Held February 12-16 at the Coronado Springs Hotel and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., the BICSI 2012 Winter Conference drew more than 4,500 attendees. During the educational sessions and on the exhibit floor (Photo 1), IT professionals were looking for ways to boost their network’s performance in an era of constantly increasing video demand.


Conference Highlights and Emerging Trends

Two buzzwords — eco-friendly and sustainable — have altered the building industry’s design vocabulary. And thanks to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system, which has blossomed since its introduction in 2000, architects and engineers have a baseline standard for measuring a building’s “greenness.” Nevertheless, the current rating system does not properly recognize the many ways in which information technology systems (ITSs) contribute to a building’s energy savings strategy. This situation should change, however, with the growth of an industry initiative called the STEP program, which was one of Wednesday morning’s presentations.

As building cabling systems expand to carry various types of networks, the capabilities and technical skill of installers should also increase. For that reason, 16 ITS installers and technicians raced against the clock and each other, competing in several technical tasks as part of the fifth annual BICSI Cabling Skills Challenge (Photo 2). The overall winner with the highest score of the competition was Thomas “Lee” Renfroe, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, Fitzgerald, Ga., earning him the title of “2012 BICSI Cabling Skills Challenge Installer of the Year.”



A recurring theme in the sessions and on the show floor was that data centers are receiving a lot of attention because of the growing use of a concept called virtualization. In a virtualized system, any server can support any operating system or application by creating a number of virtual servers within a single physical computer. For that reason, installation craftsmanship within a server cabinet is critical, and cable management and serviceability are vital considerations. In addition, the demands being made on copper and optical fiber cabling in data centers are bringing about new ideas in cable constructions and typologies as well as in the development of new or revised BICSI standards, which have become international in scope.

With a Power-over-Ethernet (POE) service (or something similar) able to deliver enough electrical power over the horizontal cabling to serve a lighting system in an office of data center — and more importantly, the ability for some end devices to perform their function on much less power — the way a structured cabling system is designed and installed in a commercial building is evolving.

Educational Sessions

Attendees had the opportunity to take advantage of a variety of learning opportunities at this year’s conference, including a closing general session that focused on the BICSI Cares presentation, in which donations were collected from attendees for Canines for Disabled Kids, a charity that provides assistance dogs to children with special needs.

In “Smart Grid Impact on Intelligent Buildings 2011,” Ron Zimmer, CABA Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, described the efforts being made to expand smart grid deployment and demand response systems within a building. A smart grid uses numerous sensors connected to a high-speed, reliable, and secure communications system to gather and analyze information about power use, power quality, and flow, which, in turn, can determine consumption patterns and provide early warnings of potential power delivery problems. Going further, monitoring and control systems in office buildings allow owners to make decisions on time-of-day use for their electricity (demand response and notification from the utility).

In “Cabling Challenges for Health Care,” Carol Everett Oliver, Berk-Tek, New Holland, Pa., and Matt Odell, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, discussed the new ANSI/TIA-1179 standard for health care information systems and the design philosophy for the information networks installed at the new $1.3-billion Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH). Consisting of two 12-story towers, the 1.6-million-sq-ft facility holds 560 private patient rooms and 33 operating rooms, along with pediatric trauma and burn services.

The building uses redundant pathways and cable runs (both backbone and horizontal) and several back-up dedicated optical fiber runs. A 40 Gb network core serves all IP-based applications that extend beyond the usual data and voice services, such as community antenna television (CATV), audiovisual (AV), security, nurse call, patient monitoring, and a real time location system. All of the data generated at the hospital is backed up in several on-site and off-site data centers. With its diverse IT applications and 11 classifications of work areas, JHH has created its own cabling standards, which included specific colors for cables and jacks to define each application.

In “The Emergence of Lighting as a Low-Voltage Network Application,” Sam Klepper, Redwood Systems, Inc., Freemont, Calif., explored how an LED lighting system in a building can be served by a Class II low-voltage cabling system, using Cat. 5 and Cat. 6 unshielded twisted-pair, which also incorporates a sensing and control network. A centrally located chassis, called an engine, converts AC power into constant current DC power for up to 64 drivers (to serve up to 64 LED light sources or fixtures). An adapter, a small component that resides next to each LED fixture, accepts the low-voltage DC power from the engine and transfers it to the fixture. The adapter also contains a set of environmental sensors that can detect voltage, current, light level, occupancy, temperature, carbon monoxide level, and light color.

Because every light fixture in the lighting network is essentially a data gathering point, the wiring system, which supports a communications protocol, becomes a sensing and control network for a building or data center. Typically, a 250,000-sq-ft commercial building may have 3,000 to 6,000 data connections with the ability to add about 12,000 more connections, at least nine more racks, and more than 500,000 linear feet of cable.

In “Next Generation Cabling,” Paul Kish, Belden, Saint-Laurent, Quebec, Canada, explained that a number of task groups in the TIA Copper Cabling System Subcommittee (TR-42.7) are looking at the feasibility for a new category of cabling to support applications beyond 10GBASE-T. The parameters being investigated include theoretical capacity, bandwidth requirement, maximum reach, and the complexity of the physical layer interface (PHY).

