By Gary WangUntil now, few things have been as cut and dried as cabling infrastructure. Every computer, phone, or network device required a separate cable that terminated at the switching closet.Conventional wisdom dictates that if you don’t install extra cabling up front, you’ll regret that decision down the road. After all, when was the last time you heard someone say, “I have more bandwidth than I know what to do with?” That’s why information technology (IT) consultants and architects make assumptions on a company’s cabling requirements and often double that amount to help future-proof cabling infrastructure.Distributed intelligence is about to radically simplify cabling infrastructure. By distributing intelligence and processing capabilities closer to the user, it is now possible to increase flexibility, lower costs, and provide a platform for future innovation. Since the advent of the personal computer, computing intelligence has steadily migrated outward from centralized systems toward users. As a result, today we find very powerful processors, graphics and multimedia accelerators, and intelligent features that enhance management, security, and IP routing on desktops. The reason for this is simple: Distributing processing tasks closer to users is proving to be cost-effective and is resulting in better network performance and reliability and higher employee productivity. Consider the impact of integrating switching functions and other intelligent features at the termination point of each cable. Placing intelligence into a network wall jack allows significant benefits for companies. For example, it allows:• More people and devices to share each cable, reducing excess cable runs and expense.• Installers to set up and test cabling much faster in new buildings.• Employees to add productivity-enhancing devices to their workspaces, which were previously limited by port availability.• Companies to expand at their own pace. The network grows proportionately, without forced upgrade or up-front premiums.• Future innovation with a platform for additional services as they become available.This new paradigm creates a rather pleasant paradox. Now, instead of paying an up-front premium to future-proof cabling infrastructure, it’s possible to save money and gain flexibility. In addition, there’s no need to scrap existing IT investments, since this new approach works with the cabling, components, and systems that builders and companies already use.First-generation products focus on port expansion. These network jacks are ideal for public schools, universities, and historical buildings where IT staff are looking for an affordable solution to add network ports, and solid-wall structures make it impractical to run additional cable. The combination of shared and dedicated ports allows voice and data integration and offers a sensible solution for homes and businesses as entertainment and communications devices continue to multiply. Cost and flexibility will continue to be major concerns of builders and IT managers. In the future, distributed intelligence will allow selective, cost-justifiable deployment of additional network services for security, network management, wireless, and gigabit access, to name but a few. In other words, it will allow people, buildings, and builders to work smarter.Gary Wang is vice president and general manager of the personal systems division at 3Com Corp. (www.3com.com), Santa Clara, CA.