If you’ve got an upcoming LAN deployment project, chances are good that it’s being installed into an existing building. These types of LAN installations are known as “brownfields” – where installers have to work around existing building infrastructure when installing new structured cabling systems. Also, it is likely that brownfield network installation will involve a fiber backbone deployment.
Very often, enterprise premises are equipped with entrance facilities that receive fiber backbone (horizontal channel) from the outside plants (telco, ISP router) into the building, to the demarcation point and then connect to the back of a patch panel (typically located in the telecom room). From the front of the patch panel, the horizontal channel is patched out to a core or aggregation switch; horizontal copper cabling then takes over to the work areas. It is one of the most suitable and cost-effective fiber network solutions for small- to medium-sized installations.
As Internet of Things (IoT) and digital buildings continue to evolve, talk has focused on preparing networks for these changes. But what happens if these networks upgrades or replacements are being installed in existing buildings – and not a brand new building?
According to the Energy Information Administration, only a small percentage of commercial buildings are less than 10 years old. Nearly half were constructed before 1980. And, according to a 2016 BSRIA survey, more than half of IT professionals say their structured cabling systems are at least eight years old. (Another 16% aren’t even sure how old the cabling in their buildings is.)
With a brownfield network, you don’t have a clean start, or the ability to design from scratch. Instead, you must work within the confines of what already exists.
Brownfield network installations present many challenges that require a nimble, flexible approach. The best-laid plans don’t always work when you discover that going through an existing wall isn’t possible, existing cable pathways don’t fit the new building layout and new pathways are needed, the building lacks enough telecom rooms to support the desired structured cabling architecture – and the list goes on.
For these reasons, brownfield network installations require field termination because the final cable lengths can’t possibly be known in advance. There are many fiber field-termination options you may want to use: fusion splicing, mechanical splice connectors, splice-on connectors or splice cassettes, for example. It’s important that installers (and their hardware) remain flexible to meet these common brownfield network installation challenges.
Consider the example mentioned above about existing buildings sometimes lacking proper telecom rooms to support the desired structured cabling architecture.
One way to remedy this may be to convert an old broom closet into a telecom room, for example – but it will be a tight fit. Only one side of the patch panel may be accessible; routing cables into the cable-management features of the panel will test your patience. You may also have limited 19-inch rack space for fiber and copper cabling that need to exist side by side.
Challenge No. 2: Cable Routing
Cable routing in tight, difficult-to-access spaces also poses a challenge during brownfield network projects; for example, some may not have any backbone fiber cables coming into the 19-inch rack from the same direction. Instead, you end up with a combination of left, right, top and bottom. Your infrastructure should afford you the flexibility to accomplish this.
Rising to the Challenge of Brownfield Network Deployment
The good news: Some products and solutions on the market are designed to minimize many of the frustrations installers come up against during a LAN deployment in an existing building.
Fiber patch panels are a good example. We put together a list of eight characteristics that a fiber patch panel platform should offer in order to better support brownfield network installation. To make LAN installation easier in existing buildings, fiber patch panels should offer the ability to:
- Remove/insert cassettes from the front and rear of the panel via front- and rear-access cassettes. This offers unmatched installation flexibility in tight spaces.
- Handle incoming cables from any direction through snap-on internal strain relief brackets. These can be affixed on the left, right or rear door of the patch panel.
- Use appropriate cable strain relief to protect backbone fibers from unnecessary damage. Look for fiber patch panels that offer external strain relief in flat and angled versions.
- Keep fiber bundles segregated with modular routing clips. These clips should be reconfigurable to meet routing needs as installation requirements evolve.
- Easily inspect and troubleshoot without disturbing the housing. See-through doors on housings and cassettes allows instant visibility.
- Work on the housing to be completed on a separate workbench prior to installation with a separable rear housing. Installers should also be able to separate front cable management from patch panels and remove front or rear doors for easier access.
- Accommodate mixed media to support copper and fiber at the same time.
- Support modern field-termination techniques, including splice trays, cassettes, splice-on connectors and mechanical splice connectors.
Because Belden designs cabling and connectivity that can be used in brownfield network installations, our solutions can minimize the frustrations installers face during LAN deployment in existing buildings.
The Belden Enterprise Closet “X” (ECX) Patch Panel Solution is designed for use in brownfield networks, and provides an easy-to-deploy, efficient solution for installers who are responsible for installations in these environments.
It offers all of the characteristics listed above, and also features multiple port-labeling locations within the housing (with downloadable label templates). Installation is simplified, calling for fewer detachable plastic components with the cassette rails molded into the housing. Using Belden KeyConnect frames, copper and fiber can be mixed and matched in the ECX platform as well.
To learn more about this new platform, visit www.belden.com/ecx.
Matthew is the Global Product Line Manager for Copper/Fiber Connectivity within the Enterprise Platform. An avid hockey fan originally from the Toronto area, he endures a painful existence cheering on the Maple Leafs year after year. Matthew holds a BSc in physics from the University of Waterloo and an MBA from Miami University (Ohio)