The Secret of Sick Networks and the Hidden Cost to Business
Published by Anne Marie Hughes on Sat 09 Jun 12 @ 22:14
Thousands of businesses across the UK may be suffering from a hidden blight which causes lagging computer systems, lost productivity and frustrated staff.
Numerous problems which consistently baffle IT departments could be down to a condition named 'sick network syndrome' by staff at Arthur McKay, which provides building support services.
Working across the UK, the company's cabling experts have helped businesses of all sizes resolve unexplained and intermittent issues with software usage, internet access and computer functionality.
In the majority of cases they have found the concealed cabling for data networks has been carelessly or thoughtlessly installed, making it prone to electrical interference or causing degradation of the delicate internal wiring.
Many of those offices have been "flood cabled" or "flood wired", where forward-thinking businesses installed extensive high-speed data cabling to serve existing need, while also planning for future growth and increased connectivity.
Dave McLean, head of network operations at Arthur McKay, said: "Flood cabling is an excellent idea and when done properly it will serve a business for 25 years. In a typical office the equipment attached to a cable has been changed five or six times over the years, yet the cabling is still supporting the much newer technologies."
However problems arise because structured cabling - which is hidden in ceiling spaces, under floors or behind walls - is laid in inappropriately large bundles, cable-tied too tightly, or positioned too close to sources of interference without adequate protection.
Even laying cables across rafters or beams can cause sagging which places undue stress on the internal wiring and can adversely affect the performance, with workers suffering patchy and slow connections and problems with business-critical software packages.
Dave added: "It can be a horrendous problem for IT departments because often it is not obvious what is causing the problem. In some instances it can be someone in a completely different part of the building who is affected by the network issues and there is no immediate, clear link.
"IT support staff are usually looking for problems with software or servers. Generally they are not looking at the cables or even necessarily thinking about that as a possible source of problems.
"We eventually find it can be something like switching on a fluorescent light or a particular piece of equipment which gives out an electromagnetic field. That will affect a cable and every time it is switched on someone on the network will see performance suffer.
"As a result, it can take a very long time to diagnose a sick network, if it is accurately diagnosed at all. These are problems that far too many people are dealing with on a typical day and the cost in time and lost productivity can be horrendous."
While most people are familiar with the Cat 5, Cat 6 or Cat 7 cabling which connects their PC or other devices to a network, few give much thought to how it operates beyond the point of plug and play. Yet there are exacting international standards covering the installation of such systems to ensure quality and performance can be maintained.
Those are the standards which Arthur McKay staff work to, paying particular attention to the use of cable containment, which protects cable from potential damage and sources of interference while also ensuring cables are bundled and tied appropriately.
Dave added: "I have seen instances in the past where data cabling has literally been thrown across a ceiling space, regardless of the potential sources of hazard or interference in may come in to contact with. Whether it is Cat 5, 6 or 7 cable the categorisation does not only refer to the construction of the cable - it also refers the quality of the installation."
Proper installation to industry standards mean businesses benefit from up to 25 years warranty and the initial upfront costs can prevent years of productivity-sapping IT problems and staff frustration.
Dave added: "Consider that across a big corporate business with hundreds, or even thousands of staff, and you can see how the costs of poor performance quickly multiply and can become a significant problem.
"If a network has been poorly installed there is no telling how long it will last. You may get five years, but you definitely will not get anywhere near 25. The years you do get are liable to be plagued by costly problems."
Likewise if a cable network has to be prematurely replaced, the initial costs are compounded by the strip out cost and a reinstallation which is likely to be three times greater than the original installation.
Founded in 1958, Arthur McKay now operates across the UK with 660 staff and a distinctive fleet of 130 vehicles. It has built a £75 million a year business, providing building services, including facilities management, mechanical and engineering and networks.
The Networks division specialises in voice and data solutions as well as cabling, security systems and intelligent building networks - more information at http://www.arthur-mckay.com/ .