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Cabling Lifecycles and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Choosing a network cabling solution is a little like marriage - a choice based solely on what works for you today may cause problems in the future. Marriage is a lifetime decision, while network cabling's 10 year lifecycle target only seems like forever in the world of IT networks. Knowing that a cabling decision should be a 10-year commitment, supporting 2-3 generations of active equipment, it is critical that total lifecycle cost be closely considered.

To accurately predict a total cost of ownership, one must consider a number of factors:

  • Expected installed lifetime of the cabling plant
  • Applications that will run on the cabling plant over its useful life
  • Timeframe during which standards, applications and electronics manufacturers will support the cabling plant
  • Cost of active electronics
  • Warranty length and covered components (parts, labour, applications)
  • Price as it relates to performance
  • Time that the end-user will occupy a facility

How Standards Dictate Lifecycles

Cabling standards are regularly written and reviewed. For instance, ANSI/TIA/EIA (Now TIA) standards are reviewed every 5 years and may be reaffirmed, rescinded or revised. ISO/IEC standards are written with a target lifespan of 10 years. IEEE application performance standards are written, revised or amended based on current manufacturing and product capabilities, and reference the current cabling standards.

From today's vantage point, the pending IEEE 802.3an 10GBASE-T standard is the primary driver and used as the 10-year benchmark. For this analysis, copper cabling grades are assigned lifecycles according to their ability to support 10GBASE-T or beyond.

As standards eliminate or rescind support for cabling categories, the active equipment manufacturers will, as history shows, follow suit. There is an intricate balance between forward movement in technology and addressing the needs of legacy systems. The final cabling choices for the pending 10GBASE-T standard is installed legacy category 6 with a supported distance up to 55 meters, augmented category 6 and category 7/class F, with the latter two supporting a distance up to 100 meters.

Category 5e systems, while viable for some users now, will not support 10GBASE-T and thereby are assigned a lifecycle of 5 years. This based on the expectation that, in the next 5-7 years, category 5e systems will move to an archive annex in their respective standards documents and will no longer be supported by the active equipment manufacturers. Such was the case with category 3, 4 and 5 systems. It is expected that during the next 2-5 years, new 10GBASE-T copper electronics will be widely available and a cabling upgrade from 5e to at least augmented category 6A will be necessary to support 10GBASE-T.

Non-augmented category 6 systems, while they will outlast 5e, are expected to have a lesser 7-year lifecycle than the 10 years projected for augmented category 6 (Cat 6A) systems capable of supporting 10GBASE-T up to a full 100 meters. Category 7/Class F systems enjoy the longest lifecycle and are expected to support future applications beyond 10GBASE-T, such as 40 Gbps. Based on historically consistent application growth rates, Cat 7/Class F can be safely assigned a 15 year lifetime.

Basic Lifecycle Costs

Based upon the basic lifecycles detailed above, a clearer picture of long-term costs can be seen. The table below compares costs (in USD) for a 24 channel cabling system, ranging from category 5e through category 7/class F. It covers only the basic initial costs: the cost of components, installation and testing. Component cost is based upon plenum-rated products at retail costs. It is important to note that labour is a primary cost factor in these calculations. Labour costs will vary depending on geographic location, but in many areas will be the single most costly factor over the lifecycle of a cabling plant.

24 Channels Installed cost Lifecycle of system Per channel average Annualised cost of ownership
Cat 5e/Class D UTP 3,667.24 5 152.80 733.45
Cat 6 / Class E UTP 5,106.66 7 212.78 729.52
10G 6A UTP 6,986.16 10 291.09 698.62
10G 6A Screened 7,893.20 10 382.88 789.32
TERA - Cat 7 / Class F 12,801.20 15 533.38 853.41

NB: all amounts in US dollars

Based on these basic initial figures alone, the case is largely made for higher-performing systems. But, initial costs hardly account for true lifetime costs.

What else?

The graph below begins to address some other cost considerations. The analysis addresses initial costs, as above, as well as remediation costs for bringing lesser performing systems from today's 10/100 applications to 1G through 10G. Remediation costs include labour as well as downtime and lost productivity costs due to testing and/or recabling. Downtime costs are based on national average wages and average lost revenues from published figures based on time down for remediation and testing. While there is a small delta in the component costs at the time of original installation, adding labour to test for additional performance parameters or removing non-compliant channels, increases the total cost of ownership for the lesser performing systems.

Annualized Cost Comparison

Even with so many factors included, annualized costs above are far from exhaustive. In fact, the figures presented are conservative. They do not include higher overtime rates for working after hours, tracing cables if the labelling and documentation on the system was not maintained or any costs to replace or run new conduit or drill new cores as needed to accommodate the larger diameter augmented category 6A or category 7/class F cables. They also do not account for potential slowtime productivity losses due to network capacity issues in lower-performing systems. All of these figures and comparisons boil down to a simple fact: the longer your cabling plant can support your needs without upgrade, replacement or additional testing, the lower the total cost of ownership.

Summary

For anyone responsible for selecting the right cabling infrastructure and who plans to occupy the premises for at least 5 years, this analysis demonstrates that Augmented Category 6A or higher cabling systems are the most economical solutions, providing a solid return on investment. One should consider not only the initial costs, but ensuing follow on costs as well. Understanding the full lifecycle and industry trends will assist in your decisions. Remember, that cabling represents only 5-7% of the overall network investment. It is expected to outlive most network components and is the most difficult and potentially costly component of a network to replace. There are few network investments more poorly made than the installation of a cabling system with a shortened lifespan that will require replacement sooner than economically forecasted.

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About Siemon
Established in 1903, Siemon is an industry leader specialising in the design and manufacture of high quality, high performance low voltage infrastructure solutions and services for data centres, LANs and intelligent buildings. Headquartered in Connecticut, USA, with global sales, technical and logistics expertise spanning 100 countries, Siemon offers a comprehensive suite of copper and optical fibre cabling systems, cabinets, racks, cable management, data centre power and cooling systems and intelligent infrastructure management solutions.

With more than 400 patents specific to structured cabling, Siemon Labs invests heavily in R&D and the development of industry standards, underlining the company’s long-standing commitment to its customers and the industry. Siemon Interconnect Solutions (SIS) is a Siemon business unit comprised of a team of dedicated technical sales professionals supported by Siemon Labs, mechanical, electrical and signal integrity engineers committed to solving industry and customer driven interconnect challenges. Siemon provides custom network infrastructure solutions to OEMs, leading manufacturers, value-added resellers and system integrators.
For further information or supporting picture please contact:
CLEAR Communications
Susann Bladwell, PR Consultant
M: +49 (0)176 7863 4709
E: sbladwell@clearcommunictions.de

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