At the BICSI Fall 2008 meeting, held at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas on September 29 to October 2, more than 4,000 attendees heard the latest developments in the information transport system (ITS) industry. Topping the list of themes discussed this year were future trends in energy-efficient data center design, updates to the 2008 NEC, grounding, biometrics in security systems, going “green,” efficient testing techniques, and an update on the TIA-606-B labeling standard. Identified as a key challenge for many attendees, the specification for operating power density and electrical power distribution design in data centers and server rooms was a hot issue.

Another main topic was server virtualization. Virtualization divides each server into multiple virtual machines that run different applications, thereby dramatically increasing the utilization of each server chassis. Virtual servers and blade servers are more efficient per unit as compared to older equipment, and virtualization for data centers is one of the driving forces for 10-Gigabit Ethernet. Because many existing data centers have been using copper cabling systems, the continued use of this approach seems likely. Copper allows incremental upgrades. In fact, with Cat. 6A cable performance, storage units served by an Ethernet network is viable.

With record pre-conference seminar attendance totaling 1,310, presentations were well received. Following is a snapshot of a few key sessions.

Pre-conference highlights

In “Truth About the New 802.11n Wi-Fi Systems,” Joe Bardwell, Connect802 Corp., San Ramon, Calif, explained the latest (2007) version of the wireless standard, which offers speeds in excess of 100 megabits per second.

The term “Wi-Fi” originally referred to the IEEE 802.11b standard, but now typically refers to all four approved standards: 11a, 11b, 11g, and the new 11n technology. In describing the features of the 11n standard, Bardwell suggested that a wireless system being installed today should serve 11a, b, and g users, while looking at the future application of 11n equipment down the road.

A key tool in wireless network planning is the site survey, which helps you determine the number and placement of wireless access points to achieve ample coverage. The survey can also detect any interference from competing RF signals in the same band as your wireless LAN equipment. Sources of interference include microwaves and cordless telephones along with other wireless equipment in the same building or campus.

In “Grounding Systems: Why It's Important and Why Testing is Invalid 95% of the Time,” John R. Howard, Lyncole XiT Grounding, Torrance, Calif., described the basics of two common test methods. The first is called the clamp-on resistance test, designed to measure ground rod and grid resistance without the use of auxiliary electrodes and with the grounding system connected to the utility neutral. In most cases, this method is invalid if the operator does not understand the basic principles of operation. The second procedure, in which the grounding system must be electrically isolated, is called the fall of potential method. To conduct this test, a voltage probe is placed at a specific distance from the ground rod being measured, which is at least five times the rod's length. However, in most cases, the test is invalid because the distance between the ground rod and the voltage probe (Z) is insufficient.

After the pre-conference program concluded, attendees had the opportunity to choose educational seminars that best fit their business focus and schedules. Following is a brief overview.

Conference highlights

In “Are You Playing in the Zone?” Rodney Casteel, CommScope, Villa Rica, Ga., provided a review of three standards-based topologies: hierarchical star, centralized, and zone(FTTE).

Hierarchical star was the original topology of TIA-568 standard in 1995, which maintains two levels of cross-connects for easier administration. It also allows for the deployment of multiple network topologies without changing cabling plant layout and keeps the horizontal cable short for multiple application deployments. The downside of this technology is that more real estate is required for implementation, and multiple sites within a facility must be secured. By design, it usually introduces one or more levels of network bottlenecks.

A centralized topology was mentioned in a TSB published in 1995. This topology allows all equipment to be located in a single room, making backup power easier to handle. This type of system is typically implemented with fiber; however, TIA-568-B.1 limits pull through to 90 meters unless used with an interconnect or splice.

The zone FTTE, or fiber to the enclosure, places a telecom enclosure in the horizontal pathway for the conversion from fiber to copper. This zone concept has advantages for the use of IP devices, for building automation, and for a reduction in the quantity of cabling required. However, dedicated power runs are longer, and equipment is distributed in work areas.

In “10GB Ethernet: Copper or Fiber,” Paul Neveau, Superior Essex, Atlanta, Ga., offered information on how to choose the right media for the application. He discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each media, installation issues, number of channels per cable, the service environment, and the cost of active components. The thought is that fiber will likely dominate in large data centers. Port costs for copper will be down to 20% to 25% of fiber switch/server port costs, and Cat. 6A cable will begin to displace fiber in some backbone installations, presumably becoming the dominant choice of small to medium data centers within four years.

