Cabling of data and voice systems is often ignored by many companies until the last minute just before moving to a new location or new building takes place. Many information systems professionals view it as a low priority or something that just takes away from their budget for real network components such as servers or software. A cabling structure normally takes about 5-7% of your technology components but is just as critical as the other 93% composed of software, servers, computers, hardware, routers, implementation, support, and other components. If the cabling structure does not perform properly, the remaining 93% of your systems simply will not work properly. Some Key questions to ask yourself before proceeding:
- How long do I plan to be in the facility being cabled? Less than 5 years, 5-10 years, or longer? This will dictate whether you decide on a basic cabling solution or one that will address your needs for years to come.
- What are my expected growth plans? Cabling for only one user per office or only for your needs today limits your ability and effectiveness with increased costs to easily add users in the future.
- What guarantees or warranties should I expect? Many manufacturers offer 25 year warranties for performance and some contractors who do the work properly the first time may offer life time guarantees.
- Do I have or will I implement VoIP? Quite the buzzword and as it relates to cabling if you are considering VoIP in the coming years or now possess this technology you want to be sure that your cabling structure – voice, data, fiber optics, backbones, will support it. The latest is you can get by with only a single cabling outlet at each location with VoIP. This will limit your trouble shooting, management, and growth plans in the future when an additional cable at each location installed at the same time is quite affordable.
Mistake number one – Blindly choosing the lowest bidder
This is the most common mistake made when installing voice and data network cabling. Often the lowest bidder is the contractor who is the smallest, has the least experience or the one that made a mistake on their bid. A site visit to their office will tell you most of what you need to know about an organization.
Mistake number two – Choosing the manufacturers product that will be installed
Many companies have tried to standardize on a particular manufacture of cabling system. Some of the larger manufactures are Belden, BerkTek, Panduit, Comscope, Ortronics, AMP and Leviton. You can’t go wrong with any of these big names. However IT managers and corporate executives get hung up on trying to standardize because they believe it will make things easier for the IT staff. The reality of the situation is that if you choose any of the larger names the only components that might not be interchangeable are the faceplates.
Mistake number three – Paying too much for the latest cabling technologies
The fact is that today’s network components and network components of the future cannot exceed the specifications of Cat 5E and Cat 6 cabling components. Combine this with the fact that the average company moves every 3 to 4 years. You will find it hard to benefit from future proofing a building you don’t occupy. Look at you current infrastructure, what equipment or applications do you plan to add or upgrade? Is Gigabit or 10 Gigabit Ethernet an option for you in the near future?
Mistake number four – Not using universal wiring or utilizing a contractor who follows BICSI standards
The EIA/TIA and BICSI both recommend a universal wiring platform for your Communications Infrastructure. This will ensure universally accepted standards are being followed – you wouldn’t have an electrical contractor complete work in your office that wasn’t licensed would you?
Mistake number five – no specific standards for contractors to bid on
Most customers really have no idea what their cabling platform will look like when they sign the paperwork. They rely on their contractor to “just do the right thing”. Do not make this mistake, if you don’t understand how your infrastructure will work or what it should look like, don’t sign. All and any contractors will say sure we can run XX # of cabling lines and it will be fine. A simple one page overview of what you expect can ensure you receive the best price for a quality job. If you do not do this many contractors will bid to you, their prices will vary – although specifications will appear the same, and the end result will not be what you had expected. This seems to be all over the board, some people have no design plan what so ever. Some will pay $10,000 for an engineering firm to write a specification where they charge by the pound for the spec. Don’t be fooled that a large spec is a good spec. Often a specification filed with time consuming exercises for the bidding contractor and unnecessary pricing breakouts will only prevent good contractors from bidding on your project. What you want is a spec that clearly defines your realistic requirements, requires basic qualification with references and does it as quickly and simply as possible. Do not try to write a spec that will cover every contingency, you will drive your contractor away and you will only confuse the process more. Once you have selected your contractor based on an apples to apples comparison, you can always and should always sit down to discuss the project and other options that they recommend. One more thing, always, always have the contractor provide you with a parts list with quantities, not individual prices, just quantities. This will help you weed out the contractors that did their homework when you start to compare their list of parts.
Mistake number six – No cable management
All cabling systems will look organized before they are used, that’s easy. Show me that cabling system after 6 months and I will tell you if the proper wire management was used. “Used” being the key word here. Remember, you can have the best wiring management in the world, if you don’t strictly enforce its use with your IT Staff, you will have a mess. That said, your contractor must provide you with a good design. My recommendation is, listen to your contractor, they know more than you do about this. Then, go visit some of the sites that are done the way they recommend. See how they look after being used a few months. Ask the customer how easy it is to keep organized. Don’t underestimate the value of this step. If your patch panels are a mess and you can’t effect changes in a rapid and orderly fashion then you would have been better off paying your contractor to do the MAC work for you.