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Relocation Challenges of the IT Department, Part 3: Designing a New Computer Room

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In Part 3 of his series on IT relocation strategies, Greg Kirkland describes the critical aspects of designing the central hub of your new network.
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Location, Location, Location

I'm not selling real estate here, but do you know the importance of the location of the computer room in your facility? Other than what goes into the computer room, knowing where to put the computer room in your new facility is the most important decision you'll make with your entire moving project.

I'll describe the scenario for the accounting firm I was moving a few months ago. A team of architects and interior designers drafted what they thought to be an outstanding floor plan for our new space. We have a large rectangular floor, approximately 600 feet long by 150 feet wide. To my amazement—and as a sign of their ignorance—they put the computer room on the far west end (out of the way of other office functions). Why wouldn't that work? The simple answer is network cable distance limitations. Category 5 (CAT5) and CAT6 cabling are rated to support a specified bandwidth at approximately 300 feet (100 meters). With the computer room at one end of the building, half of that building full of computers would either not get a network signal at all (no login ability), or would be significantly weaker than full speed.

What speeds are we talking about? We chose CAT6 cabling, which is rated at 350 MHz. This is sufficient to support Gigabit (1000MB) to the desktop. We currently only implement 100MB. When the time comes to upgrade, however, all we'll need to do is update the network interface cards in the PCs and update the network switch blades in the computer room.

I studied the proposed floor plan carefully, and worked with the architect to move the computer room to the center of the building. We placed it off the central hallway, allowing us to pass all of the distance tests conducted by our cabling vendor, who certified the cable plant for CAT6 with the extended 25-year warranty.

Certainly, there are other alternatives to a centralized computer room. Our company is small enough to get by with a single wiring closet to "home run" every cable run to a centralized cabinet. Larger companies and companies with multiple floors need to implement routers and bridges to send the network signals through the cable over longer distances.

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