Stony Brook University: Innovation in network cabling and computer science
University’s computer science building capitalized on a shielded cabling system and its ability to support multiple applications through cable sharing.
By Betsy Conroy, Siemon
Cabling Innovators Honoree
This article detailing the network cabling design and installation at Stony Brook University was honored with a 2015 Cabling Innovators Award. The awards program’s judges determined that the innovations described in this article resulted in marked improvements over other methods, approaches, or system use. Congratulations to Siemon and to Stony Brook University on this honor. Look for more Cabling Innovators Awards honorees in future issues of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.
Situated on a more-than-1,000-acre campus on Long Island’s North Shore, Stony Brook University’s Department of Computer Science is consistently ranked among the top research computer science departments in the nation. With internationally renowned faculty who have made significant contributions in the areas of visual computing, computer systems, networking, cybersecurity, algorithms and intelligent computing, the University’s Department of Computer Science offers bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees in Computer Science and Information Systems Engineering.
Complementing existing technology and research space at the University’s Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT), construction was recently completed on the new home for computer science at Stony Brook. The new three-floor, 70,000-square-foot facility features a 4,000-square-foot atrium lobby and includes faculty and post doc offices, computing practice and work spaces, and collaborative learning environments. The facility’s 27,000 square feet of research lab space includes 18 general-purpose computer science research labs, two teaching labs and an array of specialized labs such as digital media, light dome, sound booth, virtual reality and wireless sensor labs.
Designed to achieve a LEED Silver certification, the highly efficient building aims to accelerate Stony Brook University’s growth in collaborative research in bioinformatics, smart energy, cyber engineering, physical sciences and the biomedicine field.
Innovative cable sharing approach
When it came time to design the network cabling infrastructure for the new building, the university’s computer science department wanted to deliver gigabit speeds with the eventual ability to support 10 Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop for areas dealing with massive data sets. At the same time, the infrastructure needed to support a wide range of lower-speed networking equipment and peripherals such as printers, phones and video displays. From the very early stages of the project, it was decided that the fully shielded TERA Category 7A (Class FA) Cabling System from Siemon with a bandwidth of 1.2 GHz per pair and cable sharing capabilities would be the ideal solution to support the needs throughout the facility.
“Category 7A is the highest grade of twisted-pair copper cabling currently supported by a published performance standard. It’s a popular choice in Europe, where the head of our department travels a lot, and we were familiar with the technology as it had previously been deployed in another computer science building on campus,” says Ken Gladky, director of computer operations for Stony Brook University.
|Designed to achieve LEED Silver certification, the three-floor, 70,000-square-foot home for computer science at Stony Brook University includes 27,000 square feet of research lab space. The new building complements existing technology and research space at the university’s Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology.|
Ratified in 2010 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) under Amendment 2 of ISO/IEC 11801, 2nd edition, category 7A (class FA) includes two connector options-an RJ-style connector as defined by IEC 60603-7-7 and a non-RJ-style connector as defined by IEC 61073-3-104. The RJ-style connector features internally switched Category 6A and 7A circuits. Its Category 6A circuit is backward-compatible in that it accepts the 8-position, 8-contact (8p8c) RJ-style modular plug interface used in Category 6A and lower category cabling. Its Category 7A circuit is activated by the insertion of a special non-RJ-style plug that engages with contacts located in the four outside corners of the jack.
Invented by Siemon and subsequently chosen as an ISO/IEC 11801 interface, the non-RJ-style Siemon TERA connector features an isolated quadrant design. It fits into a standard RJ-45 sized modular jack opening and is backward-compatible and interoperable with Category 6A and lower category cabling via hybrid TERA-to-RJ patch cords. Unlike the RJ-style Category 7A interface, the design of the TERA connector offers a standardized interface that provides innovative cable sharing capabilities.
|Shown here is the atrium of Stony Brook University’s computer science building. All connections throughout the building, including computer labs, are home run via copper cabling to one main equipment room centrally located on the second floor. “Instead of having multiple closets, we wanted everything in one central location where it is easier to make reconfigurations to the infrastructure and manage the operation,” noted Ken Gladky, director of computer operations for Stony Brook University.|
“We looked at both styles of Category 7A connectors, but had some concerns with the RJ-style connectors in that there is a mechanical component to the jack that seemed like a possible point of failure,” says Gladky. “Furthermore, we wanted to do cable sharing. We believed the TERA connector to therefore be more stable and ultimately more flexible.”
