The University of Miami Law School installs fiber to the desk

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The University of Miami Law School installs fiber to the desk

Tony E. Beam, Siecor Corp.

Martyn N. Easton, Corning Inc.

The University of Miami School of Law, which has completed a four-story library, is installing a fiber-optic data communications network. By early 1996, it will have fiber to the desk throughout the library buildings and adjacent law school facilities.

"We`re going for maximum flexibility," says Ellen E. Greenfield, director for academic computer resources at the law school. Fiber to the desk will give library staff and users ready access to whatever network applications are on the horizon, regardless of bandwidth demands, she said.

The cost of an all-fiber network is no longer the issue it once was, thanks in part to dropping prices and innovative cabling architectures that reduce the need for opto-electronics.

Says Charles L. Wilson, RCDD, University of Miami facilities designer, "Now that the cost of installing fiber is comparable to that of copper, there`s no reason not to install fiber to the desk. There used to be such a large gap in the overall costs of fiber versus copper, but the cost gap today is relatively small."

For the University of Miami, which was already committed to a radical overhaul of its law library facilities, the time was right for an all-fiber network.

The previous system in the library consisted of thickwire coaxial cable and Category 3 unshielded twisted-pair copper cable. This infrastructure proved inadequate for the present and near-future networking throughput demands placed on the library as it began to expand its role as a high-speed provider of up-to-date information.

The new law library network will offer users desktop access to imaging material, CD-ROM and other databases, as well as the ability to pull files across the network. The library will also provide access to online catalogs, standard word processing, spread sheet packages and file sharing--all on the network and all available at the desktop. Finally, with a link via the university`s fiber distributed data interface backbone to the Internet, library network users will have an on-ramp to the information superhighway.

In effect, the facility will be at the center of a virtual library, an electronic information community that interconnects faculty, students, library staff and a multitude of databases resident on the Internet.

Recalls Wilson, "We knew these emerging and future applications could better serve the law school and the Miami community. But these applications require lots of bandwidth."

Reinventing the network

In late 1993, the university started to reinvent its law school`s network. It did all the planning in-house, with assistance and consultation from Siecor Corp., Hickory, NC, and Cabletron Systems Inc., Rochester, NH. Compu-link, a Siecor extended warranty program contractor, installed, terminated and tested the optical fiber cabling in the new and renovated facilities.

The first phase of the project, completed in August 1994, involved construction and fiber-to-the-desk cabling of the new library building, which is now ready to be occupied. In the second and third phases, the old library will be recabled; attached buildings housing classrooms and administrative offices will be renovated.

The law library has its own FDDI backbone. This network is connected to the University of Miami`s campus FDDI backbone, whose cable is a hybrid that contains 24 multimode fibers and six singlemode fibers.

Taking advantage of fiber`s low attenuation and long distances between connections, the law library is cabled using a distributed backbone. This design greatly simplifies the network architecture, saves space and lowers costs. From the law library FDDI backbone in the main crossconnect in the new addition, 12-fiber riser media interface connector cables run to several telecommunications closets throughout the library and adjacent buildings. In the new and renovated sections of the library, only one closet is required for every two floors in each building. The closets house Cabletron hubs.

Siecor`s 2-fiber DIB cable was used as the horizontal cable connecting the telecommunications closet to the work area outlet. Fibers were terminated using two versions of ST-compatible connectors. At the closet and the main crossconnect, a pre-radius heat cure ST-compatible connector was used because it offers the lowest total installed cost when a large number of fibers at a location are terminated. However, a no-polish, no-epoxy Camlite connector was used at the work area outlet because it offers the lowest installed cost when terminating a small number of fibers where reduced set-up time is critical. At the closets and main crossconnect, a fiber distribution center was used as the connecting hardware for both the backbone and horizontal cables.

Fiber-optic cable installed outside was pulled into a duct bank system of six 4-inch PVC conduits. A minimum of three conduits run from manholes to each building; within one such conduit are three one-and-a-quarter-inch innerducts--one for fiber, one for telephone lines and one empty for future needs.

Indoors, fiber-optic riser cable runs between closets in 4-inch conduit. From the closets, horizontal cables travel by way of open ceilings and 0.75-inch conduit to the work areas.

The horizontal network is supporting a 10Base-F Ethernet network, running at 10 megabits per second. The FDDI backbone runs at the standard 100 Mbits/sec. However, the network has the inherent ability to move to speeds in excess of 1 gigabit per second. Employing 10Base-F Ethernet is a cost-effective solution because affordable electronics are available to run Ethernet over fiber.

Fiber-to-the-desk alternatives

Alternate cabling architectures such as this one are gaining popularity among network designers as they seek ways to bring fiber to the desktop at affordable prices. Another alternate design, centralized optical fiber cabling, would eliminate the need for electronics, hubs or switches in the telecommunications closet. In this design, users take advantage of the increased distance capabilities of fiber, allowing them to put all their data electronics in one location rather than throughout the building. This simplifies management, provides for more efficient use of electronic ports and allows for easy migration to other network needs.

Another alternate cabling design employs multiuser outlets, which is of particular value in a modular furniture environment. A high-fiber-count cable (12 to 24 fibers, for instance) is run from a closet to a multiuser outlet fixed to a permanent structure, such as a supporting column, within open office space. Optical fiber patch cords are then installed through the furniture raceways from the outlet to each user`s desktop. This design is possible because optical fiber is not restricted to the 3-meter limitation of Category 5 copper patch cords. Also, the design provides flexibility.

No lines, no waiting

When the law school library network upgrade is completed in 1996, the fiber-optic backbone will interconnect all of the buildings with fiber to the desk, serving 1400 law students, 50 faculty members, 45 library staff members and 20 support personnel. This network will be linked to the university`s campuswide FDDI backbone, the Internet and the outside world.

Within the library, fiber to the desk will allow for maximum flexibility. Rather than simply providing users access to hardwired terminals, the library will have 215 optical fiber outlets available throughout the buildings. Plans are to provide students and other library patrons with portable laptop kits to access the network. This will mean that people can work side by side practically anywhere they choose, yet still have access to information and network applications. They can sit down, plug in and browse the stacks of the virtual library residing on the Internet.

Says Greenfield, "From one terminal, library users will have access to a variety of services--an online catalog for this or any library on campus, and various databases here and elsewhere. They will work with word processing software. They will go in and out of the Internet. And ultimately, they will have much of this available from their homes."

The law school also has plans to add administrative functions to the network. Students who are in the library or connected to the network from home may be able to register for classes, pay bills and untangle administrative snarls.

Wilson sees many economical benefits with fiber to the desk. "Once you pull the fiber cable," he says, "you don`t have to worry about future upgrades to the cabling plant, because fiber`s bandwidth ensures future network applications won`t be a problem. And you won`t need any special encoding to go to higher speeds, as you do with copper."

Also, Wilson points out that fiber`s immunity to electromagnetic interference is a big plus in the law school buildings. Cable must run through open ceilings past fluorescent light fixtures, which can disrupt electrical signals.

Tony E. Beam is premises marketing manager at Siecor Corp., Hickory, NC, and Martyn N. Easton is team leader, premises applications, at Corning Inc., Corning, NY.

From a main crossconnect in the new addition, 12-fiber multimode cables run to telecommunications closets throughout the law library and adjacent buildings. Another cable, with 24 multimode and six (currently dark) singlemode fibers, connects the law school`s network with the university`s fiber backbone and through it, the Internet.

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