Net managers discover hidden cost of cabling

Randy Grein and Frank Rust each contained their network upgrades to the server room and wiring closet, a strategy that probably saved them each considerable money. Even though the cost of gigabit Ethernet-over-copper hardware has plummeted, there remains another potential expense that is often overlooked in upgrading: the existing cable plant.

While most current installations are Category 5 cable, and vendors promise that Cat 5 cable can handle gigabit Ethernet, a number of studies suggest Cat 5 cables are marginal at gigabit speeds, and recommend the use of Cat 5E instead.

While the cost of the cable itself is minor, the cost of installation isn’t. The easiest place to upgrade is the server room, where cables are generally readily accessible. But upgrading cabling to the desktops is another story. Depending on your contractor and the length of the cable runs, you can wind up paying from US$50 to US$250 or more in labour per run to test, upgrade, and retest your existing cable runs.

You can hire a cabling contractor to do the testing, or you can buy a tester such as a Fluke Networks Inc. DSP-4100 or a Microtest Inc. OMNIScanner 2 (around US$5,000) and have a knowledgeable staffer tackle the project. In some cases, you may only need new connectors, in others the cabling needs to be replaced. And this doesn’t take into account the cost of resolving any problems you might find.

What’s more, Grein says that even good Cat 5E cable is limited to 100 meters. So if you need to run gigabit Ethernet between wiring closets, you better use fibre-optical cable because longer runs of gigabit copper tend to degrade the signal, increasing signaling retries and degrading performance.