Cable sharing is the practice of running more than one application over different pairs of a Category 7A cable using the TERA connector. The ability to run up to four applications over a single cable is uniquely enabled by both the cable and connector construction. While the amount of crosstalk in unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cabling systems can adversely impact the ability for multiple applications to coexist in one cable, the fully shielded TERA cabling and isolated quadrant design of the connector guarantees sufficient noise isolation between pairs.
|RJ-style (IEC 60603-7-7) interface outlet contact positions. Category 6A and lower uses dashed-line positions. Category 7/7A uses solid-line positions.|
In a cable sharing scenario, all four shielded pairs are terminated to a single outlet. However, in addition to accepting a four-pair cord for Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet applications, the TERA outlet can also accept four 1-pair cords, two 2-pair cords, or a combination of the two-without the need for splitters or adapters. These cords are terminated on one end with either a 1-, 2-, or 4-pair plug that fits into one, two, or all four quadrants of the TERA connector. The other end of the modular cord is terminated to an appropriately wired interface connector, such as an RJ-11 plug for voice or an RJ-45 plug for Ethernet. This flexibility allows various applications to be converged onto a single cable, decreasing the amount of cabling and required pathway space associated with multiple runs that use lower-performing cabling.
Scalable, flexible value-add
With the cable sharing capabilities of the TERA system, a single outlet can support multiple 1- and 2-pair low-speed applications or one 4-pair high-speed data application like 1000-Mbit/sec (1000Base-T) or 10-Gbit/sec (10GBase-T) Ethernet while simultaneously supporting Power over Ethernet (PoE). This allows outlets at Stony Brook University’s new Computer Science Building to support applications in a less wasteful and more eco-friendly manner-the unused pairs that would be present if a 4-pair channel was dedicated to an application transmitting over just one or two pairs are eliminated. It also allows for outlets running low-speed 1- or 2-pair applications to easily be converted to high-speed data applications with the simple change of a patch cord.
|Non-RJ-style (IEC 61073-3-104) TERA interface contact positions.|
“How we use each connection is really based on the application. We do not use cable sharing at every location because some use the full connection for higher-speed applications, but at others we can support a variety of lower-speed applications and peripherals,” says Gladky. “While we would have deployed the same number of connections if we had gone with Category 6A, with the TERA system, we don’t expect to have to run any more cables for future use. This will save us in the long run and prevent any disruptive recabling.”
According to Gladky, having the budget and goal of futureproofing from day one made the TERA Category 7A cabling system the only choice. “We looked at Category 6A as an option, but once we realized we could afford to deploy Category 7A, we knew it was the right choice. The benefits we see down the road and having expandability in place for the next 10 to 15 years gives me the confidence that we will see our return on investment within five years.”
Meeting the need for distance
The cabling infrastructure design for the new Computer Science Building at Stony Brook University is far from the norm in that all connections throughout the building, including computer labs, are home run via the copper cabling to one main equipment room centrally located on the second floor. The use of the TERA cabling system with its higher performance was the key factor in ensuring that the cabling could support the distances.
“While some channels are close to the maximum, all of our cabling distances are within 100 meters,” says Gladky. “Instead of having multiple closets, we wanted everything in one central location where it is easier to make reconfigurations to the infrastructure and manage the operation. Deploying the higher-performing TERA system gave us the confidence to use this approach and be able to maintain headroom and maximum data rates to the full 100 meters.”
