Todays installations require whole-building power and data protection

Local area networks (LANs), advanced computer systems, high-speed modems and digital telephones are the keys to running an efficient and effective business in today`s competitive, high-technology marketplace. As the use of this equipment in the business environment continues to increase at a staggering pace, so does the dependence of companies on uninterrupted operation of these systems. If this equipment is damaged because of a lightning storm or power disturbance, companies are often forced to

Ken Keil

The Wiremold Co.

Local area networks (LANs), advanced computer systems, high-speed modems and digital telephones are the keys to running an efficient and effective business in today`s competitive, high-technology marketplace. As the use of this equipment in the business environment continues to increase at a staggering pace, so does the dependence of companies on uninterrupted operation of these systems. If this equipment is damaged because of a lightning storm or power disturbance, companies are often forced to deal with the high costs of network downtime, lost data and hardware repair or replacement.

It is critical that companies be protected against the devastating effects of power disturbances before they occur. Disaster avoidance is far less costly than disaster recovery. Since 60% or more of data-port damage is the result of power-related disturbances, and because network and AC electrical systems are tied together via a common ground reference, it makes sense to include a disaster-avoidance program at the time of cable installation. It is the cable, after all, that ties all these systems together and provides the path for surge activity.

Shielding complex communications networks and sensitive electronic equipment from electrical disturbances requires more protection than is offered by plug-in surge strips, however. As integrated circuits become smaller and faster, they also become more vulnerable to surge damage. Today`s equipment needs a coordinated, "whole-building" approach that can protect networked systems against the impact of power quality problems.

Power and data protection

As companies integrate electronic and communications technology into their work environments, they recognize that it is risky to operate without power and data protection. According to an article in the March/April 1995 issue of Power Quality Assurance, data lines in a network protected by an AC surge protector or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system can bring large ground potential differences back to computer systems, resulting in extensive damage to motherboards, burnt-out interface cards and data corruption. These disturbances cost computer users nearly $26 billion annually in network downtime and equipment damage, not to mention the labor expense to replace equipment and network cabling.

Many cabling installers are working with design engineers to recommend and implement power and data protection solutions at customer sites. According to Paul Samson, president of Samson Electric Ltd. (Park River, ND), providing power and data protection has benefited his business and customer base. "If customers use sensitive electronic and communications equipment --and many do --we can offer ways to keep that equipment reliable."

When power problems occur, customers will always call an installation contractor who can provide a solution for their system, based on the applications used. To recommend and implement protection solutions, however, cabling installers need to understand the difference between two strategies: spot protection and whole-building protection.

Spot protection

Many companies use spot placement of surge-protection devices and UPS systems at the point of use, to protect individual equipment from electrical disturbances. However, spot protection does not eliminate power quality problems between systems and equipment. In fact, it may actually cause more harm than good: Uncoordinated random placement of power surge protectors or UPS systems in a network environment can create large potential differences between network equipment via data cables, causing extensive data port damage.

Whole-building protection

A better alternative to spot protection is whole-building protection. This approach divides a building into zones, offering a comprehensive, systematic solution that protects all electrical and low-voltage systems from disturbances created both inside and outside a facility. Surge protectors, power conditioners and UPS systems are strategically placed in each zone to provide coordinated protection for AC, network, security, fire, alarm, closed-circuit television and building management systems.

Installation contractors can work with design engineers to customize a whole-building protection solution by first surveying a facility and reviewing the mechanical integrity of all electronic and communications systems. They can then coordinate protection by using the appropriate combination of power-quality devices to provide constant, high-quality power to the sensitive equipment within each zone. It is important to remember to install surge-protection devices in each zone: Failing to do so can open a facility to power quality problems.

Whole-building protection provides a more comprehensive power and data quality solution than spot placement of surge-protection devices because hard-wired suppression devices intercept potentially catastrophic transients at the building`s main service entrance. Then, subpanel and point-of-use surge-protection devices, power conditioners and UPS systems provide additional layers of protection for the 70% of disturbances that are generated within a facility. The result is an environment in which surge protection, power conditioning, harmonic containment and backup power are synergistically applied to provide maximum protection for mission-critical equipment.

As businesses approach the twenty-first century, sophisticated communications and electronic technologies will undoubtedly be an integral part of the workplace. Companies will continue to invest in state-of-the-art technologies to stay competitive, spurring an even greater need for comprehensive power and data quality systems. Installation contractors would do well to offer whole-building protection services to their customers. q

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