I was recently asked to accompany a sales manager on a customer visit to a large multinational business. The purpose of our visit was to share our experience and opinion on a situation that is becoming more and more common in the IT world. We were posed with this question: “When do you replace a Cat5e cabling infrastructure that is from all outward appearances performing perfectly normally?”
It was obviously a loaded question. With IT on one side of the table, facilities and security on the other side and the company money men seated across from us, all eyes focused on my sales manager and me.
As budgets continue to tighten in a very uncertain global economy, the question is certainly one that many companies both big and small are beginning to struggle with. Each side has somewhat convincing arguments for their respective positions. From a facilities and security standpoint, there is nothing wrong with a quality Cat5e infrastructure that was properly installed and well maintained. It meets all their needs, is in perfectly good working order and is readily available at a reasonable and decreasing cost. At the same time, IT is constantly being asked to provide more with less while supporting things like video conferencing to reduce travel expenses, online streaming capabilities for internet-based training, as well as VOIP and POE applications.
So, who’s right? How do you decide? I mean, it’s pretty easy to see when an infrastructure is on its last legs, right?
Down time is becoming more and more a factor. No one knows what route many horizontal cables take. The patch cords are so deep in all telecom closets that only one guy on staff has arms long enough to reach the patch panel through them. That’s when it’s time to re-cable!!
But, what if your current Cat5e cabling is “good enough” for now? What if there are no failures? What if you have maintained proper record keeping? What if you have done everything right to get the most out of your cabling?
In those situations, unfortunately, there is no easy or quick answer. I believe you have to take a look at two or three key factors, and then a company must make the decision that is best for its unique needs. One of those factors is obviously the budget. Can a company afford to incur the cost in dollars, time and disruption of services to re-cable at this point? Many times that’s as far as the discussion should ever go.
Another factor is whether a business can afford not to re-cable? What I mean by that is how much does the organization depend on IT? Banking, insurance, healthcare…. Can these types of organizations afford to have “good enough” cabling and expect to be profitable and grow long term? In a lot of cases the factors we see may not always give us the clear answer we need. If you’re a financial trader and your competitor across the street can execute trades a half a second faster than you all day long, what kind of edge is that going to give him? If you are a nurse in a critical care unit and could be notified a half a second sooner, would it make a difference?
Sometimes speed really counts. In those situations, it’s not a matter of being good enough; it’s a matter of being as fast as possible.
What factors do you consider when deciding if your cabling is “good enough?”