|The TERA Category 7A fully shielded cabling system installed within the computer science building includes angled patch panels, as shown here. Juan Ruiz, lead technician on the project, commented, “It was tight because we were installing a lot of cable, but I am very proud of how our technicians were able to dress the cabling into the back of the cabinets so neatly.”|
The fully shielded TERA system is also ideal for the university to support 30W and higher remote powering applications to the maximum distance. It’s well understood that applications like Power over HDBase-T (POH), upcoming 60W and 100W 4-pair PoE and the Type 2 PoE needed to support the latest generation of 802.11ac WiFi wireless access points can cause 10 deg. C (18 deg. F) and sometimes even higher temperature rise within cable bundles. This increase in operating temperature results in increased cabling insertion loss, which has the potential to cause bit errors that result in network retransmissions. Accordingly, industry standards specify a de-rating factor that reduces overall channel length at temperatures above 20 deg. C (68 deg. F) to compensate for additional insertion loss. Due to its heat dissipation properties, the fully shielded TERA Category 7A system is the only balanced twisted-pair copper system that does not require any length de-rating to support remote powering currents up to 600 mA over a full 100-meter channel in environments up to 70 deg. C (150 deg. F).
“We are deploying 802.11ac wireless and anticipate future applications with higher PoE such as video conferencing and lecture broadcasting systems. With everything home run to our one main equipment room, we needed the Category 7A cabling to ensure that we would be able to support higher power with less loss to achieve the maximum distance,” says Gladky.
A collaborative team effort
The new Computer Science Building was also unique in that unlike other buildings on the Stony Brook University campus, the general contractor was not responsible for the network cabling infrastructure. Instead the computer science department managed the design and installation themselves, working closely with Loring Consulting Engineers (loringengineers.com) out of New York City.
“We have our own specific ideas about the cabling infrastructure, and while the funding comes mostly from the state, we asked the general contractor to leave the cabling out of the project so we could handle that ourselves,” says Gladky. “We worked with the consulting engineers to make sure that they planned the proper-size pathways to support the Category 7A cabling.”
One of the challenges was finding a quality state-contracted installer with the experience and expertise to install the TERA Category 7A system. In the end, the university chose to work with Interface Cable and Assembly Services Corporation (ICAS; icascorp.com), a highly reputable leader in the design, engineering and implementation of infrastructure technology.
|Shown here is the back of a VersaPOD cabinet with TERA Category 7A cabling fed in. Stony Brook University leveraged the vertical space between bayed cabinets and at the end of row for zero-U patching, cable management, and power distribution.|
“We were using state funds and found that while there are plenty of installers on state contract, only a handful listed Category 7A cabling as part of their offering,” says Gladky. “This limited our selection and was at first a concern, but ICAS was up to the task.”
While ICAS had plenty of experience deploying shielded cabling systems, the Stony Brook University Computer Science Building was their first experience installing a fully shielded Category 7A system with larger cable diameters. To help bring ICAS technicians up to speed, Siemon technical experts conducted a seminar on proper termination of the cable.
“The new Computer Science Building is a state-of-the-art facility, and Category 7A is very fitting. But it’s not your everyday network cable. While the fully shielded cable required some extra planning, that is a nature of this higher quality technology,” says Matthew Bonfitto, founder and chief executive officer of ICAS. “If the Siemon TERA system were a car, it would be a Lamborghini.”
While a fully shielded channel installation typically takes longer than an RJ-45-based UTP system, Siemon’s ALLPREP termination tool made preparing the fully shielded cable simple and easy. The same tool is used to strip the outer jacket and simultaneously score all four shields around each twisted pair. Once this is done, each pair is inserted into its corresponding color-coded quadrant for a press-fit termination. This, combined with the ability to deploy fewer outlets due to cable sharing capabilities, significantly reduces installation time of the TERA system.
A cabling work of art
To accommodate the larger bend radii and cable diameters, and improve cable management, the university chose to deploy Siemon VersaPod cabinets for cabling in the main equipment room; the university procured the cabinets themselves through distribution. By leveraging the vertical space between bayed cabinets and at the end of row for zero-U patching, cable management and power distribution, VersaPOD frees critical horizontal equipment mounting space and provides dedicated, high-capacity and easily managed cabling areas. The VersaPOD’s recessed corner post design enables highly accessible, high-capacity vertical and horizontal pathways for cable routing and slack management between cabinets, eliminating cable routing constraints associated with self-contained standard cabinet designs.
