The computer cabling that links
your computers together and connects them to the Internet forms a
hidden asset that is becoming increasingly important in these days
of ecommerce. What is out of sight is often quickly forgotten and
undocumented, causing unnecessary repair delays or even wasted
dollars on unnecessary computer wiring expansion.
With more business tasks becoming automated, the loss of even a
few minutes of connection time could mean the financial loss of
business transactions measuring in the tens or hundreds of
thousands of dollars. This becomes even more critical when every
fledgling network technician is taught that a majority of network
failures occur at the physical layer of cables, networking
equipment, patch panels, and even wall jacks.
Until recently, knowing which wire went where took lots of record
keeping and time spent preparing wiring diagrams. Even if a wiring
plant was fully documented once, the frantic pace of computer
support may devalue this important knowledge. IT managers all too
often put off such record keeping for years, waiting for a “quiet
day” that never comes. It would be nice if the wiring could “map”
ICMSes (intelligent cable management systems) do just that. ICMS
vendors claim their equipment can help technicians quickly locate
physical layer faults, install new equipment, and accurately plan
for business expansion. ICMS systems can work with both computer
network and PBX systems. According to the vendors, ICMS can help
identify unused computer wall jacks and switch ports, saving money
by making use of forgotten resources. In the important areas of
security and disaster recovery, cabling to critical computer
resources can be monitored for outages or unauthorized equipment
With software to interpret and display the results and sensors
attached to wiring and patch panels, ICMS products can tell you
which wire goes where and that wire’s status. They can be used to
trace out wiring though patch points, network switches, patch
panels, and even wall jacks. If you’re hoping that placing a
single sensor in the middle of the wiring closet can make sense of
the mess, you’re going to be disappointed. However, if you apply
ICMS components throughout the wiring plant, you can make sense of
all that wire and take action.
Make Use Of ICMS
ICMS lets managers make up-front
investments in managing cable plants. Regardless of size,
companies that depend upon the network to help them market their
products need to manage all of their assets efficiently and
speedily. With orders arriving from the Internet, cable outages
and bottlenecks mean lost dollars. It really boils down to
downtime and lost revenue. Regardless of your company’s size, can
you afford an outage that can last hours while someone
troubleshoots the problem with out-of-date information? If you
need it fixed now, you should look into ICMS.
Smaller business can adopt ICMS more quickly than larger companies
because smaller companies should have fewer connections to manage.
Taken with good planning, this could make a smaller
technology-heavy company more responsive to its customers, more
agile in growth, and more resistant to disaster.
Smaller companies also do not have the luxury of a large
IT staff who can devote more time to cable plant management. In
many cases, there may be only one network administrator, and that
may be a part-time assignment. ICMSes help technicians make fewer
errors when making network changes and give them good tools to
monitor network performance. These tools can also tie into NMS
(network management system) consoles, such as HP OpenView or
Computer Associates Unicenter, which may already be in use at the
company operations center.
Avaya’s iPatch System is an
management system for copper and fiber optic cable media that
allows remote control and monitoring of patch panel
Two popular ICMS products include
Avaya’s SYSTIMAX iPatch System and iTRACS’ iTRACS (Intelligent
Tracking Asset Control Solution). The SYSTIMAX iPatch System uses
the iPatch System Manager software to perform cable management and
for documenting chores, using industry standard patch cables
instead of sensor-equipped ones.
Both the iPatch System and iTRACS make use of SNMP to alert NMS
software of cabling status. Avaya’s iPatch System Manager 3.0
software can communicate with such NMS products as HP’s OpenView.
The software also uses HTML to present supplemental data. iPatch
System Manager users can decide which of the circuits should have
alarms to prevent unnecessary alerts. Alarms can also be set as
reminders of scheduled changes for specific circuits. Changes at
the patch panel are reported to the NMS in real-time.
The iPatch System Manager software also lets the user see circuits
visually organized in a floor plan. Connectivity traces show the
state of the network’s physical layer in real-time, with
historical data and future changes available as references. Remote
users can access iPatch data through a Web interface, letting IT
managers check on a circuit while away from the iPatch System
iPatch data is stored in SQL format, and Avaya recommends a
Microsoft SQL server (SQL 7.0 or above) for larger enterprises. If
Microsoft SQL server is not available, the setup program will
install a copy of the Microsoft Data Engine.
The iTRACS approach makes use of software featuring a Sybase SQL
database with query software, a graphics package, a Web-based
management module, and alerting tools. The software communicates
with hardware-based analyzers, which evaluate iTRACS sensors found
in patch cables and iTRACS-enabled network equipment, such as hubs
and patch panels, from third-party manufactures.
Rick McNees, vice president of marketing for iTRACS, says, “iTRACS
users enjoy reduced operating costs from improved productivity,
increased service levels through reduced risk of operational
disruptions, increased asset utilization, enhanced security, and
the users have a foundation for business continuity and disaster
iTRACS standard edition software provides basic tools for a small
to medium-sized company. A thin client provides links from
iTRACS intelligent cable
management software offers network administrators a wide range
of real-time management and documentation tools.
applications to iTRACS.
Web-based remote management is supported, and a Pocket PC module
lets Pocket PCs access iTRACS data. iTRACS advanced edition
software provides the same tools as the standard edition, with
SNMP support included. Support for AutoCAD drawings, with
drag-and-drop data exchange from iTRACS to the drawing files, is
also included, as are additional modules for a discovery tool and
a wiring closet manager.
iTRACS 6.0 software takes its interface with NMS software one step
farther, with tight integration with Computer Associates Unicenter.
This ensures that data created in one application is also
duplicated in the other. For instance, once you create a change
order through Unicenter’s Service Desk, the same change order
number can be generated in iTRACS by pressing the Create In iTRACS
button in Unicenter Service Desk.
Invest In Better Management
management represents a significant investment, but proponents
claim that it can recoup the investment in improved service
response and security, with few human errors associated with
moving, adding, or changing connections. With this in mind, the
investment makes sense for organizations where outages mean big
Pricing for complete ICMS installations will vary according to the
wiring plant and desired software extras. For planning purposes,
installation of an ICMS might work out to about 25% of the total
wiring plant infrastructure, McNees notes.
by Bill Hayes