What’s Your Low Voltage Strategy?

Joe Velderman

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The title question of this blog post may have your scratching your head a little bit, causing you to say; “huh? Low Voltage Strategy?” Perhaps you’ve not considered that organizations can have a “strategy” around specific low voltage system technologies. Well, you can. And, you should.

Low Voltage technologies are infrastructure components that makeup a majority of most organization’s communications. Some examples of these technologies include:

  • Phone Systems
  • Wi-Fi Communications
  • Structure Cabling (Fiber-Optic, Category-6, Cable-TV, etc…)
  • Life Safety Systems (Nurse Call, Wander Management, etc…)
  • Door access control systems
  • Closed Circuit Television and Video Surveillance Systems

Many of these technologies are starting to work in conjunction with one another, or even depend on each other. For example – many new door access control systems are starting to operate on WiFi connectivity – meaning that door strikes and locks are getting their database instructions from the WiFi network to determine which proximity devices are allowed to open or unlock that door. Many video surveillance systems are going to an IP-based system, where cameras connect to a network using Cat-6 cable, and report back to a DVR that might be a physical or virtual server. Voice over IP phone systems have been out for a while now and also depend on ethernet connectivity with the network. More and more, there is a convergence of these low-voltage systems riding on the IP network along with end user workstations, WiFi, smart phones and tablets.

Too many times, ProviNET has witnessed organizations having independent physical networks to support these technologies. One organization we began assisting had contracted with one vendor for their computer network, another vendor for the phone network and another vendor for video surveillance. Each of their switch closets had stacks of network switches for each of these IP technologies. It was an unfortunate waste of resources – because if there had been some thought behind the design of these systems (a strategy); this could have been avoided and the systems could have all been run on a single local area network. Modern switches have both the performance and manageability to logically separate the traffic from these systems into virtual local area networks (vLANs) while still maintaining the speed that these devices require to operate properly.

With this convergence of low-voltage technologies beginning to operate on the network, it is more important than ever to have a robust, high performance internal network. By modern standards, the main data frame (MDF) or “core” of the network should be capable of supporting 10gb networking capabilities. From the MDF – each intermediate data frame (IDF), or “distribution switch” should be connected with single-mode fiber optic cable and also be connected to the core switch at 10gb. This network “backbone” creates a super freeway for data to very quickly be transmitted within the local area network – and be able to support things like high definition video surveillance and streaming video. From the distribution layer to the edge devices (workstations, access points, phones, cameras, etc…), it is still very appropriate to have 1gb connectivity.

Perhaps your organization is planning a new-construction project, or a remodel of existing space. This is the perfect time to assemble a low-voltage strategy. Define what systems your organization will want to have on the IP network, and determine how to logically separate and prioritize this traffic on the network. Then – as you evaluate low-voltage system brands – view them through the lens of the strategy that you’ve built for your organization. Weigh the capabilities, use and cost of these systems with the effectiveness of fitting within your low voltage system strategy.

Alternatively, if your organization is in a mode of maintaining existing networks or low-voltage technologies, consider how to converge systems and develop an evergreen replacement program for your network hardware to enable and support the convergence of these low-voltage systems.

If all of this sounds like greek to you, don’t worry. Our team of low-voltage system experts is here to assist, and help you develop your organization’s low voltage system strategy.

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