When it comes to thinking about office voice and data local area networks (LANs), chances are most office managers and executives would rather not. "LANs by and large are highly reliable infrastructures for keeping staff in contact with each other and, via extranets, with the firm's customers, suppliers and other publics," says Mark Bassil, co-founder and vice president of MAiSPACE, a Mt. Olive, NJ, based manufacturer of modular office furniture systems. "Workstation computers, along with printers and other peripherals grow increasingly reliable, and the cabling that connects them with each other and the outside world is capable of handling ever increasing speeds. This infrastructure, in part, is one of the main reasons that the United States is the most productive nation in the world." But like the workings beneath the hood of a modern automobile, the intricacy of an office cabling infrastructure has been a mystery of growing proportions, especially as the network complexity increases.
That is why it is important to maintain good relationships with vendors' technical support people who show up when things go wrong to make it all better. "The real problems occur when moves, adds and changes (MACs) reconfigure office floor plans," Bassil says. "MACs are commonplace in a dynamic and constantly changing workplace in order to better support the type of work being done. They traditionally meant disruptions to the workplace as cabling systems were taken down, rerouted and reconnected to serve the revised floor plan." This can be a costly operation, Bassil comments, noting an Infonetics report pegging network downtime costs as ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 per hour.
Plug and Play ? A Better Way "A few years ago MAiSPACE, along with its network cabling solutions manufacturer partner The Siemon Company, Watertown, CT, teamed up to simplify office LANs to the point where in-house IT staff can handle MACs with but a minimum of training," Bassil says. "Reconfigurations that used to take days can now be accomplished in a matter of hours and affect only the workstations being moved, not the entire office. "The MAiSPACE cabling system was so revolutionary that it received a Best of NeoCon award, the highest award in the contract furniture industry," Bassil points out. "Yet it is integrated in MAiSPACE systems furniture priced 40% lower than competitors' products using outdated conventional cabling systems. Moreover, it complies with the latest standards governing horizontal cabling systems in open offices." Accessibility is a key factor in the MAiSPACE cabling system.
"Horizontal cable runs are not bundled and fished through structural elements but instead laid in behind lift-off panel segments," Bassil explains. "This puts them within easy reach. The panel segments also provide a place to store and manage cable slack, helping to avoid the all-too-common problem of cable being 'two inches short' to complete the job.
" Consolidation points within furniture system clusters extend the cabling to individual work station outlets. If a move is required, only those workstations to be moved are unplugged from their nearest consolidation point. This means personnel in unaffected work stations are not disconnected from the office LAN.
If workstations are added to an existing cluster they are simply plugged into the nearest consolidation point. "The layer below the consolidation point is called a multi-user telecommunications outlet assembly (MUTOA)," Bassil says. "This is a fancy term that simply provides a fixed hardwired connection to the nearest telecommunications closet - and ultimately the outside world. The assemblies are strategically placed to serve multiple users in specific furniture clusters or anticipated new clusters throughout the office area." When the workstations are in their new location not adjacent to an existing consolidation point they are reconnected to the LAN by plugging into the nearest MUTOA.
"The system is stunning in its simplicity," Bassil comments, "yet so revolutionary that it has been granted a patent. Plug or unplug at a consolidation point, plug or unplug at a MUTOA. It can be used with any grade of copper or fiber optic cable and likewise accommodates electrical runs.
Managing technology in the workplace has never been easier or more affordable.".
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