Greg Enright: Convergence brings cabling concerns

If you’re not yet running voice and data over the same wires that make up your corporate network, get ready to do so in the not-too-distant future. Throughout the next half-decade, the converged network, already a reality for many a Canadian enterprise, will make itself as common an office feature as a PC or a desk. In the longer term, you’ll probably be running video over those wires, too.

Does this come as a big surprise to the average network manager? Probably not. Most are at least starting to speak to vendors and consultants about the advantages of these next-gen infrastructures. Most have realized that a fair amount of the hype they’re hearing will turn into reality. Most are preparing for deployment.

What often gets lost in the application-vendor sales pitches, however, is the bare-bones cabling infrastructure that is required to run such bandwidth-intensive apps. Vendors are quick to point out the benefits of voice-over-IP products, for example, and the money that can be saved by deploying them. But what about that outdated Category 3 or 4 wiring lurking behind the office walls? Anyone who thinks such wires will be able to handle convergence-based apps would also say a Saskatchewan Roughrider nose tackle could fit into a bikini.

Before a great meal can be served, the table has to be set, and this is the case with convergence. For many corporations getting excited about the convergence concept, there is an enormous amount of work ahead. If you don’t at least have Category 5 cabling deployed, get ready to do some digging – or, probably more realistically, get ready to shell out big cash to an outsourcing firm that will do it for you.

It appears that in the world of cabling, as with so many other bewildering technologies, the outsourcing model will become a reliable route for IT departments to follow: let someone else worry about laying the pipes that will drive your business. The expertise and time savings will be worth it.

However, cabling outsourcing is also similar to other technology outsourcing in that it is a young market. The service providers are just starting to establish themselves, and who is better at what is still a long way from being established.

Some evidence of that came to me while speaking recently with the cabling division head of one of Canada’s largest telecom service providers. When I asked what applications would be driving the move to new types of cable such as Category 6 (can you get much more basic than that?), the person could not name one. If this is the state of knowledge amongst cabling vendor leaders, how much confidence can a company have in handing over their wiring needs to them?

If you can afford to, it might be wise to let this market ripen for another year before biting into an outsourced cabling architecture.