Damon DeBenedictis has had a 17-year career at TE Connectivity, managing copper and fiber product portfolios that have led to market-changing technologies for data centers, office networks, and broadcast networks.
Physical layer management (PLM) systems provide complete visibility into the physical state of the network at any given time, but integrating such systems into a network and business processes may seem like a complex project. Where does one start? When do you integrate PLM and how do you do it? In this article, we’ll look PLM and at some key considerations when integrating a PLM system into a network.
Breaking down a PLM system
A PLM system is a tool that network managers use to access and catalogue real-time status information about their physical layer networks. PLM systems bring layer 1 to the same visibility as layers 2-7 by including intelligent connectors on patch cords and intelligent ports on patch panels. The solution software reports the state of every network connection: whether or not it is connected, how much bandwidth a circuit can carry, and the type of circuit (i.e., Cat5/6 Ethernet or single- or multi-mode fiber). The PLM system also provides circuit mapping, alarming, and reporting.
Areas of consideration prior to integration
The key opportunity for implementing a PLM system arises when there is a new data center or data center expansion project. This is the time to consider PLM.
There are two basic ways to integrate a PLM system into a network:
- Use the PLM system’s own application and database;
- Use a middleware API in the PLM system to integrate its output into an existing network management system.
The decision about which route to take depends on the network manager’s tolerance for using an additional management system on top of the others he or she is already using, and whether or not it’s worth the effort to adopt a new system.
Two ways to integrate: the pros and cons of both
The advantage to using the PLM system’s own application and database is that it manages the entire physical layer, mapping circuits, issuing work orders, reserving ports for new connections, reporting on circuit and patch panel inventories, and other functions. However, using a new application may require some duplication of effort as the manager compares the PLM system’s output with the output of other management systems. In addition, the PLM application will require process changes to employee workflows as a new work order system is integrated.
With the middleware approach, the manager need not change anything about employee workflows. However, the value of the input is limited to what the target management system can accept. For example, if the management system doesn’t understand the network at the patch cord level, then patch cord status and locations will not be available to the network manager.
Choosing between the two, what’s right for you?
One key to deciding between the application and middleware approaches is to determine whether or not the existing work order and documentation systems are working well. Large carriers use existing or home grown software tools to manage their networks. Frequently, these systems include work order management systems that automatically email work orders to the appropriate technicians. In smaller organizations, however, network documentation may be done manually on spreadsheets. Either way, these manual data entry tools are fraught with errors and very labor-intensive.
If a company has a robust work order management system and simply wants to add awareness of the physical network to its suite of tools, then integrating PLM middleware into an existing management system is the way to go. But for companies that struggle with work order management, using the PLM application will be well worth whatever changes must take place in employee workflows.
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