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Charming the cable snake

Do you lose track of cabling changes months after they take place? What's going where and who is making changes to cabling infrastructure? Cable management tools can help.

A few months after the cabling contractor runs your copper, do you have any idea what cables are going where? Do people have access to your physical cabling infrastructure? Would you know if something was changed? If the answer to any of these questions is "no," you probably need a network management tool.

Keeping up with your network infrastructure can be a challenge. One way to keep on top of the mangle of cabling networks is by methodically logging moves, adds and changes (MACs).

What will it do for you?

So how does tracking what's connected to what offer functionality to the data center manager? A network cable tracking tool has a number of uses.

  • Security. If anyone unplugs any cable from the network, there can be an immediate alarm that goes off in the network operation center. Some facilities even have the system hooked up to a digital camera that will take a picture of the room when the cable is disconnected.
  • Documentation. Some tools have a work order module in the software that allows work orders to be signed off and documentation on the physical layer to be updated automatically.
  • Compliance. Tying into both security and documentation, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires data centers to keep accurate records and document changes.
  • Network troubleshooting. It can take up to 80% of a technician's time to figure out where a problem is in the network. These products can help figure out where in the physical layer the problem is.

    These types of programs have been on the market for a few years. The tools have evolved from data entry documentation programs to tracking physical layer changes.

    What's out there?

    If you're looking for a program to track cable changes, upgrades and so on, there are a lot of different programs available -- and there are plenty of good ones. According to experts, however, the tools can run the gamut from end to end. The key is to pick the right tool. Get a product that is intended for a smaller company and you're fried. Get something that runs more granular and you're paying for features you don't need.

    For standard, basic tracking usage there are a number of computer-aided design or computer-aided facility management systems with network management modules built in. Some people use software from Microsoft, such as the technical diagramming program Visio or Excel.

    If you want to get the big picture, or view a wider range of network devices, there are more comprehensive packages, such as IBM's Tivoli or Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView.

    But those products don't drill down to the granularity of the physical layer, according to Tom Condon, senior consultant with Chicago-based System Development Integration.

    For data centers with large networks with multiple locations, or those who do a lot of MACs, there needs to be a higher level of network tracking. For them, there are products such as MapIT. MapIT, a partner product from Watertown, Conn.-based Siemon Co. and Chicago-based iTracs Corp., uses iTracs software in conjunction with Siemon's hardware to monitor connections in data centers and wiring closets. This type of program automatically updates network database documentation, detects unauthorized MACs and can alert the administrator of any changes.

    Who needs it?

    For more information:

    The evolving art of networking self-defense

    Network device management systems: Simplifying the buying process

    According to Frank Velleca, marketing manager at Siemon, data centers in the neighborhood of 10,000 users will be able to justify a product like MapIT.

    While size of your network infrastructure is important, some experts say size is only part of the story. You should also be thinking about other metrics. Condon said while size does matter, what managers really need to take into consideration is MACs.

    "The drive [to use network management tools] is MACs. That's the metric that is used very often to determine what kind of support staff and tracking software you need. If you have a very static environment where nothing changes, you could have 10,000 employees and not even need a system. On the flip side, there are organizations that have 5,000 people with tremendous churn, adding and changing all the time would need it. Organizations that have acquisitions are an example of when having a good network infrastructure management methodology and software will help you," Condon said.

    Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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