After your company's building, it's likely that your network cabling will be your second most long-lived asset. The typical cabling system will be used for at least 16 years. Imagine what kind of applications and bandwidth it'll have to support in 2017! And if you can't imagine the future, think about your network support headaches right now, not to mention your company's productivity. By one estimate, nearly 70 percent of all network-related problems can be traced to either poor cabling techniques or problems with cabling components.
Worst of all, cabling problems are often the intermittent kind that are the hardest to trace. And it doesn't take too many of them to completely munge your network. As Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe has pointed out, a 1 percent increase in dropped packets can correlate to an 80 percent drop in throughput. Cabling may account for less than 10 percent of the cost of your network infrastructure, but until we all go wireless, it might just be the most important 10 percent.
So, now that we've lectured you about the importance of cabling, where do you get the information you need to plan, contract, and build your cabling plant -- or to effectively manage the cabling someone else bequeathed to you? We recommend Cabling: The Complete Guide to Network Wiring, Second Edition, by David Groth, Jim McBee, and David Barnett.
The authors begin with an introduction that's like having an expert consultant spend an hour summarizing what's important about cabling technology. It's easily worth the price of the book. Not only does the introduction simplify key technical concepts such as crosstalk, it offers an up-to-date taxonomy of cabling -- from Category 5e to fiber optics, risers to wire gauge.
The introduction also demythologizes controversies such as "plenum vs. PVC." (In many locations, the authors explain, you only need to install plenum-rated cable in drop-ceiling areas or beneath raised floors if those spaces part of your HVAC air-handling system. Plenum cable doesn't offer better performance. It isn't necessary for your home LAN -- your house's frame will burn to cinders long before burnt cables poison you. And, finally, plenum-rated cables have just as much PVC in them as non-plenum cables do.)
Next, the authors move on to cabling specifications and standards, introducing the concept of structured cabling systems and walking through the ANSI, ISO, and Anixter standards and performance levels you need to understand. They pay special attention to the U.S. ANSI standards, which define structured cabling subsystems, installation methods and practices, media types, performance specifications for horizontal and backbone networks, topology and distance recommendations, and other key issues.
The authors provide a full chapter of expert advice on choosing the most appropriate cabling for your environment; then review infrastructure constraints and issues that can drive some of your most important decisions about cabling.
In Part II, the book moves on to take a close look at LAN media and connectors. You'll find detailed chapters on copper cable media, wall plates, connectors, and fiber optics. There's also a full chapter on wireless LAN options -- information that will help you evaluate their role and performance, understand how the market is evolving, and hopefully implement technologies that won't become obsolete overnight.
Part III of Cabling: The Complete Guide to Network Wiring presents an in-depth primer on cabling system design and installation. This section of the book covers everything from the lowest level (installing connectors for maximum reliability) to the highest level. In particular, there's a full chapter on creating a Request for Proposal that allows you to compare "apples to apples," helps you understand the true costs of your proposed system, and ensures that your vendors account for all the challenges and requirements presented by your unique project. The book concludes with a chapter-length grab-bag of tips from the authors' lengthy experience in the field.
Useful appendices include a detailed cabling glossary; a cabling resource directory; information on the field's leading certification program (the Registered Communications and Distribution Designer credential); and a guide to wiring your home for Ethernet. (Bill Camarda)
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced software, computing, and networking products and services. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.