Intelligent patching systems: A competitive advantage

Physical layer management systems can save a bundle

Physical layer management systems can save a bundle.

For many businesses, network infrastructure maintenance and associated downtime can represent significant, and often hidden, post-installation costs. The increasing demand for network management software clearly indicates that businesses are seeking more efficient ways to manage their network infrastructure.

Too often, enterprise customers can be focused on short-term, "parts and labor" installation savings instead of the long-term, life-cycle expense of their networks. That's where designers and installers can provide extra value by pointing out the advantages of intelligent patching systems for real-time physical layer management and monitoring.

Physical layer management systems-intelligent patching systems-are combinations of hardware (patch panels and patch cords) and software that can generate cost savings resulting from: accurate documentation; reduced downtime; more efficient performance moves, adds and changes; more efficient and economical network management.

For the designer and installer, understanding these benefits is a competitive advantage in today's application-intensive network environment because the cost of disrupting connections increases overall operational costs.

Accurate documentation

An intelligent patching system is the electronic link between the network's physical layer and the cabling records. By equipping patch panels with a means to detect when and where connections are made, it is possible to monitor and record the status of port connections in real time. This information can be used to track the location and availability of ports and automatically update the connectivity map whenever connections are altered.

Traditional record keeping methods and cable management software are limited in utility because information must be manually updated. Now, simple-to-use software like that offered in Avaya's iPatch System, integrates hardware with automatic monitoring (port sensing) and management software to keep the connectivity database current with a minimum of effort.

Until recently, monitoring the physical layer of the network has been a manual process of following what can be a dense jungle of patch cords from one end of a port connection to the other. Direct monitoring, however, can offer significant savings by ensuring connections are correct every time, avoiding disruption. By pinpointing connectivity problems with real-time monitoring and connectivity maps that show links from network equipment to end-user devices, issues can be quickly resolved.

When work is scheduled, the margin for error is greatly reduced. For example, in Avaya's iPatch System, unauthorized patching or disconnections are instantly detectable using alarms that are set up in advance through the software. This is particularly useful since most changes occur on the patch panel.

Often, churn rates (percentage of moves, adds, and changes) may average 30 to 40% annually. Churn rates may run much higher in some industries.

Three important byproducts of churn are: First, downtime of the physical move results in lost productivity-a designer or installer recommending or installing a system that minimizes downtime provides better value to the customer. Second, documentation of changes requires extra effort or is often ignored, resulting in increased maintenance costs and troubleshooting nightmares. Third, changes can introduce error that can increase downtime and loss of customer confidence.

One of the greatest strengths of intelligent patching systems is the automation of this type of work.

Network management

Most intelligent patching systems create work orders that are monitored and automatically documented to help organize the change. Consequently, error is all but eliminated. Even if the technician chooses to modify the work order, modifications are automatically reflected in an intelligent patching system.

While intelligent patching systems may not be the obvious solution for all enterprise networking customers, careful analysis reveals that these systems are advantageous for a surprising number of installations. By looking at the cost of downtime, labor rates, and the churn rate percentage, a customer's return on investment and the amount of savings generated at any point in the network's life cycle can be easily determined.

David E. Szemborski is a business development manager with Avaya's ( Connectivity Solutions business in Atlanta, GA.

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