In “Green Data Centers — 5 Steps to Take Now to Make Your Data Center 30% More Efficient,” Dennis Strieter, APC, Olney, Md., offered suggestions that can reduce both power and cooling system energy consumption in data centers. He first noted the areas needing remedial action: inefficiencies caused by oversizing of the power and cooling systems; deficiencies in room layout and airflow patterns; and inefficient operating settings of the cooling equipment.

The best response is to establish an energy management program by doing an immediate efficiency assessment to create a baseline model. Then, from the assessment, establish efficiency targets and make a plan. Finally, maintain ongoing monitoring of power consumption. One important suggestion is to install the highest AC power distribution level possible, using European VAC power distribution, that is 400/230V instead of 208/120V. The reasoning behind this is many data centers weren't built for today's higher density computing marked by blade servers and densely packed virtualized environments. With the trend toward consolidation of data centers, this would be an opportunity to implement the optimum voltage level in the power distribution system, and the elimination of transformers in the PDUs.

In “Modular Cassette-Based Fiber Optic Systems for Data Center Applications,” Rudolph Montgelas, Ortronics/Legrand, New London, Conn., described advances in optical technology that favor the use of fiber-optic cabling in data hungry applications. These improvements include: 50-micron laser-optimized multimode fiber construction, called OM3 fiber; vertical cavity 850-nanometer surface emitting lasers (VCSELs); and cassette-based modular multifiber interconnects. These pre-terminated cabling harnesses offer faster data center deployment while also minimizing onsite material waste.

In “Mythbusting Takes on Shielded Cabling,” Herbert Congdon II and Brian Davis, Tyco Electronics, Conover, N.C., presented and then dismissed several of the myths associated with shielded cabling.

The application standard for 10 Gb/s (1,250 MB/s) Ethernet over unshielded twisted-pair copper cabling, called IEEE 802.3an, was recently ratified, allowing the user to consider the two available copper cabling options. For example, the small outside diameter of Cat. 6 foiled-twisted-pair (FTP) can reduce the fill ratio in conduits and cable pathways, compared to Augmented Cat. 6 UTP cabling. The foil and shielded cables can also effectively ward off crosstalk (ANEXT), while being immune to other detrimental performance influences, such as radio frequency interference (RFI).

In “The Network's Role in Your Data Center Transformation,” Jeff Sanden, IBM, White Plains, N.Y., spoke about what's causing the industry to redefine the data center. Operational issues include energy requirements, exponential network traffic growth, and the need for the reliability and security of data. At the same time, the accelerated pace of business and technology means that the employees and customers are increasingly mobile, software as a service is growing, and the consolidation/virtualization of the data center is occurring. Consequently, we are moving from a client/server model with an explosion of applications and fragmented islands of computing, back to a re-centralization model, with a shared infrastructure and ubiquitous access. In this environment, we will see a reduction in the number of physical networks, the convergence of telephony, video to IP-based communications, and the unification of the network and storage. With this movement comes the need for larger “green” facilities to avoid costly upgrade of existing data centers.

In “Keeping Remote Network Equipment Safe,” Brian Mordick, Hoffman Enclosures Inc., Anoka, Minn., spoke about the increasing need to place network equipment in remote and demanding environments to serve the growth in security, convenience store chains, wireless access points, and other applications. Power over Ethernet (PoE) services and Building Automation Systems (BMS) are carrying cabling to the perimeters of a building and to outdoor areas. The user must analyze the level of protection required, depending on the ambient conditions such as rain, icing, humidity, dust, etc. The need for heat exchanges or even air conditioning in warm climates also has to be considered, both of which require sealed and gasketed enclosures.

In “IEEE 803.3at PoE Plus Operating Efficiency: How to Keep a Hot Application Running Cool,” Valerie Maguire, The Siemon Co., Watertown, Conn., reviewed the standard that allows power source equipment (PSE) to provide a maximum continuous output of 15.4W, with an output voltage of 48VDC, and a single powered device (PD) to consume a maximum of 12.95W. The new standard will allow PSE to provide a maximum continuous output of 30W, with an output voltage of 50VDC. The PD can consume a maximum of 29.95W, serving equipment such as PTZ-security cameras, IP telephones, biometric sensors, and even laptops.

With the concern over heat buildup, Siemon Labs investigated the current-carrying capacity of riser (CMR) and plenum (CMP) Cat. 6A F/UTP and Cat. 7A S/FTP cables, in addition to the new slim-profile Cat. 6A UTP cables that are just entering the market. Test cables were arranged in accordance with the TIA 100 bundle cable configuration, and the worst case temperature rise for each media type was profiled. The solutions that offer the most desirable levels of heat dissipation headroom are Cat. 6A F/UTP and Cat. 7A S/F UTP cabling systems.