The topic of “overbuying” comes up so many times in our practice that I can’t limit this to just one blog entry — this could easily become a recurring theme. I’m not talking about paying too much, where the competitive process breaks down and the end user pays more than they should have (easily another few blog topics). Instead, I am referring here to where the equipment purchased is more expensive, feature rich, durable, or otherwise overkill for the intended application. In many cases, the less expensive equipment would actually work better. Think that never happens? Read on …
We have several clients with IP-based CCTV systems that include fairly elaborate self-healing, fiber-optic ring networks. These networks are configured in a circular topology, where each node has a path to the previous node and the next node. If either one of the fiber-optic links to a node is broken, the network remains fully functional. Sounds like a great idea so far, doesn’t it?
The intended application for this type of network is in areas where there is some danger of one of the fiber-optic links being broken. Traffic cameras are a good example as a pole could get knocked down. Campus environments where the network spans multiple buildings. Or hazardous environments where the cable could be in danger. No examples come to mind, but I’m sure they are out there. If you think of any, hit the “comment” link.
But the applications I am talking about are in large, contained structures. The cable is well secured in back hallways, and any accident that damaged one link would probably sever others as well. So these applications do not gain any functionality from this topology, but they sure pay a cost. For one, the network bandwidth is limited to a single link — with this topology, if the link speed is 1 gigabit (1000BASE-T), the total bandwidth for all nodes is 1 gigabit. With a star configuration (where all nodes are connected to a central hub), the speed is 1 gigabit per node, not per network. And the star approach is more reliable, faster, and significantly less expensive. In fact, with many of our clients we have replaced these expensive switches with simple media converters, reconfigured the rings to stars, and watched network crashes and slowdowns disappear overnight. And, if a media converter goes bad and is no longer being manufactured, you only need to replace the pair. With the self-healing ring, you often have to replace the entire network.
There are plenty of other examples — specifying high-end network switches where lower end products will work just as well for simpler applications. Running Cat-6 cable to cameras or other edge devices where they will never come close to utilizing the bandwidth available in a Cat-5e cable. But, if you’re the integrator that can bring some common sense to the party, explain where the cost savings won’t hurt and may actually help the system, and save your customer some money, you have a distinct competitive advantage. It’s something to think about.