What Makes a Smart Building Smart?

4 Considerations for a Smarter Network: Part 1

By Deanna MacCormac
Published: May 21, 2021

We’ve heard Albert Einstein’s famous words of wisdom – “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Fast forward a century or so, and Einstein easily could have been talking about network design. 

As we bring more technology into our buildings including Wi-Fi, security cameras, smart devices, access controls, and building management systems, we also bring the need for more connectivity. As buildings become smarter, they require more data and more power to keep up with the increasing technology demands.

In this 2-part series, we will discuss four key considerations for designing smarter networks. By designing networks differently, we can overcome some of the challenges we face with traditional networking approaches and better support the evolving technology needs at the edge. Let’s begin with the first consideration to build the foundation for a smarter technology strategy.

Consideration #1. Choosing future-ready infrastructure
As we continue to innovate and bring more technologies onto our networks, we are repeatedly facing the challenge of needing more data and more power to support our changing technology plans. 

Traditionally, we have solved for the need of more data and more power by rip-and-replacing the existing Category cable in a building with the next generation of Category cable. We have continued to do the same thing over and over again by upgrading our cabling over the years – from Cat1 to Cat 3 to Cat 5/5e to Cat6/6A to Cat7/7a – to keep up with our ever-changing networking demands. 

Taking a lesson from Einstein – if we choose to stick with long runs of Category cable in the horizonal, we can expect nothing else but continued rip-and-replacing. Instead, it’s time to think about choosing future-ready infrastructure that can scale and adapt to support changing network needs, such as Corning’s ActiFi composite cable. 

ActiFi composite cable includes both fiber and copper conductors under the same jacket. It leverages the virtually-unlimited-bandwidth capabilities of single mode fiber and the powering capabilities of copper to deliver both data and power across distances of over 2,000 feet to enable devices at the edge of the network. Consider the following examples where choosing future-ready cabling can lead to different, better results.

Reach further distances 
A parking garage that did not plan for connectivity needs to install security cameras and access controls. Traditionally, they would need to install conduit and local power outlets throughout the garage and IDF closets nearly every 300 feet to support their remote devices. Instead, they can use ActiFi composite cable and remotely power these devices from the headend to provide connectivity beyond 2,000 feet. In the future, they can add more devices like smart-parking sensors without having to pull additional cable.

Repurpose saved space 
hotel is planning for phone service, TV, and Wi-Fi in every guest room. Traditionally, they would need to pull three separate category cables to each room, which can quickly crowd cable trays, leaving no room to expand. Instead, they can pull one composite cable to each room and provide enough data and power to enable triple-play service. By overcoming the 300-foot distance rule of category cabling, the hotel can eliminate the need for a telecommunications room on each floor and can repurpose this saved space. For example, they could turn a standard guest room into a junior suite and charge more for that upgraded room per night. Senior living communities can benefit from this fiber-to-the-room approach as well.

Simplify network upgrades 
A company is implementing a series of technology initiatives and upgrading their Wi-Fi access points. They want employees to be able to collaborate and work productively anywhere in their building without any network delays. Traditionally, they would need to rip-and-replace or pull additional category cable to achieve the next generation of Wi-Fi speeds. Instead of feeding the access points with category cable, they can pull composite to each location, so next time they upgrade their Wi-Fi, they can leave their infrastructure in place. With so many wireless devices on the network, our Wi-Fi access points start looking more like “wireless switches,” so we need an infrastructure that can meet these bandwidth and power demands.

These scenarios are just a few examples where choosing the right infrastructure can help us better plan for needing more data and more power at the edge. As more devices come onto our networks, we will continue to face these same challenges unless we start designing our networks differently.

So far, we’ve discussed the importance of choosing future-ready infrastructure which serves as the foundation for your smart technology strategy. Now, let’s take the conversation one step further and discuss how we can cost-effectively keep up with our need for speed.

Consideration #2. Choosing cost-effective switching gear
Once we have a future-ready infrastructure in place, network upgrades and expansions can become much more cost-effective and simpler. As speeds and standards evolve, we can upgrade our electronics in the head end and at the edge without having to rip-and-replace our cabling. We can apply these same lessons when choosing the active LAN equipment for our networks, too. 

In the data center world, we’ve seen the evolution of needing 1Gbps then 10Gbps then 40Gbps – now experts are talking about needing 100Gbps. We are seeing this same evolution in the enterprise space with new standards calling for faster speeds, especially to support increasing Wi-Fi demands. Our preference towards wireless connectivity has even led us to design spaces differently. For example, office spaces traditionally planned for 2-4 physical data drops per workstation. Now, they are planning for only 0-1 drops per workstation, with the remaining being wireless activity.

As a result, the network switches – which are responsible for moving data throughout the network – must be routinely replaced with the next-generation of switching gear that can run at the latest speeds to support these increased data demands. 

These network upgrades can be expensive because switching manufacturers often run their software and operating system on each physical switch. This means, as we go to upgrade our switches to meet the latest speeds, we must also re-purchase that same software, even though the software was not part of the speed problem. The good news is that we can choose to design our networks differently and recoup some of these upgrade expenses. 

Instead of using expensive, proprietary switching equipment that has software running on it, we can separate the hardware (data plane, switching) from the software (control plane, brains) into two separate devices. This alternative approach is called Software-Defined LAN or SD-LAN. 

By separating the switching hardware from the control plane, network managers can replace their existing switch with one that runs at a higher speed while leaving their software investment in place. 

All things considered, it’s time to apply Einstein’s words of wisdom and start thinking about in-building network design differently. We’ve explored two key considerations for designing smarter networks: future-ready infrastructure and cost-effective switching gear. Part 2 of the series discusses network flexibility and intuitive network management. 

You can also check out the latest in-building network tips, trends, and learning modules by visiting At Home with Corning. 

Continue to 4 Considerations for a Smarter Network:  Part 2 to learn more about considerations #3 and #4 . 

Deanna MacCormac joined Corning in 2017 and is part of the In-Building Networks team. She is passionate about helping enterprises solve for their ever-changing technology needs through a fiber-to-the-edge approach. In particular, Deanna supports senior living communities and educational facilities by understanding their unique technology goals and helping them implement flexible, cost-effective networks.

In this role, she also helps launch new products and provides solution training for software-defined LAN and remote power. Deanna has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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