Screaming Down the Wire
by Charlie McDermott
No, this isn't what you hear when you call home at 2:00 a.m. to tell your wife you're running a little late. Nor is it what happens when the CEO is on the phone wondering why his computer is running dog slow. This refers to the hope and dream of every network administrator to take advantage of the new high-speed LAN (local area network) technologies.
In an acronym,
VTC. Video Teleconferencing.
The days of gathering everyone from a building or from a geographic region into one room for a meeting are numbered. It is too inefficient in terms of wear and tear on the tired executive as well as wear and tear on the budget.
VTC is a natural that has been waiting for a few final pieces before it takes off running:
Unfortunately, the chicken and egg wait has gone on too long.
Intel decided to singlehandedly attempt to end the wait. In summer 1997 Intel started flooding the market with cheap 100Mbps NICs to create the ability to run useful VTC over a local area network. Intel's thinking was that once people had Fast NICs in their machines, nothing would stop them from demanding VTC and that would cause a run on Intel's MMX Pentiums.
Perfect, an Intel Pentium MMX in the server, a fast NIC in the workstation and presto, instant video at the desktop.
But Intel overlooked one critical ingredient: the wire that connects the MMX Pentium to the Fast NIC. That is, the premises wiring.
Most of the cableplant in use today was installed by well-intentioned rookies who thought that by combining Category 5 components, they would have a Category 5-rated infrastructure.
You recognize the scenario: draft a group of employees with some spare time, arm them with crimpers, wire (make sure it's Cat 5 now...) and floor plans, turn them loose and you'll have 100 Megabits per second coursing through your building in no time. Microbends? Near end crosstalk? EMI? Bridged taps? 90-meter length limits?
What, me worry?
IDC reports that 70% of all failures in a network can be traced to the cable. This means you have a complex accounting program running in one window, you're downloading a file from the Internet in another window and meanwhile you need to get this graphic presentation tested and ready for tomorrow morning's meeting and suddenly, everybody....STOP!
Now, what caused that? Get that guy from the router company in here. No, get the guy from the Graphics Presentation company. No, where's our Novell expert? When the dust settles and the finger pointing is finally over, the culprit usually turns out to be the well-intentioned employee with the crimper.
And this is at only 10 Megabits per second!
Wait until we make the leap to 100Mbps (already an old technology with 1000BaseT4 just around the corner).
Another IDC report: 80% of all network infrastructure being installed today will fail when speeds hit 100 Mbps!
Why? Because EIA/TIA 568 is not spoken at most job sites. The Electronics Industry Association and the Telecommunications Industry Association teamed up to put together a wiring standard for commercial buildings. The intent is to ensure that cableplant being installed can be relied upon to meet certain parameters and certain standards of craftsmanship. Cat 5 components alone do not an EIA/TIA 568-compliant installation make.
Definition: Shelfware: latest, greatest, best-of-breed Network Switching gear that gets put into a storeroom to quietly depreciate and obsolete itself when it is discovered that, although the gear can handle screaming bits of data, the wire leading to it can't.
What good is a Lamborghini on a dirt road?
Definition: BICSI: (pronounced Bixy) Building Industry Consulting Services, International. A non-profit organization that trains, tests and certifies cableplant designers and installers on how to comply with both the letter and intent of EIA/TIA 568 and other important standards.
Definition: Enlightened: recognizing that free does not always mean inexpensive.
Get those crimpers out of your employee's hands and get him back to doing what he's trained to do. Don't let him practice a new trade on your building.
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