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History of Structured Cabling: Creating Order from Chaos


Structured cabling is much more than preventing your data center floor from looking like a big bowl of pasta. Sure, structured cabling will take care of “spaghetti cabling” issues or that tangled rats’ nest of wires often lurking in a business backroom.

Structured cabling is a standardized framework that creates an accepted architecture that controls, powers, and manages your wired and wireless network including connecting equipment, hardware, software, pathways, work areas and facilities in your building or on your campus.

The United States, thanks to the Electronic Industry Alliance/Telecommunications Industry Association (EIA/TIA) and American Standards Institute (ANSI), has led the way the last 30 years by providing details for the design of structured cabling systems. Structured cabling allows for the easy integration of emerging technologies to meet growing bandwidth demands and cuts down on human error and confusion in the data center.

You must travel back to the wild networking world of the 1980s to understand why structured cabling was needed to create order from chaos.

Proprietary Systems & Breakup of Ma Bell Create Problems

In the infancy of networking, computers and other hardware were linked together by a variety of proprietary systems. Each manufacturer used its own style of cabling with connectors and specifications that were not interoperable with gear from competing manufacturer’s.

Troubleshooting was cumbersome, resulting in costly network downtime, and switching manufacturers resulted in purchasing an almost entirely new system from hardware to software, including all new cabling. Moving, adding, or changing a user on the network might require an entire system being taken offline depending on the topology. Adding to the confusion was the breakup of “Ma Bell”.

AT&T, as part of its 1984 divestiture agreement, stopped providing cabling inside customers buildings. When just one provider, AT&T, handled all the cabling inside buildings, there was naturally a standardized approach, but now it was essentially every business for themselves. Something was needed and that something was structured cabling.

Fiber Optics Ushers in New Networking Era

Fiber optic cables helped usher in a new networking era in the 1990s, fueling the rise of the dot.com boom and popularity of the internet. More data, at a faster speed, could be transmitted across fiber, which became the backbone of the internet, but the wiring and equipment inside buildings was still unstructured. Change was needed and not a moment too soon as the LAN Times reported in 1991 that 70 percent of network downtime was attributed to cabling in a proprietary or non-structured system.

In 1991 the first industry-wide standard was released by the ANSI, TIA and EIA, known today as ANSI/TIA-568 (EIA has since ceased operating). Structured cabling system standards were now set for commercial buildings, and between buildings in campus environments.

According to TIA’s Fiber Optics Tech Consortium, “The bulk of the standards define cabling types, distances, connectors, cable system architectures, cable termination standards and performance characteristics, cable installation requirements and methods of testing installed cable.”

IBM’s “Fiber Transport System (FTS)” Organizes the 1990s

True structured connectivity that Data Center Systems (DCS) provides its customers originated in the 1990s with IBM’s “Fiber Transport System (FTS) which was launched on the heels of IBM’s first fiber attached mainframe. In 1994, FTS was the structured cabling system of the day when Kevin Ehringer, recognizing a fiber-based future for data transmission, founded Optical Cabling Systems, the forerunner of DCS.

By 2002, Optical Cabling Systems was ready to improve upon lessons learned and Optical Cabling Systems became DCS. With the name change the company began providing two decades of reliable, scalable, high-performance connectivity to some of the largest data centers in the world, equipping them to serve their customers effectively and without interruption.

ANSI/TIA-568 Keep Evolving and Data Centers Get Their Own Standards

Much like DCS, structured cable standards needed to keep evolving to meet next-generation technology. With a goal to provide standards that can last infrastructure for a decade, the industry has issued several revisions to TIA-568 with the first revision (revision B) coming in 1995.

More than a decade later, revision C was released in 2009 and the current standards, revision D, was published in 2017. In 2005 data centers got their own standards with the issuance of ANSI/TIA-942. Designed by architecture and engineering firms, consultants, end users and manufacturers, one of TIA-942’s stated purpose was to replace “unstructured point-to-point cabling that uses different cabling for different applications.”

Between TIA-568 and TIA-942, a system was now in place to manage data center infrastructure by standardizing smaller elements such as racks, cabinets, patch panels, hardware ports, switches, and fiber cables while also organizing larger issues such as pathways and spaces. The TIA-942 Data Center Standards adopted FTS into what is now section 7.5.1, stating that every port on every active device is represented by a port on the front side of a panel at a Central Patching Location. The latest standards for data centers, ANSI/TIA-942-B was published in July 2017.

Contact DCS today to learn how our “true structured cabling” solutions can help your data center meet the demands of today and tomorrow.

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