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The sweet taste of success

A Birmingham college needs a new IT infrastructure installed to a tight deadline.

A Birmingham college needs a new IT infrastructure installed to a tight deadline

September 2011 saw a landmark event in the history of Bournville College when it opened its brand new £66m state-of-the-art campus in Longbridge. Having a high performance IT network infrastructure was a necessity and in order to achieve this, the college chose a future proof cabling solution from Brand-Rex.

The origins of Bournville College stretch back to 1899 when George Cadbury built a model village next to his factory to the south-west of Birmingham city centre. Cadbury believed in providing his workers with the best facilities available at the time and insisted that the estate should ‘ameliorate the condition of the working class and labouring population by the provision of improved dwellings, with gardens and open space to be enjoyed.’

Education was an important part of Cadbury’s plans. Classes in English, mathematics, science and physical education were made compulsory at the Bournville factory and then at a dedicated school premises located nearby. The school was first established as an institution in 1913 and referred to as Bournville College from 1949.

The College then subsequently moved to new premises on Bristol Road South in 1972, which was formerly occupied by Birmingham Polytechnic.

This building was constructed in several phases on different levels in the early 1960s and was originally designed to meet the needs of higher education students.

After moving from the Bristol Road South site, and after nearly seven years in development, Bournville College relocated to a brand new state-of-the-art campus in Longbridge in September 2011. The new campus has capacity for 15,000 students and spans some 4.2 acres. It is part of the £1 billion regeneration project of the former MG Rover works and the first phase of an ambitious redevelopment plan for Longbridge.

The campus’s main spine building consists of six floors and four additional buildings which are connected to the spine. Its Learning Resource Centre, located at the very heart of the College, offers over 300 computers, thousands of books, e-learning materials and Wi-Fi Internet access.

At the early stages of the development, the IT and networking team recognised the need for a high quality IT network to serve those on campus, as Taz Hussain, Network Manager at Bournville College, explains. “We knew that for the level of technology that the network infrastructure would have to serve, both now and in the future, it was imperative to get the specification and installation right first time. We also had the opportunity to install the best possible system while the campus was being built.”

Bournville College is a truly multimedia environment and the chosen system would need to support a variety of applications.

Hussain adds: “As well as running voice, data and video conferencing applications, the system would also need to facilitate digital signage, wireless networking, a digital media suite (DMS) and our building management system (BMS) which operates access control, CCTV, lighting, heating and ventilation."

In order to help specify a cabling infrastructure that could operate these diverse systems, while meeting Bournville College’s future proofing objectives, the services of Darren Hill, ICT consultant with design consultancy, LANBuilder, were called on and he soon began work devising a suitable solution. Hill selected a solution that offered technical excellence along with a 25-year system warranty. He says: “The money used to develop the building had to be used wisely as it was a one-off funding stream.

Therefore, we needed a cabling system that could last the building for anything up to 50 years and which could be guaranteed to meet the stated levels of performance for at least 25.”

Hill had worked on previous projects with Brand-Rex and felt that it would be able to meet the demanding requirements for a cost effective and high bandwidth system.

After liaising with Craig Urmston, Customer Relationship Manager at Brand-Rex, it was decided that a Category 6A unshielded solution from the company’s 10GPlus range would fit the bill.

Commenting on the performance levels it offers, Urmston states: “10GPlus is a 3P [Third Party Testing] approved cabling system that not only meets and exceeds the performance outlined in EIA/TIA for Category 6A, but also meets and exceeds requirements in ISO/IEC for Class EA. The 10GPlus system has unparalleled levels of certification and is manufactured in accordance with ISO 14001 and ISO 9001:2008.”

Although there has been some concern regarding the ability of unshielded twisted pair to achieve 10 Gigabit Ethernet performance due to alien crosstalk issues, 10GPlus has a Reuleaux shaped cable that reduces interference from adjacent cables and incorporates highly balanced pairs. Its performance is also independently verified in 100m length testing for both the cable and the channel configurations. The low levels of electromagnetic interference (EMI) in the College campus also added to the suitability of unshielded cabling.

However, specifying such a high quality branded solution was not without its battles, as Hill explains. “This project had to work within a specified budget and there was very little room to manoeuvre. The main contractor suggested that the network infrastructure had been over-engineered and that a lower specification system would save some budget. I made it clear that doing so would, ultimately, be a false economy as a Category 5e system would not support 10 Gigabit Ethernet and would have a limited lifespan.”

This was a battle that Hill won and after making a case for a solid return on investment, the doubters were convinced that the technical quality of a Brand-Rex solution would be superior to using a cheaper solution and would also offer significant headroom for future expansion.

The contract to install the cabling system itself was put out to tender. After beating off competition from six other companies, it was awarded to Solihull-based Amillan. The company has been a Brand-Rex Authorised Partner for nine years and has sold and installed a number of Brand-Rex products and systems during that time. Urmston says: “The Business Partner Program is a global initiative and only Brand-Rex partners are able to issue our 25-year system warranty.”

As a new build project, various other building services operations had to be carried out before Amillan could get on site.

However, in July 2010 it started work and with a deadline of July 2011 for completion, the pressure was on to meet the deadline.

As well as installing 10GPlus, the specification called for a fibre optic cabling backbone.

“Originally we had looked at installing an OM3 multimode fibre backbone. However, our plans had to be revised after it transpired that the distance it would have to run would be further than the 300m it could operate 10 Gigabit Ethernet over in accordance with 10GBASE-T. With this in mind we decided to opt for an armoured OS1 singlemode fibre from the Brand-Rex FibrePlus portfolio,” comments Hill.

Reid adds: “The OS1 12 core fibre optic cables were terminated onto LC patch panels and these linked the main equipment room to satellite equipment rooms via diverse routing. Using OS1 was also another way to ensure the network infrastructure’s longevity as rather than stopping at 10 Gigabit Ethernet, it offers expansion to 40 Gigabit Ethernet and beyond.”

Once completed, the installation at Bournville College comprised a total of 4,400 Category 6A U/UTP outlets that incorporated over 200,000m of 10GPlus cable. A further 768 Category 6A links were installed within the equipment room, which were terminated onto patch panels at both ends. Brand-Rex patch cords were also used that employ independently verified Category 6A/Class EA cable and are manufactured using standards compliant RJ-45 modular plugs.

Addressing the importance of using an entire system from one provider, LANBuilder’s Hill, states: “Brand-Rex tests against performance standards and it is important to make sure that the copper used in the twisted pair is the same as that in the outlets and patch leads so that there is no echo or reflection. From end-to-end it is all Brand-Rex and this provides ultimate peace of mind for Hussain and his team.”

As a new build, the installation avoided many of the issues that are often encountered during a retrofit. However, the disruption caused by one of the worst winters in 20 years meant that the already tight deadline required long working days on site to make up for lost time.

The new campus opened on schedule to widespread acclaim and Taz Hussain states: “We are delighted with the new network infrastructure and what it allows us to do. Using products from Brand-Rex has ensured that we have an infrastructure that offers superb performance and unparalleled usability, and which is guaranteed to support the building for at least 25 years. This will ensure that we can use the very latest technology both now and in the future.”

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