A winning fixer-upper plan when floor space is tight

A home-improvement retailer added equipment to ease system maintenance without occupying additional floor space.

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A home-improvement retailer added equipment to ease system maintenance without occupying additional floor space.

To many, the sights and sounds of a home-improvement retail store bring to mind expressions such as "maintenance" and "upgrade," as well as the work associated with these tasks, with respect to one's residence. For residents of upstate New York, Chase-Pitkin is a name that conjures up exactly those thoughts. With 15 retail outlets in the Rochester and Syracuse areas, Chase-Pitkin Home and Garden provides consumers with goods they need to maintain or update their homes.

And as is the case with practically every commercial enterprise, Chase-Pitkin relies on a communications network and associated cabling system to keep information flowing within and among its outlets, as well as its corporate offices. So, it's no surprise that by 2000, some of the cabling systems that had been put in place as early as the 1970s had-literally and technically speaking-outgrown the spaces allotted to them.

"We have always been technology focused, from day one," explains Chris Howk, system specialist with Chase-Pitkin. "But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was not a huge need for computing systems. Our only computer-based systems were point-of-sale, using twinaxial cabling. The hardware was put in whatever corner was available at the time."

Eventually, Chase-Pitkin had an AS-400 server in every store, although there was not a significant penetration of computers in any single store. "Things were almost literally thrown into a room," Howk says. "At the time, twinaxial cabling in a loop was the perfect solution. Shortly after I joined the company, we were due for an AS-400 upgrade, and we faced the issue of multiplying device penetration in each store-from 10 to about 40 in most cases," Howk explains. "Twinaxial cabling was no longer the appropriate solution, and we had to go to the new standard-Category 5e compliant. However, we still had a combination of obsolete and mission-critical wiring and equipment, all sitting in one big pile on the floor."

Maximizing existing space
Initially, the company intended to redesign each site, in the process creating uniform computer-room layouts. But Howk recalls, "We determined it would not be cost-effective to take that route, and knew it wouldn't be possible to prove an actual return-on-investment on the project."

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For home improvement retailer Chase-Pitkin, the mantra was "clean up" rather than "rebuild" its cabling system. Key to untangling the cable management nest (l) was wall-mounted equipment in each retail store to save floor space. Pivoting panel mounts and swing gate racks were used to bring order to the telecom room (r), each designed to ease service and simplify adding data lines at a later time.
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When the mantra became "clean up" rather than "rebuild," Howk turned his attention to racking-equipment choices. "It was important that the rack equipment could be easily installed into our existing space and meet our project time requirements," he says. Howk contacted Frank Muto, RCDD, president of manufacturer's representative Frank J. Muto Company.

"I had been working with Chris and Chase-Pitkin for some time, and I had an idea of what they were looking for," Muto said. A representative of Middle Atlantic Products/DataTel (www.middleatlantic.com), he says his RCDD credentials have helped his business. "I can walk into a design situation like this one and understand what they're talking about when they describe their needs. And being involved in the education required to renew the credentials keeps me on the leading edge of what's going on in the industry."

Muto had shown Howk some of the company's products and arranged for its demonstration truck to visit a Chase-Pitkin facility. "The truck is like a traveling telecom room," he explains. "Racks and enclosures are set up with equipment in them, in a very realistic environment. When the truck showed up at Chase-Pitkin, the abstract became real. They began looking at the equipment and saying, 'We can do this.'"

The "this" that mattered most to Howk involved cable management, since he had the prospect of long-term system maintenance in mind: "There were a lot of obstacles and conduits already in place, so whatever equipment we brought in would have to accommodate the available wall space."

Idea's not off the wall
Chase-Pitkin also favored wall-mounted equipment over floor-mounted due to space limitations. "Retrofit jobs, particularly with crowded spaces, lend themselves to wall-mounted equipment," says Middle Atlantic Products' national sales manager, Craig Decker. "People used to think a small job automatically equaled a wall rack, while a big job equaled a floor rack. That's not the case any more. Users can now purchase 40-U racks that mount to the wall."

For this job, Chase-Pitkin chose pivoting panel mounts (PPMs) and swing gate racks (SGRs) for the patch panels, as well as routers and switches. "Because the PPM lets you pivot down 90°, you can easily access the back and know that everything is firmly supported, which is critical, especially when you begin cutting down wires onto a patch panel with a 110 tool," Howk comments.

"I used the PPM for the Category 5e patch panels, and I liked it," recalls Rex Edwards, principal of Webster, NY-based Edwards Electric & Communications Inc. (EECI), which installed the initial roll-out of upgraded equipment. EECI maintains an ongoing relationship with Chase-Pitkin, providing service calls when necessary.

"The PPM makes everything easier, not only for service, but for adding data lines after a job," Edwards says. "Unless you have a 6- or 7-foot floor rack and can get behind it, gaining access to the back of a patch panel is tough. And most users don't want to give up floor space, so typically we use wall-mount equipment. Having the tilt-down feature makes working with the equipment easier. In terms of putting these types of racks together and installing them, it's no more or less difficult than any other type."

"The PPM pivots down rather than to the side, to a 90° positive stop," says Decker. "This design allows the user to put a lot more pressure on the rack than could be put on one that swings out to the side."

Howk also specified the WM series wall-mount rack for fiber-distribution boxes, audio source and processing equipment, backup terminals, and other networking equipment for each location. "The variety of rackspaces, depths, and weight capacities allowed us to specify racks that best fit individual locations," he explains.

Install, maintain on schedule
As a retailer, Chase-Pitkin was careful to schedule the labor outside their business hours. "We were working through the night, after the store closed," CEEI's Edwards recalls. "We put up 3/4-inch plywood backerboard and bolted the racks right to the plywood, and then reterminated what we had to-which was very little."

Now that the system is in place, Howk's attention is on maintaining it. "Our 15 retail stores all have the same equipment now, which makes it easier. The room sizes are different, so the racking equipment in each room is different. Basically, we maximize each room's wall space for the racking."

Edwards says that "Chase-Pitkin's concerns are typical of most of my customers. Owners are willing to make an investment in change when they can physically see that it's going to make a difference. These stores have come a long way. They used to be difficult to troubleshoot."

Concludes Howk, "The 'dead' cable that was in there is gone, and that's important. This upgrade required a lot of network documentation and standardization. And now that the documentation is completed and the new support system is in place, maintenance will be much smoother."


Patrick McLaughlin is chief editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.

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