Datacom Technical Debt: What It Is and How to Avoid It

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We've all been there – a datacom network has not had any major upgrades in quite a while. We're always trying to control costs, and while sometimes this approach can work, it's certainly not ideal. 

With this short-term strategy, we more frequently experience network downtime or other glitches that cause some real headaches for businesses. Whether you’re the network owner or the datacom contractor tasked with managing and maintaining it, downtime equals a loss of revenue.

This is an example of a technical debt impact.

The Impact of Technical Debt

A scenario could be that the datacom network has grown significantly over time as the enterprise campus has expanded. Some areas have been upgraded to some degree over time (e.g., Cat 5e cabling and connectivity to Cat 6 or 6A and sometimes fiber), but other campus network areas have not been up to pace. Taking a short-term approach to keeping IT costs down can lead to greater costs down the road. We are incurring technical debt, and sooner than later, that debt will come due.

If time, money, and effort are not spent to keep networks up to date, this lack of investment on the front end will lead to technical debt or significantly greater costs on the back end.

Forrester Research says that maintaining outdated applications and technology now consumes 70 percent or more of an organization’s technology budget.

Technical Debt Applied to Cabling

If a network cabling infrastructure is not up to date, it is only a matter of time before network glitches and outages become a real challenge. It's important to consider Cat 6a or fiber to effectively handle exploding IoT bandwidth needs. It’s not “if,” it’s “when” this cabling technical debt will come due.

Technical Debt: A Deeper Dive

Technical debt can be defined by two elements:

  • Short-term or more immediate cost reductions due to delayed upgrades that make today’s IT budgets look better.
  • Longer-term opportunity costs where the time will come when an upgrade is the only choice. The increased time, costs, and unnecessary loss of business will eventually outshine any initial savings.

In the world of technical debt, a large amount of money and effort will go toward band-aid solutions instead of future-looking network innovations.

Total Cost of Ownership

As you come to terms with this, remember that the total cost of ownership should be a driving force in any network management decision. Technical debt results from a desire to save money today when you should be future-proofing for tomorrow.

The time has come to move out of this technical debt before servicing costs becomes way more than bargained for, including issues like:

  • Spending more time making “fixes” vs. working on new network features or critical network updates
  • Increased total cost of ownership due to extra time and labor going toward maintenance and service
  • Unplanned downtime that can take longer to determine what caused it
  • Simple tasks that become complex and take more time than expected
  • Network growth and upgrades become problematic to implement

The Consequence of Short-Term Decisions

The process of building a house can involve making many big decisions. For example, a short-term choice to speed up the process for immediate gratification can result in long-term consequences. If there is a contract to build a house for summer occupancy – the faster the build, the more profit is made.

The plans call for using thermopane windows, but a member of the home building crew fails to place the order in time. To get the desired thermopane windows, two weeks would have to be added to the job completion date, cutting away much of the profit. Instead of using thermopane windows, regular windows are used to maintain the home delivery date and profit margin. All well and good, and the new windows look great! Until winter comes and the new owners of the house realize that the windows are not well insulated, letting a lot of heat escape. The customer asks what type of thermopane windows were used.

At this point, the truth comes out – thermopane windows were not used to get the customer into their new home on time. Now, incurring overtime and rush costs, every non-thermopane window must be pulled, replacing it with its thermopane counterpart. All profit is gone and what should have been a profitable job is not close to breaking even.

If the job had been done correctly – using the right materials and ordered at the right time – over time and rush costs would not have occurred. The total cost of ownership for this job skyrocketed due to cutting corners or a short-sighted desire for more immediate results.

Recovering From a Failing Infrastructure

Similarly, an average cabling or datacom network infrastructure may seem stable for a while, but it won’t last forever – winter always comes! Sudden failure or unplanned downtime can be difficult to respond to and from which to recover.

Failing infrastructure is never a good thing, but with the exploding needs for bandwidth due to the IoT and the impending impact of 5G on network infrastructure, failures might not be survivable for the business. When cabling systems fail, so do all the systems, applications, and technology upon which they rely.

When it comes to cabling and connectivity, technical debt can increase by:

  • A lack of smart and simple cable management
  • Inaccessible racks and power distribution units
  • Selecting infrastructure solutions that do not support future network needs
  • Selecting a cable that isn’t recommended for your application
  • Choosing non-brand name patch cords to save money

Planning for the Future

Technical debt comes down to maximizing short-term gains at the expense of long-term prosperity. As discussed within this article, it is knowable and avoidable.

As has been, and will be, the case for many years to come, technology will continue its major impact on workforce productivity. Network speeds for wired connections have increased to 10 Gb/s, and wireless connectivity is headed toward 10 Gb/s with the unveiling of IEEE802.11ax. Cabling and connectivity need to support these new technologies and applications – otherwise, technical debt can accrue.

To stay on top of technical debt, we recommend always taking future considerations into account when making decisions about today. Resist the urge to cut costs and focus on efficiency, productivity, and reliability – cost savings will come naturally in the form of consistent uptime and fewer roadblocks. In other words, a much lower total cost of ownership.

To avoid technical debt, select end-to-end cable and connectivity manufacturer and distribution partners with the depth and breadth of experience to help you meet the needs of demanding applications today, tomorrow, and beyond.

RevConnect from Belden

With REVConnect® by Belden from WESCO, your business can experience the following benefits:

  • Maximized network uptime
  • Support of mission-critical, high-bandwidth network applications
  • Easy installation and simplified termination with a single, streamlined process


The opinions expressed in this piece are solely Belden's. They do not necessarily represent WESCO’s views.