A data center survey presented to the IEEE 802.3 group in March 2011 shows that 82% of server-to-switch link lengths for end-of-row/centralized switching topologies are less than 30 m (98 ft), and 92% are less than 50 m (164 ft). Thus, the next generation twisted-pair cabling should be able to support a large portion of data center layouts. Designing a cabling system to support 40Gb/s data rates, which is also backward compatible with existing cabling categories and the 8-pin modular (RJ-45) connector, is a major challenge. However, the test and measurement data are encouraging.

In “Wireless: To Infinity and Beyond!” Larry Temenoff, Purdue University, Ft Wayne, Ind., reviewed how wireless systems were used in the past and then described today’s wireless antenna systems and protocols/provisions that are being made for the future. Temenoff covered satellite, terrestrial microwave, and distributed antenna systems as part of a background introduction. He then covered a number of related topics, such as attenuation, meshed wireless, antenna types, frequency vs. bandwidth, multipathing, access points, and cabling/installation standards.

In “New Fiber Connection Quality Requirements in TIA-568C,” Tyler Vander Ploeg, JDSU, Mill Creek, Wash., reviewed the fiber test specifications of TIA-568C with emphasis on the connector quality needs of FOTP-7 and FOTP-14. Of particular importance is the direct relationship between a clean connector end face and a reduction in return loss, because particles of dirt on the end face can cause transmission error and permanent damage.

The next update of 568-C will have information on the inspection requirements in Annex E, best practices (such as, never assume that a fiber end is “factory clean”), and test tools to use (a portable high-definition videoscope is essential). The growth of storage area networks to satisfy the regulatory requirements for the retention of information and the growth in video-centric applications are two important reasons to maintain the integrity of critical optical fiber networks.

In “From Green to Sustainable Information Communication Technology Systems (ICT) – How the STEP Ratings System Can Get You There,” Allen Weidman, InfoComm International, Fairfax, Va., described a new industry organization aimed at making sure the IT industry, starting with the AV community, has the tools and programs that can help achieve sustainability in new buildings and in retrofitting existing structures. The Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) is a rating system and guide managed by the STEP Foundation, a nonprofit group made up of technology trade associations representatives, their members, and STEP supporters.

Program proponents want to see all low-voltage building and communication technologies worked into a sustainable design, install, and maintenance process. While minimizing the energy consumption of these systems is important, the reduction/reuse of raw materials used, which will come under regulation in the near-future, are also important. At some point, we will see an energy code requirement for performance monitoring, that is, measuring a building’s energy use periodically over the lifetime of the structure.

In “Optical Fiber and Cabling Standards for Tomorrow’s Data Center,” John Kamino, OFS, Norcross, Ga., explained how fiber-optic technology continues to meet the ever-increasing demands for speed and bandwidth in data centers. In 2010, IEEE ratified IEEE 802.3ba, the new standard governing 40Gb/s and 100Gb/s Ethernet operations. This paves the way for the next generation of high-rate server connectivity and core switching. It is also expected to speed the adoption of OM4 multimode optical fiber in these applications. The 40Gb/s transmission protocol is intended primarily for interconnection links in data center and storage-area networks.

In “Preparing Network Infrastructures for the Video Revolution,” Bob Eskew, Automated Systems Design, Alpharetta, Ga., noted that while video content accounts for 40% of consumer Internet traffic today, it will be 62% by 2015. For that reason, the TIA 942-A standard for data center cabling recognizes a number of changes, including: the 100-m length limitation for optical fiber horizontal cabling has been removed and is now based on individual application requirements; Cat. 6 and Cat. 6a twisted-pair copper is recognized for horizontal applications; the recognized optical fiber connector is LC for one or two fibers and MPO for more than two fibers. Finally, an intermediate distribution area has been added to the topology of the data center.

In “Preparing Your Data Center for 40G and Beyond,” Brian Rhoney, Corning Cable Systems, Hickory, N.C., reviewed the steps needed for migrating to faster transmission speeds, the current standards, how fiber is applied, and the cabling choices using 12- and 24-fiber MPO systems. To transmit 40Gb/s over multimode optical fiber, one 10Gb/s signal will be transmitted over each of four fibers in one direction for a total of 40Gb/s. As it will be a duplex link, four other fibers will be used to transmit 10Gb/s each in the other direction.

In “Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON): Making Waves in Your Local Area Network,” John Hoover, Tellabs Government Systems, Vienna, Va., described how a transmission technology, used successively for a number of years by service providers, can be applied in commercial buildings to carry bandwidth-intensive applications economically. Only recently have system designers considered using GPON, which “passively” splits an optical fiber circuit, allowing a number of end-users to be connected with a minimum of equipment. Two major advantages of this approach are: It offers lower power consumption and as much as 90% lower space utilization in a building, and it can provide gigabit-speed bandwidth to the desktop, meeting nearly any end-user’s need for delivering video or large files.

In “Interpreting the NEC” Timothy Kuhlman, CH2M Hill, Portland, Ore., urged the audience to take the time to know the NEC as a document, advising them to read the definitions within this resource without relying on conventional wisdom or trade knowledge. When interpreting run-on sentences with lists of items, he also suggested that readers carefully examine the sentence to gain meaning. He displayed a diagram of a simple telecom installation and then applied his interpretation techniques to determine where Articles 300, 725, 770, and 800 apply.