Raising Cubicles Switching Intelligence

With the proliferation of networking devices at the office, corporate cubicle denizens are looking for ever more connectivity.

With the proliferation of networking devices at the office, corporate cubicle denizens are looking for ever more connectivity, costing enterprises hefty sums in wiring and occasionally hefty networking headaches when the users try to establish new creative connections on their own.

This week, 3Com Corp., of San Jose, Calif., is launching what it calls a new product category—a network jack—to bring switching functions closer to the desktop and reduce the cost of wiring.

"A lot of end users, when they run out of connectivity at the desktop, theyll kind of take matters into their own hands," said 3Com Product Manager Trey Wafer. "[The network jack] is the result of the balance between what IT managers need to do in the network and what end users want to do in their individual cubes."

The NJ100 Network Jack replaces a standard Ethernet wall jack and provides four unmanaged switch ports, giving end users more access to the LAN and simultaneously giving IT managers more control over access. The jack includes voice-over-IP and power-over-Ethernet connections, and optional ports support legacy voice connections as well. The network jack fits into a standard wall cut-out and connects, via a single cable, to the LAN switch in the wiring closet.

"In a typical, traditional installation, people are pulling four wires to the end point," Wafer said. "[The network jack] becomes a platform for pulling intelligence out of the wiring closet."

Osborne Architects tested the network jack in its Glendale, Calif., office. Richard Liu, director of IT, said the company does not need four ports in every cubicle, but it plans to patch two or three cubicles into one jack. "This will definitely reduce the amount of cabling needed," Liu said. "Well be saving at least half the time it takes to run the wires because we need to run only a quarter as many."

While the switch does not contain management functions today, 3Com plans to upgrade it, making it more useful to managers of large networks.

One of the key markets for the network jack is education. Many schools need a lot of connectivity concentrated at end points, but they are reluctant to rewire because of concerns about asbestos, according to Wafer. Similarly, historic buildings often pose difficult, expensive challenges in rewiring, making it easier and less expensive to rely on just one cable connecting into the LAN, Wafer said.

3Com used one of its own newly installed facilities to test the cost savings. At a new 3Com building in Salt Lake City, the company found that to activate four ports in a cube would cost approximately $959, while installing the NJ100 cost $528 for the same amount of connectivity.