Automated infrastructure management systems are not new. They have been around in one shape or form since the early nineties. They also polarise opinion in the structured cabling world like possibly nothing else. The range of opinions is extreme. At one end are those who will pay almost any premium to have what they see as must-have technology, and on the other are end users and IT consultants, who would not have an AIM System even if it was for free.
AIM systems, previously known as intelligent infrastructure management systems, are a combination of hardware and software used to manage structured cabling and are all based upon the ability to detect the insertion or removal of a patch or equipment cord. There are multiple methods employed for this detection by various manufacturers of AIM systems and few, if any are interoperable at hardware level. Some require special cords, others special patch panels, some employ RFID technology.
The ability to detect the removal or insertion of a patch or equipment cord may not seem exciting, and on its own does not add much value for an organisation. The key thing is that it is an event, and there are multiple other types of events that occur in any given network infrastructure. The arrival of a new MAC address, a cabinet door being opened, a power threshold being exceeded, amongst others.
In fact, most of us could populate a list of examples in a short period of time. Simple AIM systems do not really do much more than manage the detection of patching. The more developed examples are able to relate all of the events described above to the cabling infrastructure, and it is these that become management tools for an organisation.
For years, a key barrier to widespread adoption of AIM has been the difficulty in specifying or scoping an AIM system and this situation has multiple facets. The scope of any AIM deployment needs careful thought and clear documentation. There is a requirement for the end user or consultant to clearly set out what is wanted and for the integrator to understand these requirements and quote accurately for their delivery.
There are plenty of examples of scope creep and expectation gap in the time between award of a project and delivery where this has not been done or not understood. Couple this with a tendency in some quarters to oversell the capabilities of AIM, including making tea and turning on the aquarium lights, and there is a clear recipe for a dissatisfied end user.
To get it right takes time and commitment, it is easy to get stuck in a vicious circle of what can it do, what do you want it to do conversations, and it is here that we hit another barrier.
Normally a consultant is not unreasonably going to want to pay for this work and it introduces a dilemma for consulting firms. If they quote including the AIM scoping work, they are going to look more expensive than their competing peers.
This situation leads to the cabling tender document that I am sure we have all seen where the final line says something like, could you quote for an AIM system whilst you are at it. No two-people involved in the process have the same understanding of what that means. The end user has visions of something all-encompassing whilst the integrator will understandably only be looking to deliver what they have been paid to deliver and we are back to our expectation gap.
The lack of physical interoperability also goes some way to account for the reluctance of IT consultants to specify AIM, as they have an innate dislike of locking an end user into a single vendor solution.
Something clearly needed to be done to break down these barriers and at the Madrid meeting of ISO, IEC JTC1 SC25 in 2011, it was decided to write standards addressing AIM. Initially the work centred around improving the Explanatory Annexe in the ISO, IEC 14763-2, Cabling System Administration standard. This work is being included in an amendment of the standard with the annexures now containing a specification of the minimum requirements of an AIM system. This work has also been completed in EN 50174-1.
This is a huge step forward as it allows an end user or consultant to request a quote for an AIM system in accordance with these annexures, which levels the playing field.
Whilst this represents a significant improvement in the situation it does not really go far enough and ISO, IEC realised that a new standard was required.
During the Geneva and Ixtapa ISO, IEC meetings, work commenced on ISO, IEC 18598 automated infrastructure management requirements, data exchange and applications. This new AIM standard contains in addition to the usual scope, definitions and abbreviations, three important sections:
- Clause 5 details requirements and recommendations for standard AIM system
- Clause 6 details applications and benefits of stand-alone AIM systems and potential benefits of AIM systems when connected to other management systems
- Clause 7 addresses the interfaces necessary to allow information exchange with other systems
Clause 5 defines an AIM system as comprising two functional elements, hardware to detect patch cords and software that collects and stores the resulting connection information. The ability to relate information from other sources and to cabling connectivity information is also a requirement, as is the ability to make this information available to authorised users or to other systems.
Contents of Clause 5 include:
- patch cord detection
- tracking end device location
- work flow management
- text and label generation
- monitoring and management
- integration of CAD floor plans, racks, layouts
Clause 6 is unusual for an ISO, IEC standard in that it deliberately contains no requirements and is entirely tutorial, which is usually to be avoided. It is however the clause that provides the why for AIM and links the requirements of Clause 5 to applications and benefits and discusses aspects such as:
- managing and utilising assets
- automatic infrastructure documentation and monitoring
- event management and alerting
- deployment of new services
- process management
- infrastructure security management
- discovery and configuration of attached equipment
Clause 7 is currently the subject of most of the developments and discussions, with the previous two clauses being regarded as mature.
ISO, IEC 18598 is seen as a vital document to break down the barriers to AIM adoption particularly as AIM systems will have an increasingly important role in infrastructure management.
Some forward-thinking experts view the evolution of cabling for building services and the Internet of Things as the critical trigger for AIM to move into other business sectors.
- Experts view evolution of cabling for building services and Internet of Things as critical trigger for AIM to move into other business
- There are multiple methods employed for detection by various manufacturers of AIM systems and few if any are interoperable at hardware level
- Simple AIM systems do not really do much more than manage the detection of patching
- More developed examples are able to relate all events to cabling infrastructure and it is these that become management tools for an organisation
- Lack of physical interoperability goes some way to account for reluctance of IT consultants to specify AIM as they have innate dislike of locking an end user into single vendor solution
- ISO, IEC 18598 is seen as a vital document to break down the barriers to AIM adoption
With a number of standard based resolutions, automated infrastructure management is moving into mainstream procurement according to Osama Abed at Nexans Cabling Solutions.