The sturdy nature of the TERA cabling combined with the ample space of the VersaPOD cabinet and the diligence of the ICAS crews allowed for more than 1,500 cables that come into the main equipment room to each be easily traced from the entrance straight into the back of the VersaPOD cabinets.
“It was tight because we were installing a lot of cable, but I am very proud of how our technicians were able to dress the cabling into the back of the cabinets so neatly,” says Juan Ruiz, lead technician for the project. “With the angled TERA patch panels and the ample space of the VersaPOD’s vertical cable managers, the patch cables also flowed very nicely.”
|Each port of these TERA Category 7A patch panels contains the TERA interface (IEC 61073-3-104) quadrant-style jacks.|
“We really like the way the VersaPOD cabinets can be bayed together to make use of the zero-U space, which we are using for incoming fiber connections,” adds Gladky. “The ability to open the doors in both directions gives us better accessibility, and these cabinets give us the space we need to properly manage and maintain the bend radius of Category 7A cabling. The extra space and channels that allow for running cables from the front to the back of the cabinet were very helpful for terminating the cable. ICAS did an amazing job with this installation, and the VersaPOD cabinets look like a work of art.”
Siemon V600 cabinets were used to house servers and other equipment in the main equipment room and two additional equipment rooms that support specific laboratories in the building. For superior efficiency, the cabinets are designed using a cold-aisle containment approach with in-row cooling.
“The cold aisle containment system is highly efficient in that we don’t have to cool the entire room-just the equipment itself,” explains Gladky. “We also like that the individual cabinets used for specific functions can be locked since multiple students are accessing the labs.”
A well-executed implementation
While the cabling plant installation was a success with all links passing certification testing, it wasn’t without challenges. Having one central main equipment room for the entire building, larger cable diameters and numerous other trades on site required some key strategies and cooperation.
“We had to work around a few conduits that were not quite sized correctly for the cable,” says Richie Sacco, senior project manager with ICAS. “We also ran into one situation where we had to come up with a different route to stay within the 100-meter distance. Thankfully our technicians are skilled at determining if a cable run is within the correct distance before they terminate so that we don’t run into problems later on. It was also a little cumbersome in that there were numerous other trades working on the building. With our lead technician Juan having a great personality, and a company-wide attitude of being client-based and there to do our job, we didn’t have any problems working around the other trades. With so many other trades, the schedule for completion of the project did however become a moving target, but the cabling plant was ready.”
|Modular cords supporting cable sharing can be terminated with 1-, 2- and 4-pair plugs that fit into 1, 2 or all 4 quadrants of the IEC 61073-3-104 Category 7A TERA connector.|
According to Bonfitto, the entire project implementation was extremely well executed and ultimately a huge success. “The cooperation between ICAS, Siemon and the distributor made for a very smooth project with no friction, and we now have some great relationships,” he says. “You can buy the most expensive, highest-quality instrument, but if you can’t play it, you won’t make music. The ability of our crews to effectively install the highest-performing TERA system was a key factor in the success of this installation, and it has put us on the leading edge of something we can brag about.”
With Stony Brook University students working on massive data sets, volume virtualization, computer learning, network security, algorithms and database optimization at the new Computer Science Building, it was critical to install a high-performing, reliable system like Siemon’s Category 7A TERA System that offers complete peace of mind and improved productivity while lowering cost.
“Having the highest-performing copper system in place is less expensive than running fiber to the desk, which also would have limited our ability to support additional applications like PoE,” says Gladky. “It has also really helped the productivity of both students and staff. With the cable sharing we have plenty of connections for the equipment we need to support, while the advanced performance of the shielded system allows the student to connect their equipment and get the data rates they need without worrying about where the equipment is located. In computer science, we are pushing the boundaries and this system gives us the capability to do that.”
Betsy Conroy is global marketing communications manager for Siemon (www.siemon.com). She has been involved in the cabling industry for 15 years as a technical writer, editor and marketing consultant.