Rid yourself of your rat's nest

Every experienced cabling professional has seen the aesthetically disastrous results of an unmanaged crossconnect field

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Every experienced cabling professional has seen the aesthetically disastrous results of an unmanaged crossconnect field.

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To the best of my memory, I have never seen a rat's nest as one exists in nature. As a youth in the 1970s, I spent many days romping through parcels of land that, in retrospect, surely must have been illegal and potentially hazardous dumpsites. One in particular that comes to mind was on Orchard Street in the town in which I grew up. It was almost entirely filled with waste from a restaurant, including food products. There must have been rats everywhere, and for all I know I was within inches of a nest on many occasions. But I was blissfully ignorant as the saying goes, and never gave it a second thought.

Fast-forward a couple decades. I begin reporting on the cabling industry for this magazine and the last thing I expect to see in my everyday business is a rat's nest. But then, after seeing photographs of dozens of beautifully dressed patching fields within telecom closets (they were called "closets" then), I actually venture into one for the first time. Let's just say it did not quite resemble what I had seen in the pictures. And something in the back of my mind told me that although I had never actually seen a rat's nest back at my former playground, this must be what one looks like.

There's probably not much need to go into detail here, because every experienced cabling professional has seen the aesthetically disastrous results of an unmanaged crossconnect field. You probably each have your own equivalent of my "Orchard Street dumpsite" to reflect upon, so I will let your memory do the rest.

Unfortunately, the scenario running through your mind right now is reality for many end-user organizations today. But it doesn't have to be this way. We know that because we also have seen the results of well-managed patching fields. Today, there probably are more means than ever before for end users to maintain their crossconnect spaces and rid themselves of the dreaded rats' nests.

Just about every rack I have seen in the past several years is available with horizontal patch-cord managers. Also, cable-management software, so-called "intelligent" patch panels, and manual patch-cord adjusters are on the market and offer some level of cord management. Of course, software packages and "intelligent" patch panels meet other cabling-system maintenance needs as well.

Not too long ago, the TIA ratified the first addendum to the 568B.1 standard; the addendum set a minimum bend radius for unshielded twisted-pair and screened twisted-pair patch cords. Word out of the TIA is that the discussion that ultimately resulted in this addendum included significant debate on the performance of patch cords, and of the cabling system as a whole, that would result from cord bends of different radii. (More information on the patch-cord bend-radius addendum is provided in this month's "Perspective" column, page 8). One fact cannot be debated, however: end users who lose several minutes to downtime because they cannot find one end of a cabling link amid the tangled mess at their patch panels, have only themselves to blame.

Another moment that I remember from my first days covering this industry was the reaction of one contractor while looking at photos of some recently installed patching systems: "I'd like to see how they're doing in six months." I could claim ignorance of rat's nests and their potential for trouble when I was a kid on Orchard Street. I can't now. Neither can you. If you are guilty of harboring a rat's nest, know that there are options for ridding yourself of it. But, ridding yourself of a rat's nest should not be optional-it should be mandatory.

Patrick McLaughlin is chief editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.

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