Powering flexible working

By Andrew Mulholland, Head of Business Solutions, D-Link UK&I

DGS1510202828P52A1Image LFrontA great way of getting new businesses off the ground as quickly as possible, serviced offices often have strict rules when it comes to cabling. Indeed one I visited recently didn’t allow any changes at all, so the company leasing the space had arranged all their desks in circle with a network switch, servers, shared printers and a tangle of wires in the middle!

Even when changes are allowed, the need to re-organise and move offices as companies grow tends to discourage investment in cabling infrastructure leading to all kinds of ad-hoc solutions. Which kind of begs the question – how can the average small business take advantage of what the latest technology has to offer without trailing leads here, there and everywhere?

When it comes to networking the obvious answer has to be WiFi, but you can’t connect everything that way and bandwidth is still limited, even with the introduction of Wireless AC. Neither is it possible to deliver power over the air. But you can direct it over the same cables used to carry data and it’s worth looking at what Power over Ethernet (PoE) has to offer as you may be surprised at how this technology has evolved in the last few years.

The increased power of PoE

If you haven’t looked at PoE for a while you may be forgiven for being sceptical, as initial implementations based on the IEEE 802.3af specification weren’t that great. Able to deliver just 15.4 Watts of power to network devices using spare wires in UTP data cables, 802.3af could be used to power fixed IP cameras, simple desktop IP phones or basic wireless access points, but little else.

More than that, compatible devices were few and far between and adding PoE to the network itself problematic. Most early deployments required standalone PoE midspans to be added to inject power into the wires, costly black box devices which had to be installed somewhere between the switch and its client devices.

The release of switches with PoE capability built-in soon did away with that requirement and, at the same time, reduces hardware and installation cost. However, to further minimise those costs low power budgets were often imposed which limited the number of simultaneous powered ports they could handle.

Fortunately things have changed since then, starting with the introduction of a more powerful IEEE 802.3at standard (PoE Plus) which allows up to 30 Watts to be delivered over a single network cable. An effective doubling of what can be handled, that’s enough to power PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) cameras, for example, video phones and advanced dual-band wireless access points. Some implementations even allow remote network switches to be powered via PoE.

The tally of compatible devices has also risen and power budgets on PoE switches increased with, in many cases, the ability to deliver the full amount of power, as defined by PoE standards, to every cabled port. Moreover, switch vendors like D-Link have incorporated sophisticated tools to manage and share the available power budget to insure that every device can get what it needs and even turn it off completely when not required.

All of which is good news for the small business in serviced or temporary accommodation, enabling them to minimise the number of extension leads and adapters needed to power devices around their offices. Of course you still need data cabling, but a lot of serviced offices come flood-wired which helps, plus it’s a lot easier to tack UTP wires onto skirting boards and route them through ceiling voids than have new AC points added. It’s also a lot less expensive and, in a lot of cases, you can take it with you when you move.

PoE may not be the answer in every case but it works for many and certainly helped reduce the cable sprawl in the office I visited, and spread out that circle of desks.

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