'Trust, but verify'

President Ronald Reagan wasn't referring to copper-based or fiber-optic cabling systems when he spoke those oft-repeated words, "Trust, but verify."

Th Edit Patrick
Th Edit Patrick
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President Ronald Reagan wasn't referring to copper-based or fiber-optic cabling systems when he spoke those oft-repeated words, "Trust, but verify." However, the reason those three words have been repeated so often and used in many different circumstances is that they apply to so many endeavors, including the installation and use of structured cabling systems. Specifying system performance makes a lot of sense to the end user who ultimately relies on that system. Many end users put their trust in the idea that a standards-based specification will ensure the installed cabling system can capably handle the user's applications. In nearly every case, that trust is reinforced with documented results of a series of tests conducted after system installation.

When it comes to verifying structured cabling systems, the required tools and procedures change rapidly, which is not surprising when you consider how quickly the overall technology of cabling systems is evolving. We take several opportunities in this issue to provide information on some of the latest testing equipment and techniques, as well as look ahead at some of what will be required in the near future. Some of the articles in this issue provide insight into testing fiber in the horizontal, as well as the impending 10-Gigabit Ethernet standard and its implications on local-area-network testing.

But other system-verification issues are making their way into the structured cabling industry, as well. As data-communications and telecommunications systems become more widely recognized as an integral part of a building's systems, the manner in which cabling is tested may very well more closely resemble the manner in which a building's other systems are tested. In fact, we are already moving in that direction. Measuring throughput, as opposed to measuring only electrical-performance characteristics, is an example.

Building occupants want to turn on a faucet and get water, adjust the thermostat to bring the building to the desired temperature, and flip a switch to turn on an overhead light. They don't want to have to think about the infrastructure; they want to get the intended result (in these cases, water, heat, and electricity). For this reason, the infrastructure and the result are verified before a building is occupied. Those who verify that these systems are working literally see the light, feel the heat, and use the water.

Our entire industry is working hard in the laboratory and in the field to make communications systems as reliable as the other systems that building occupants often take for granted. It stands to reason that one step in accomplishing this feat is to test the result, in addition to the infrastructure, before building occupants use the systems. That means powering up a network, sending information through it, and verifying the information was successfully transmitted. I believe that we are moving toward a day when that will be a common practice.

Some interesting news crossed my desk recently and got me rolling down this stream of consciousness. The news was about the founding of a company that will devote a significant percentage of its operations to verifying installed cabling systems. The company, Cable-Doc (Aurora, IL), will not install cabling systems, although its founders are experienced cabling installers and network-systems integrators. It calls itself an infrastructure-technologies-services company and will devote some of its attention to efforts such as site audits and other consulting tasks. But as its announcement states, "The primary focus of Cable-Doc is independent field verification and third-party testing for customer-owned copper and fiber-optic cabling systems." That includes existing as well as newly installed systems.

The company has four offices in different parts of the United States. Rick Foster, a vice president who operates out of the Brookfield, CT, facility, told me he believes his company is poised to meet an emerging need for independent verification services. Intertek Testing Services (Cortland, NY) has just appointed Cable-Doc as an ETL Field Verification Partner, part of a program we first told you about in April 1998 (see "Independent testing verifies network integrity," page 23).

Will Cable-Doc be a pioneer, leading a charge of system-verification companies that collectively position themselves as a permanent part of the cabling industry? Is there a sizable enough market to support companies whose primary focus is independent verification? Is there anything to the concept of testing the "result" (network throughput) in addition to testing the infrastructure? I'm asking because I really don't know. But I would be interested to hear your thoughts on these issues.

Patrick McLaughlin
Editor-in-Chief
patrick@pennwell.com

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