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Issue of August 2004 

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"Put the smarts into cable testing"

Mark Johnston, Manager, Strategic Alliance and Planning, Fluke Networks talks about the need to test and diagnose cables performance in order to get better performance.

Why do you consider cable-testing tools to be significant?

The reality is that networks don't work all the time—there is downtime and failure. The CIO may think that the infrastructure is good and plugs in servers, routers, and other infrastructure, only to see that the cable performance does not support such features. There may be high error rate, return loss, and crosstalk in the cables that cause issues.

Although the cabling systems integrator offers a guarantee, the CIO can use a cable-testing tool to check if aspects like actual cable length, error rate, and correct standard (CAT-5 or CAT-6 since both cables and connectors look similar) have been used right at the deployment stage. The tool can also be used when a network goes down for quick diagnosis.

Is it cost-effective to use a cable-testing tool?

Generally, if you add the cost of PCs, servers, switches & routers, software, and compare it to the cost of cable, it [cost of cable] works out to almost 3 to 12 percent [of the total cost of IT infrastructure]. But everything you have rides on that cable, and if an enterprise puts in a cable once it will be expected to last a lifetime.

What's the solution to mitigating error-prone signals, CrossTalk, weak links, and CAT-5 connectors on CAT-6 cables?

An easy solution is to introduce the smarts into cable testing, and let the device analyze and demonstrate shortcomings and anomalies.

— Soutiman Das Gupta

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