How to use fiber-cable management software
Dedicated software outperforms current methods of manual record-keeping and limited electronic techniques for tracking and managing fiber-optic networks
randall S. Anderson
advance fiber optics
With the proliferation of fiber-optic networks, the status, traceability, and expansion of these optical networks have a direct bearing on their operation, test, and management. Because these optical networks consist of a myriad of cables, splices, and connections, fiber-optic cable management procedures, tools, and documentation are constantly being improved. In other words, network planners, providers, and managers need to learn how to better control, maintain, and check their fiber-optic networks.
That need was emphasized at Advance Fiber Optics (AFO) when a customer recently requested an audit of its optical communications networks located in several cities. The project involved documenting six existing fiber-optic networks in which the volume of cable in each network ranged from 10 to 200 miles. In addition, each network was operated by a large number and range of users. The network audit required the mapping of cable routes and access points, defining splice keys, recording types of cable and enclosures, and listing fiber connections in distribution frames and transmission equipment.
The cable management project consisted of not only gathering and recording data, but also designing a system to store the data, such that it would be useful to engineering, marketing, sales, and administration departments. In addition, a user-friendly software package had to be developed for facilities maintenance and asset management.
Programmers took nearly six months to complete a beta-version software package. Then, it took six technicians nearly nine months to complete the task of data gathering and recording from piles of drawings, maps, and other documents to piece together all the network layouts.
At the conclusion of the project, the customer received a cable management software package that computerized maps of its networks and all the data included in the maps. With the click of a mouse button, the customer could obtain such information as total cable and fiber used in a specific network on a computer screen display. The software documentation system provides valuable information for all users:
Technicians performing cabling work can gather data and use the information as they install and maintain the network.
Managers can control, troubleshoot, and maintain their networks more effectively.
Engineers can plan, design, and upgrade networks as the company continues to expand and bring new users onto existing networks.
Sales staff can show potential customers the advantages of new services, using reports and graphics from the system database.
Marketing personnel can determine new opportunities.
Administrators can analyze what is in place and any associated margins.
All company personnel can communicate more efficiently because everyone is looking at the same computerized data.
In addition, engineers in remote areas are empowered to consider network modifications by making temporary adjustments to drawings and sending them over the computer network to management for approval. For example, a company engineer in Los Angeles can transmit a network drawing to the desktop of a manager in Boston for review.
The key advantage of the cable management software, called OSP InSight, is that all company personnel use the same network database, maps, and drawings. By using the same accurate reports, mapping graphics, and data, network managers can make reliable network planning decisions.
Management to modeling
For tighter network control, however, cable management needs to become data modeling, which is the process of using data to show actual and theoretical system characteristics. For example, airplane manufacturers spend thousands of dollars annually to construct scaled models of aircraft that are used in wind-tunnel tests. Modeling is less expensive than building an actual airplane to test, thereby saving millions of dollars while delivering useful test information. The modeling system used in cable management software is similar to this approach.
OSP InSight becomes a software model of the fiber-optic network under study--that is, a digital model--that resides in a computer. When built properly, the model can be used to determine many network characteristics; for example, the number of fibers connected from one building to another can be checked before performing optical time-domain reflectometer (otdr) tests. In fact, this virtual network can be structured and used to identify potential problems before actual network installation. The actual data is a true representation of the network.
A successful electronic data-modeling system for a fiber-optic network needs to focus on each fiber in the network. Such a system must also rely on the regular input of field notes and engineering updates to maintain a current database. In addition, it should provide easy access to pertinent reports, engineering drawings, and network maps for up-to-date information on network status.
The documentation should also focus on what is inside the cables, not just where the cables are placed. For example, in addition to specifying cable locations, the records should call out the number of active and dark fibers inside the cable. In this network-modeling system, a map of the particular network can be computer-screen displayed and a particular cable selected by mouse-clicking on the cable. The retrieved information reveals where each fiber inside that cable terminates and also which end-users are served by each fiber.
In addition, when changes are made to the displayed network configuration, the software automatically adjusts the database records. Moving from one splice point to another to change records is not needed when only one splice point has been changed. This is possible because of what are called splice keys; these keys identify those cables that are spliced together at a given point as well as which fibers within the cables are spliced. Just as in an actual network, the computerized splice locations are where fibers are crossconnected to serve specific termination points. Moreover, a complete view of the network can be generated by a mouse-click; this view draws the actual path a fiber takes throughout the network.
Preparation of documents
Networking companies typically use outside engineering services to provide detailed drawings for construction projects. Some projects require the efforts of multiple services, which can result in different engineering drawing formats. The entire engineering drawing package, therefore, has to be organized thoroughly, and the cable management software must provide this capability.
For example, the OSP InSight mapping function can be used as a key map for computer-aided design (CAD) drawings. Examination of such a drawing usually indicates if more-detailed information is available for a certain location within the network. Areas where more-detailed drawings exist are outlined by a dotted line. Then, when a CAD viewing program is chosen, the detailed information can be reviewed and analyzed.
Digital photographs can be linked to the map in the same way. If a picture of a certain fiber distribution frame exists, and more information for a portion of the network is desired, the software system indicates whether a picture is associated with that location. Other pertinent photographs might include hardware and equipment brochures, lease agreements, and contracts, for instance.
The entire process of documenting a communications network starts with data gathering. If the accumulated data is incorrect or missing, the integrity of the cable management database is compromised. It is important, therefore, to ensure that this part of the process is conducted with special care. The approach that seems to work best is to keep the process simple.
The first step in the process calls for engineering services to complete one-page forms for each network location. On these forms, the engineers record complete data for all moves, adds, or changes to the network. Data might include addresses, traffic notes, cable types, hardware types, and cable sequentials, for example. This seemingly simple step requires highly accurate data gathering.
Precise fault location
A cable management software system is also useful for maintaining, troubleshooting, and locating fiber faults. However, some fault-tracking systems only identify the fault location in terms of cable length, not physical location. Cable-modeling software, however, assists in recording cable sequentials, wall-to-wall values, and other physical attributes, including the optical lengths provided by an otdr.
Once the data is recorded in software, fault-finding becomes a straightforward procedure. And, because each fiber`s individual routing is also recorded, finding a fault on a fiber also becomes an easy task.
To manage a complex fiber-optic network, data must be made available quickly in a user-friendly format and, when necessary, be rapidly distributed to others. Basic information, such as plant size, type of equipment, and connection details, takes a large amount of time and effort when obtained by manual methods. When this information is filed electronically in software, it can be accessed and printed quickly and easily. The cable utility and relational database software can also be used to recall and print pertinent data reports.
To maximize the capabilities of a cable management software package, first determine the needs of the network to establish how the data will be obtained. Then discuss with the network users the type, depth, and accuracy of the data required. Note that the data reported by the software is only as useful as the information entered. Examples of available network reports and their functions by the software include:
Cable placement--total footage of cable placed
Fiber assignments--fibers available at fiber distribution frames
Geographic queries--the number of cable feet in a certain geographical boundary
Fiber cable assignments--fibers and where they go in all cables throughout the network
Customers/equipment--types of equipment installed throughout the network and the number of connected fibers. u
Randall S. Anderson is director of engineering at Advance Fiber Optics, Salt Lake City, UT. This article appeared in the October 1996 issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance, an associated publication of PennWell Publishing Co., Nashua, NH.