Underneath your IT infrastructure lies a foundation: layer 0. It’s the one we don’t often talk about. It’s frequently overlooked, but is so critical. Installed behind the walls and above the ceiling, behind closed doors and in dark rooms, your cabling – although hidden, and rarely the topic of conversation among technology professionals – is, in my opinion, the most important layer of your information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure.

What is Layer 0?

Simply put, layer 0 is made up of your infrastructure cabling and connectivity. It allows data to be reliably transmitted from one place to another at high speeds – whether users/devices are in the same room, in different buildings or separated by thousands of miles.

Each organization’s layer 0 is unique, be it for user connectivity that provides network access to users through wired LAN or wireless LAN, or for the ever-increasing infrastructure connectivity that connects security cameras, monitors, and a variety of building management sensors to the network through gateways. Layer 0 can include:

  • Twisted-pair copper cabling, supporting data rates from 100 Mbps all the way up to 40 Gbps and power delivery ranging from 15W to 100W
  • Optical fiber cabling (multimode or singlemode with longer reach and higher bandwidth capabilities)
  • High-speed cable assemblies (direct-attach copper cables assemblies or active optical cable assemblies)

There are various deployment options – from field termination and direct termination to factory pre-terminated products. Layer 0 also includes racks and enclosures with power distribution, thermal management and cable management features.

This list is not exhaustive, but illustrates the complexity built into the design and deployment of a layer 0 infrastructure. Working together, these systems support the needs of all types of organizations – and their importance only continues to rise as IoT enters the picture.

The Importance of a Solid Layer 0

Layer 0 could be compared to your home’s foundation. If your home’s foundation isn’t constructed correctly, nothing else on top of it will function properly. For your home, that may mean cracks in walls, a door that begins to jam or windows that won’t close completely. For your network, an incorrectly designed layer 0 could mean pauses in information transfer, delays in streaming media, downloads that take longer than they should or complete system downtime.

A good example might be your organization’s wireless access points. These devices, which allow IP devices to connect to a wired network, must be installed on top of an infrastructure that can support appropriate bandwidth and perhaps PoE. If the wireless access points are installed on top of a layer 0 infrastructure that can’t support their requirements, then the devices will never work as intended. (And, many times, the devices themselves will be blamed – in reality, it’s likely the fault of the cabling infrastructure.)

As IoT becomes more realistic for today’s enterprises, layer 0 may be responsible if the IP-enabled devices that connect to networks don’t function as intended. If the cabling infrastructure wasn’t designed and installed to support increasing numbers of devices, then those devices won’t be able to communicate with the network or each other.

cant ignore cat 6a bannerHow to Manage Layer 0

There is a basic set of recommendations I suggest following for a reliable layer 0:

  1. Plan as far ahead as possible. Because of how fast technology changes, don’t design or install a layer-0 infrastructure that will limit your organization in what it can do over the next few years; otherwise, it may cost your organization dearly when you have to rip out and reinstall a new system to make new technology and applications a reality.
  2. Remain technology agnostic. The worst thing you can do is fall in love with a specific technology to the point where you lose sight of the advantages of other technologies. Make sure that the cabling solutions you choose can “play nice” with a variety of technologies and other equipment.
  3. Hedge your bets. The term “you get what you pay for” applies here. Don’t expect good results if you make a cheap cabling investment in terms of quality and quantity. When compared to the rest of your ICT infrastructure, the cost of layer 0 infrastructure is only a fraction of your total expenses. But layer 0 can end up costing you much more – and be a business disrupter – when you have to repair, augment or upgrade the system in terms of size or performance.

To get the right cabling infrastructure in place, it’s important to start by analyzing your enterprise’s needs. After you’ve determined what’s necessary now and in the future, you should decide how your cabling infrastructure needs to be customized (if at all) and then standardize it across your organization. This will ensure the possibility of future scalability, faster deployment, streamlined maintenance and fewer opportunities for downtime.

Belden takes time to truly understand what your business faces when it comes to the needs of your unique layer 0. To learn more about how Belden addresses the critical areas of your networks, including user access, uptime, future planning and physical security, visit info.belden.com/lan.