabling: Inter- and intra-building cable connections. Backbone cabling is mostly used in data centers, made up of transmissions media like cables or electromagnetic signals, main/intermediate cross-connects and their terminations.
- Horizontal cabling: Wiring that connects telecommunications rooms to outlets or work areas in the floor. This is usually done through wireways, conduits or ceiling spaces of each floor.
- Telecommunications room: Also known as a telecommunications enclosure, this connects the backbone cabling and horizontal cabling.
- Work area components: Connections between the end-user’s equipment and the outlets of the horizontal cabling system.
With these six different subsystems, structured cabling effectively organizes your business’ cabling infrastructure.
How Structured Cabling Works
Structured cabling should always be installed by an expert. There are certain requirements for structured cabling systems, from the types of cables used, to the connectors and how the cables are laid out.
One set of standards, the TIA/EIA-568, governs the design, management and operations for structured cabling in a commercial building. The American Telecommunications Industry Association and Electronic Industries Alliance issue these standards, and they’re revised every few years. Other countries may have their own set of standards for structured cabling.
Other standards for cabling include:
- ISO/IEC 11801: Standards for general-purpose communications in commercial buildings. This includes telephony, data communications standards, building control systems and factory automation. It also includes copper cabling and optical fiber cabling.
- EN 50173: This is a European standard for cabling. Like its American counterpart, these standards provide guidance for a generic cabling system’s backbone cabling.
These standards can be complicated since they govern so many different aspects of structured cabling as a whole. However, their goal is to provide guidance and standardization for your business’ technology. Any installation for structured cabling needs to be in compliance with the appropriate standards.
When your structured cabling system is correctly installed, the different hardware ports can all be connected at the top of your rack. These ports are connected at a “patch panel” or a unit with jacks for connecting and routing circuits. The cabling can then connect to the Main Distribution Area after running through another patch panel.
Your Main Distribution Area (MDA) is a bit like the nucleus of a cell. The MDA is where you can move, add or change hardware. This consolidates your cables and makes for a clean organization method.
Structured Cabling vs. Point-to-Point Cabling
Structured cabling isn’t the only kind of cabling. Point-to-point cabling takes each server, switch or storage unit and directly connects them with a jumper cable. You might see small companies use point-to-point cabling for their business since there’s likely a small number of connections.
There are a few catches with using point-to-point cabling. Specifically, you risk downtime from human error (like tripping and accidentally unplugging a cable) and issues with your cooling systems if you have a nest of cables sitting in front of your switch.
While just plugging in cables with a point-to-point system may look easier on the outset, things can get very messy the bigger your business gets. Each connection needs its own individual cable for point-to-point systems.
Structured cabling is much easier to manage as your business’ needs grow. It’s much more compact than point-to-point cabling and more organized. Instead of a one-to-one mess growing with each new connection, everything stays structured—hence the name!
On top of better organization, structured cabling also supports any hardware you add in the future. This is especially advantageous if your business is growing and you need to add new hardware to support your business. Structured cabling makes it much easier to support that positive change.
Rounding out its benefits, structured cabling also just looks cleaner! Instead of a mess of cables running point-to-point, everything is in one place at the top of the server rack.
Why Do I Need an Expert to Install Structured Cabling?
Structured cabling has many standards and best practices that need to be observed. There are different procedures needed in order to fit the needs of the business, its size and even its usage. Just like with home improvements, it’s usually best to call in an expert!
The right expert will know the different kinds of structured cabling standards that apply to your business. A professional will be able to correctly install your new cabling, minimizing the risk of downtime. Since there are different types of subsystems involved in structured cabling, an expert will be able to pinpoint exactly what you need and walk you through the process of installing your new structured cabling.
When structured cabling is correctly installed, you’ll be able to easily move, add and change components or hardware. With a system in place for all these moves, additions and changes (a MAC system) you’ll be able to keep track of everything in your business.
So, what is structured cabling? It’s a more organized way of connecting your business’ most vital components.
When you install structured cabling, you’re not at risk for downtime because someone plugged in the wrong cable and you can easily add more hardware if necessary. Plus, all of your cabling is on top of your rack, not in a bulky tangle on the floor. It’s a more efficient, must-have investment to grow your business.