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Systems Furniture and Next Generation Technology Living Together

Data throughput, otherwise phrased as the data handling capacity of the office network, is a subject of its own. Companies will continue to wrestle with the tradeoff between costs and the efficiencies gained with high-capacity networks. Only a few years ago, for example, the concept of LANs operating at 56 kilobits of data (56,000 bits) per second seemed farfetched. Today, networks in technology-intensive companies, organizations and institutions are being specified to handle billions of bits (Gigabits) of data per second. These throughputs are required to accommodate massive file transfers or downloads, lighting speed Internet access and full-motion video to the workplace.

A companion decision, also a subject of its own, is what medium to use for office data cabling. Choices include UTP (unshielded twisted pair) ScTP (screened twisted pair) and STP (shielded twisted pair) copper wire cables, fiber optic cable and coaxial cable, each option with its own sub-categories. Decisions as to which medium to use are beyond the scope of this paper. They require careful evaluation by a company's internal IT professionals working closely with independent consultants. But two points relating to the decision are within the scope of the paper. First, whichever medium is selected, managers must make certain that the modular office furniture system can handle it and conform to the industry standards for that medium.

Second, suppliers must certify that all components of the medium are compatible (balanced) and that throughput (the amount of data transmitted per second) applies to all components, not just a single element such as the cable.4 An example is helpful. Gigabit Ethernet is increasingly being specified for corporate LANs in computer-intensive industries.

There are two classes of UTP cables that support Gigabit Ethernet. Category 5e has published standards5, Category 6 has proposed standards. Category 6 systems, while costing 20% to 25% more than category 5e systems, have better performance parameters and offer 300 times the information-handling capacity of category 5e systems. If this improvement in throughput provides measurable cost-performance advantages, managers must insist that their vendors certify the network will exceed the proposed category 6 standards. This must be documented by independent third party testing. MAiSPACE Inc, in collaboration with The Siemon Company, was the first to offer modular office systems with a standards-compliant category 6 plug and play option.

MAiSPACE solution is also backward compatible and fully supports category 4, 5, 5e, fiber optic and coaxial cable networking. Future Technologies: Wireless LANs Much of this paper focuses on cable management issues relating to modular office systems. Discussion has touched on the need to accurately forecast increases in data throughput and specify cabling systems that accommodate these throughputs. In recent years, attention has focused on the concept of wireless LANs ? intra-building networks that use radiofrequency spectrum or lasers to replace cables.

For managers confronted with the tangled maze of cabling characteristic of conventional modular office systems today, a wireless solution can be a compelling proposition. As pointed out in a recent edition of Communications News, however, important challenges stand in the way of widespread use of this solution6. Among these are security, lack of spectrum, customer acceptance and interoperability.

The concept of wireless LANs is not new. The core technology ? spread spectrum ? dates from World War II. Initial deployment to support company LANs was on an individual basis, with all solutions proprietary and incompatible with each other. While compatibility is being addressed through organizations such as the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (www.

bluetooth.com) and standards by the IEEE7, applications are generally confined to data rates of 11 Mbps or less, and prices remain generally high. Manufacturers are seeking to stimulate the development of a broad horizontal market by providing wireless LANs with the functionality and capabilities common to cabled infrastructures. Concerns remain about the robustness of signals as they transit through walls or a rack of computer components, and the interoperability of components provided by different vendors. What about the impact of wireless LANs on the conventional cable-based network industry? David Boothroyd, writing in Cabling Installation & Maintenance8, says the overwhelming view is that the two technologies are complimentary rather than competitive, partly because there is still a significant difference between them in terms of performance and cost.

Therefore, until these technologies have been fully standardized and prove themselves, the most practical solution is a modular office system that incorporates sound cable-management practices using copper, fiber or coaxial media. Conclusion Cable management is becoming an increasingly important criterion governing the specification and purchase of modular open and full-wall office systems. As information technology and the ability to move massive amounts of data between workers, and between company locations, suppliers and customers become more crucial, the cable management issue must be attacked head on and in an intelligent manner. Only those office systems that fully support recognized industry standards for cable management should be considered in the purchasing decision. Other factors impacting the morale and productivity of the workforce include ergonomics, team building, privacy and attractive surroundings. Office and MIS managers responsible for these issues should be certain their vendors respond to RFPs with full, proven and cost-effective solutions.

MAiSPACE.com will help business owners and operators make smart choices in systems furniture for their offices and selecting the right office cubicles.

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