The University of Miami Law School installs fiber to the desk

Fiber to the desk promises to give users ready access to whatever network applications are on the horizon, regardless of bandwidth demands.

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The University of Miami Law School installs fiber to the desk

Fiber to the desk promises to give users ready access to whatever network applications are on the horizon, regardless of bandwidth demands.

Atikem Haile-Mariam

Corning Inc.

Martyn N. Easton

Siecor Corp.

The University of Miami School of Law has included a fiber-optic data communications network in the design of its new four-story library. By early 1996, it will have fiber to the desk throughout the library buildings and adjacent law school facilities. The cost of an all-fiber network is no longer the issue it once was, thanks in part to decreasing prices and innovative cabling architectures that reduce the need for opto-electronics. For the University of Miami, the time was right for an all-fiber network.

The previous system in the library consisted of thick-wire coaxial cable and Category 3 unshielded twisted-pair copper cable. This infrastructure had proven inadequate to the present and near-future networking throughput demands placed on the library as it began to expand its role as a high-speed provider of up-to-date information.

The new law library network will offer users desktop access to imaging material, CD-ROM and other data- bases, as well as the ability to pull files across the network. The library will also provide access to online catalogs, standard word processing, spreadsheet packages and file sharing--all on the network.

Finally, with a link via the university`s fiber distributed data interface backbone to the Internet, library network users will have an on-ramp to the information superhighway. In effect, the facility will be an electronic information community that interconnects faculty, students, library staff and a multitude of databases resident on the Internet.

Reinventing the network

In late 1993, the university started to reinvent its law school`s network. It did all the planning in-house, with assistance and consultation from Siecor Corp. (Hickory, NC) and Cabletron Systems Inc. (Rochester, NH). Compu-link (Clearwater, FL), a Siecor extended-warranty-program contractor, installed, terminated and tested the optical-fiber cabling in the new and renovated facilities. The first phase of the project, completed in August 1994, involved construction and fiber-to-the-desk cabling of the new library building, which is now ready to be occupied. In the second and third phases, the old library will be recabled and the attached classrooms and administrative offices will be renovated.

The law library has its own FDDI backbone. This network connects to the University of Miami`s campus FDDI backbone, where the cable is a hybrid containing 24 multimode and six singlemode fibers. This distributed backbone design greatly simplifies the network architecture, saves space and lowers costs. From the FDDI backbone in the main crossconnect in the new addition, 12-fiber riser media interface connector cables run to several telecommunications closets throughout the library and adjacent buildings. In the new and renovated sections of the library, only one closet is required for every two floors in each building, and each closet houses Cabletron hubs.

The horizontal 2-fiber cable connects the telecommunications closet to the work area outlet. Fibers were terminated using two versions of ST-compatible connectors. At the closet and the main crossconnect, a pre-radius heat cure ST-compatible connector was used because it offers the lowest total installed cost when a large number of fibers at a location are terminated. However, a no-polish, no-epoxy Camlite connector was used at the work area outlet because it offers the lowest installed cost when terminating a small number of fibers where reduced set-up time is critical. At the closets and main crossconnect, a fiber distribution center was used as the connecting hardware for both the backbone and horizontal cables.

Fiber-optic cable installed outside was pulled into a duct bank system of six 4-inch PVC conduits. A minimum of three conduits run from manholes to each building; within one such conduit are three 1.25-inch innerducts--one for fiber, one for telephone lines and one empty for future needs. Indoors, fiber-optic riser cable runs between closets in 4-inch conduit. From the closets, horizontal cables travel in open ceilings and 0.75-inch conduit to the work areas.

The horizontal network supports 10Base-F Ethernet network, running at 10 megabits per second. The FDDI backbone runs at the standard 100 Mbits/sec. However, the network has the inherent ability to move to speeds in excess of 1 gigabit per second. Employing 10Base-F Ethernet is a cost-effective solution because affordable electronics are available to run Ethernet over fiber.

Fiber-to-the-desk alternatives

Alternative cabling architectures such as the aforementioned are becoming popular among network designers who seek ways to bring fiber to the desktop at affordable prices. Another design, centralized optical fiber cabling, would eliminate the need for electronics, hubs or switches in the telecommunications closet. This design takes advantage of the increased distance capabilities of fiber, allowing users to put all their data electronics in one location rather than throughout the building. This simplifies management, provides for more efficient use of electronic ports and allows for easy migration to other network needs.

Another cabling design employs multiuser outlets in a modular furniture environment. A high-fiber-count cable (12 to 24 fibers, for instance) is run from a closet to a multiuser outlet fixed to a permanent structure, such as a supporting column, within open office space. Optical-fiber patch cords are then installed through the furniture raceways from the outlet to each user`s desktop. This design is possible because optical fiber is not restricted to the 3-meter limitation of Category 5 copper patch cords. Also, the design provides flexibility to reconfigure the office without disruption to the cabling infrastructure.

Fiber is immune to electromagnetic interference, which is a plus in the law school buildings, where cable must run through open ceilings past fluorescent light fixtures. In addition, two separate feeds from the local power company had previously caused interference because of power differentials. These time-consuming and potentially expensive problems will no longer exist with the all-fiber network.

The law school`s fiber-optic network has already proven its worth. During the network`s second week of operation, when some users were still occupying temporary offices linked to the network by twisted-pair copper, a violent lightning storm--all too common in Miami--knocked out the copper system. The fiber portion of the network, however, was unaffected.

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Click here to enlarge image

From a main crossconnect in the new addition, 12-fiber multimode cables run to telecommunications closets throughout the law library and adjacent buildings. Another cable, with 24 multimode and six (currently dark) singlemode fibers, connects the law school`s network with the university`s fiber backbone and through it, the Internet.

No Lines, No Waiting

When the University of Miami Law School library network upgrade is completed in 1996, the fiber-optic backbone will interconnect all of the buildings with fiber to the desk, serving 1400 law students, 50 faculty, 45 library staff and 20 support personnel. This network will be linked to the university`s campuswide FDDI backbone, the Internet and the outside world. In addition to providing users access to hard-wired terminals, the library will have 215 optical-fiber outlets available throughout the buildings. Plans are to provide students and other library patrons with portable laptop kits to access the network. This will mean that people can work side by side practically anywhere they choose, yet still have access to information and network applications.

According to Ellen Greenfield, director of academic computer resources at the law school, library users will have access from one terminal to a variety of services--an online catalog for this or any library on campus, various databases, word-processing software and the Internet.

The law school also plans to add administrative functions to the network. Students who are in the library or connected to the network from home may be able to register for classes, pay bills and untangle administrative snarls.

Atikem Haile-Mariam is market development manager, premises, at Corning Inc. in Corning, NY, and Martyn N. Easton is premises marketing manager, Universal Transport System, at Siecor Corp., Hickory, NC.

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