Cabling for the Future

When developing a new building, higher education facility personnel and designers must plan for the future. The new Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences Building (ACES) at the University of Texas-Austin (UT), certainly illustrates the point. In fact, the building’s technology infrastructure and cabling support desktop requirements that aren’t even developed yet. Now that’s planning for the future.

A Wonderful Gift

The funding and development behind ACES are as important as the infrastructure itself. The $25.5-million facility was funded by the O’Donnell Foundation of Dallas, which was established by investor Peter O’Donnell, Jr., and his wife, Edith. Rather than donating the money for the building, O’Donnell leased the site from UT, constructed the building and turned over the keys.

‘The development approach enabled us to open much sooner than would normally have been possible,’ says Dr. Kurt Bartelmehs, ACES’s project manager for IT. ‘The building was constructed in 19 months because our reviews and other project requirements were fewer since the facility was privately developed. A normal project approach would have taken several years. Cutting years off the process was obviously important to us since state-of-the-art technology was a building goal.’

Bartelmehs says the O’Donnell Foundation was involved in all facets of the project from touring university and corporate facilities with similar missions and features to helping select the furniture. ‘The O’Donnell Foundation wanted to give UT the best. The foundation’s vision and involvement have made ACES the success that it is.’

The Mission

The five-story facility supports interdisciplinary research and graduate study in computational science and engineering, mathematical modeling, applied mathematics, software engineering and computer visualization, and is also home to the Texas Institute for Computational and Applied Mathematics (TICAM). The goal in constructing the facility was to attract students, scientists and engineers from around the world to work at UT.

The 179,436-gross-sq.-ft. building features a 196-seat auditorium, a 2,900-sq.-ft. visualization research lab, an outdoor cafe and private dining facilities, 14 networked seminar rooms, videoconferencing rooms on every floor, 25 fully equipped offices for academic and industry visitors and 16,500 sq. ft. of lab space. Taking a cue from the corporate world, ACES also features open discussion and collaborative spaces on every floor.

Infrastructure Supports the Mission

Two main goals in designing the facility’s technology infrastructure were key - plan for what is to come and make everything as user friendly as possible. ‘We can’t anticipate how quickly technology will change, but we do know that changing systems and the technology infrastructure within the building must be done without any inconvenience to our users,’ states Bartelmehs. ‘Consequently, our infrastructure will support desktop features that haven’t even been designed yet. There’s no other building like ours on campus and only a handful nationwide from a technology perspective.’

The building has 100-percent excess capacity in its telecommunication infrastructure and features both single- and multimode fiber optic cable to all desktops. In all, there are 1.3 million sq. ft. of copper cabling within the building’s walls. And the building features a completely wireless and wired computer network - the only one on campus. The wireless design enables users to log on and move throughout the building without any disruption to connectivity.

LazrSPEED multimode fiber and GigaSPEED copper and high-bandwidth single-mode fiber supplied and donated by Avaya, a Lucent Technologies spin-off, were used in the building. Both products, which are part of the company’s SYSTIMAX solutions program, will more than support future technology needs.

Bartelmehs states that the LazrSPEED cabling will enable data to be transmitted at amazingly faster rates. ‘Today, we can transmit at 100 Mb/s, which is the standard for most desktops. The LazrSPEED fiber will permit transmission rates up to 10 Gb/s or 10,000 Mb/s, which is 100 times faster than the current standard transmission speed - a figure that will be so fast it’s hard to even imagine. When the desktop components catch up to the cabling capacity that is now available, we’ll be ready.’

To facilitate technology upgrades, five important design provisions were made. First, the third floor was left as shell space and houses a network closet or Massive Distribution Facility (MDF) to serve the building. (The shell space will eventually house researchers who obtain grant money to work at ACES.) The MDF features 16 empty racks for future expansion.

Cabling leaves the closet and goes throughout the building. Floor-to-floor cable pathways were provided and use sleeves instead of conduit. As new cabling is required, it will be inserted in the empty holes that were left for expansion.

From there, the cabling goes to a cable tray system that runs below the ceiling and along both sides of the corridors on each floor. When cabling changes are required, facility personnel will simply lay the cable into the trays rather than having to remove ceiling tiles.

Surface-mounted raceways in each room complete the picture. When additional cabling is required, it will be added in the raceways, which are accessed via a cover plate. The result is a system that reduces installation time and user inconvenience, all while being more economical.

Instructional Technology

The cabling also supports the building’s instructional technology components. There is a user-friendly standardized interface for the remote control system that was used in all presentation rooms. All instructional rooms come complete with a standardized set of instructional technologies including computer, document camera, VCR and auxiliary inputs. A Web-based reservation system handles all requests for scheduling meetings and other events.

In the Visualization Research Laboratory, a 10-ft., 180° cylindrical projection screen with images generated by an SGI Onyx2 supercomputer is available. Users can analyze large graphic data files that will reveal minute particles in several dimensions.

‘The cabling capacity and the speed that we can transmit data are as important for our instructional technology needs as they are for our researchers,’ concludes Bartelmehs. ‘The SYSTIMAX cabling components, combined with other technologies, enable us to handle any current or future technology application that we can imagine. ACES is a state-of-the-art building that will stay that way for years to come.’