Get Physical: Rediscover Layer 1By Lawrence Walsh | Posted 2008-11-04 Email Print
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Providing end users with flexible and efficient IT infrastructures starts with a well designed physical layer. That means diving down to the bottom of the OSI stack and building back up.
At a recent tech conference, I stumbled upon a number of IP-video surveillance vendors showing off their wares. The convergence of traditionally analogy physical security systems with the Internet protocol world should improve efficiency by operating disparate systems over a single network. However, these vendors insisted that their installations would require running a separate IP network.
Strange as this may sound, it does follow the conventional wisdom of network cabling of the last 20 years. Each new IP-enabled system would require a wholly segregated cable network to support their respective power sources, switches, repeaters, drops and end points. Businesses of all sizes have absorbed the costs of running more cable and installing more drops because cabling has been seen as a secondary consideration in network design and implementation, as well as a misunderstood hidden cost.
What every business now seeks in their IT infrastructure is flexibility and efficiency. The answer to both of those thorny issues may lie at the very bottom of the OSI stack: Layer 1 – Physical.
"Over the last 10 years with convergence, we’ve learned that cabling and infrastructure greatly impacts the design and operation of the network," says Dallas Defibaugh, director of U.S. channels at Panduit. "Just getting a bigger pipe and pushing more data through doesn’t work anymore."
Many conventional IT solution providers may not know Panduit, but it’s a 50-year-old, privately held manufacturer of everything Layer 1 – cables, RJ45 jacks, network and power drops, data center cabinets and more. It provides the Layer 1 products that support everything from Layer 2 and above. What the folks at Panduit have discovered is that these overlapping and poorly designed networks are impacting end users' ability to field and operate efficient networks.
"The physical infrastructure influences what the network can be used for," Defibaugh says.
As budget constraints and cost containment pressures befall end users, they’re looking to shave spending from every aspect of their network and IT infrastructures. At the same time, they’re being called upon to squeeze out greater levels of automation and functionality from the same networks with few resources. What they’re discovering, Panduit has found, is that they’re legacy network design—or haphazard network infrastructures—are hindering everything from applying power and cooling efficiencies, adding new capacity or reaping automation benefits.
Typically, end users are operating as many as five different overlapping networks: data and computing, communications (voice, video), facilities control (HVAC), power and physical security (locks, facilities access control, and IP video surveillance). Reaping the maximum cost savings, operational efficiency and utmost agility to meet new business needs requires the convergence of these disparate networks on to a single wire and designing the physical layout of the data center to support the application needs.
"It’s a unified physical infrastructure that’s architected and implemented on a common infrastructure that’s capable of support disparate networks that exist in a single facility," Defibaugh says. "Why have different pipes for everything?"
Converged Layer 1 infrastructure requires greater planning and facilities knowledge among solution providers. Defibaugh says Panduit is responding to end user’s requests for better data center and networking design services, and fulfilling implementations through its channel partners. However, an industry-wide adoption of Layer 1 convergence will require a knowledge transfer and capabilities enhancement to solution providers. Unfortunately, data center and network design is really a black art that precious few possess.
If you subscribe to the Layer 1 convergence philosophy, networking solution providers should invest in data center and network design practices or nurture partnerships with cabling specialists that can provide smart physical architecture and implementation services. It’s no longer about building on top of yesterday’s networks, but building for customers the network infrastructures of the future.
Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.