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Managers missing point of intelligent patching

Often seen as an unwanted necessity for compliance regulation, many data centers in the U.S. are now viewing intelligent patching as a viable solution for network management.

Intelligent patching might seem like an expensive and somewhat excessive tool, but experts insist that its return...

on investment (ROI) makes it an application data center managers should seriously consider, even beyond compliance issues.

Intelligent patching is a physical layer management and auditing tool that allows you to see where devices are on your networks to aid troubleshooting and fault detection.

Most data centers find themselves evaluating intelligent patching because they have to, their hand forced by new compliance regulations that have made the technology a necessity. But experts in the intelligent patching industry insist that IT managers who see intelligent patching as the data center equivalent of a car inspection, and thus put off considering it for their data center for as long as possible, are missing the point.

Intelligent patching has been around since the mid-'90s, but deployment has grown sharply in the U.S. over the past four years -- especially in the past 12 months -- thanks in large part to increased compliance responsibilities that force data centers to have a better handle of ingress and egress and the documentation to go along with it. Among the most pertinent legislation is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which includes regulations affecting corporate governance, disclosure and financial accounting; the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which was designed to implement strict regulations to protect the privacy of customer data privacy; and CFR 11, the Food and Drug Administration's legislative act requiring increased data security for pharmaceutical and biotech firms.

According to Carrie Higbie, global network applications market manager for Watertown, Conn.-based Siemon Co., intelligent patching technology picks up where regular network systems management leaves off. And if you want to know who has access to your data and when, Higbie insists that intelligent patching is one of the best ways to go about it.

"It allows you to monitor and manage every physical connection in the data center," she said. "When you do [run into] trouble, 80% of your time is trying to find the problem, and this cuts that time down significantly."

One of the benefits to intelligent patching is that it allows IT networks to transmit information about changes in cabling patches electronically, which gives technicians time to evaluate those changes to see if they will interfere with the rest of the network.

For more information:

IT Strategies Info Center: Compliance

Charming the cable snake

Among the companies leading the charge for intelligent patching is Richardson, Texas-based Systimax Solutions, which developed the intelligent patching tool, known as IPatch, in 2001. IPatch uses intelligent patching hardware and management software to automatically update information by using real-time monitoring in the patch field to avoid errors that can arise during the lag time between when a system is supposed to be updated and when it actually does so.

Users trying to make systems deploy updates that haven't actually been integrated into the network yet often end up launching a glitch that can lead to a data center meltdown.

"The only way to have an actual document of a network is intelligent patching, because you don't have to worry about whether the information on the database matches reality," Michael German, technical director, North American region for Systimax said. "It ensures that whatever have in your wiring closet and data center matches your database."

Intelligent patching evangelists shake their heads when they see IT departments look the other way fearing a high initial price tag -- not realizing how much ROI intelligent patching can deliver to a data center over the long haul. In fact, maintaining an intelligent patching system can cost as little as 50% of what a data center would pay in salary for a technician to do the same work.

"Price is always an issue. … [but] the irony is that when data centers are put together nobody questions the cost of network equipment or management software, when many times those components have a life span is three to five years. The life span of a cabling plant is 10 years, but the expenditure on the investment is much less, about 10% [of the total costs of a data center] … People aren't willing to invest in intelligent patching but spend money on equipment that will be outdated in three years," German said.

According to German, intelligent patching took off in Europe in 2002, partly because the company that first introduced the technology, RIT Technologies Ltd., is based in Tel Aviv, Israel, and thus had a stronger presence in the European IT community. But interest has piqued in the U.S. over the past year, to the point where German said that for the first time, customers are calling Systimax for intelligent patching information.

"We can see a progression of awareness in the customer … we used to have to force the customer to listen to the benefits," German said. "[It used to be seen] as an expensive toy … but slowly they are coming to understand why intelligent patching is used."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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