The Importance of Proper Data Center Cabling Management

22 Mar 2021 by Michael Kriech

Computer cable management is an important task but often gets neglected or overlooked. From your very own office desk to the tens or hundreds of servers in a data center, disorganized cabling can eventually lead to a “spaghetti mess” - a phenomenon not only hurtful to the eyes but one that can lead to a wealth of serious problems. Thus, it is salient to get cable management right. 

What is Data Center Cabling?

Data centers usually use three main kinds of network cabling: AC/DC power, ground, copper, and fiber optic. To determine which type of cabling should get equipped, you may refer to the interface available on the equipment used in the data center. Additionally, you may also determine specific network data cabling needs based on the data center equipment’s bandwidth requirements.

Data Center cabling may fall under either of two categories: structured or unstructured. When predefined standards based on design, with preset connection points and pathways, are employed, it follows a structured cabling design. Specifically, structured cabling enforces a cabling design based on the bandwidth requirements of the system. After testing to ensure good performance, the cables will then get organized and labeled. While a structured cabling system may take longer to install and may initially pose a higher cost, in the long run, the operational costs will significantly be lower, and the system’s lifespan will remarkably be longer than that of an unstructured approach.

Contrarily, cabling systems that do not utilize predefined standards, connection points, or pathways are known as Unstructured cabling, also called Point to Point cabling systems. Because of airflow restrictions, this cabling system might lead to cooling issues and higher energy costs. Given that unstructured cabling does not use preset plans or designs, managing system growth will be more challenging since there is no guide to guide changes in cable locations or run new cabling. Although it may take less time to install and pose fewer initial costs, ultimately, unstructured cabling will end in higher operational costs and a shorter system lifespan.

Why is it Important?

The connectivity provided by cabling infrastructure is the foundation of every data center — enabling the transactions that help businesses make mission-critical decisions every day. All data centers have various cabling types, ranging from all-copper installation to all-fiber installation and everything in between (depending on your equipment and requirements). Whether the cables in question are for power or data, failure to properly manage this critical part of data center infrastructure can cause serious issues, from increased operating costs to more expensive outages. Cable management cannot be an afterthought.

The network and connectivity brought forth by cabling systems are the core of every data center. Cabling infrastructures enable transactions that make it possible for businesses to make crucial decisions daily. Data centers enforce various cabling, varying from all-copper installation to all-fiber installation and everything in between, depending on the equipment and its requirements. Whatever the cables under consideration are for, overlooking and neglecting this critical part of data center infrastructure can cause serious problems, from higher operating costs to more costly outages. Cable management must be handled by foresight or run the risks of a series of issues on hindsight.

To get data center cabling right, like many other life practices, thorough team planning and thinking through the installation in advance is always best. Simultaneously designing a cabling infrastructure and the data center, using system requirements and physical layout to ascertain the types and quantities of cables needed might be the optimum solution to data center cabling. The time spent planning the infrastructure will save time. When you plan the infrastructure out, you don’t have to waste time identifying which equipment is connected to which cable for troubleshooting, repair, or replacement in the future.

Best Practices: Data Center Cable Management

Aside from the aesthetic satisfaction from looking at an organized data center cabling system, planning out cabling infrastructures saves people’s time, money, and many other resources. Disorganized cabling installations only result in unnecessary headaches for data center owners and operators for using up time and resources to mitigate problems that never would have happened had they given enough attention to cabling management.

Proper cable management is not an option. It is a must. It is mission-critical. To ensure that cabling infrastructure meet your data center needs, follow these best practices:

  • ANSI/TIA-942-B-2017 Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard for Data Centers

  • BICSI 002-2019 Data Center Design Implementation & Best Practices

Installation Best Practices

  • Testing and Certification: To ensure that the infrastructure is working and will support your bandwidth and system needs.

  • Documentation: To record the types of cables used and the locations and connections of each cable to ease future troubleshooting or maintenance.

  • Measure: To ensure that the cables are of proper length. This measurement prevents unforeseen downtime to critical IT equipment caused by loose wires getting tangled or disconnected.

  • Growth plan: Make sure your system is appropriate for the foreseeable future. Ensure that racks and cable trays get ergonomically designed to accommodate anticipated growth.

Organization Best Practices

  • Run cables to the sides of server racks to ease adding or removing servers from the shelf.

  • Bundle cables together to conveniently connect the next piece of hardware down to the floor in data centers with elevated floors or up to the ceiling in data centers with wires that run through the ceiling.

  • Plan in advance for installing additional hardware. Disorganized cabling can interfere with air circulation and cooling patterns. Planning prevents damages due to quickly rising temperatures caused by restricted air movement.

  • Label cables securely on each end. This labeling process enables you to conveniently locate cables for testing or repair, install new equipment, or remove extra cables after equipment has been moved or upgraded, which saves time and money.

  • Color code cables for quick identification. Choose a color scheme that works for you and your team. It may be wise to put up a legend signifying the meaning of the colors of each cable. You may also color-code the cable’s destination, especially for larger installations across floors or offices.

Author

Michael Kriech

Michael brings twenty-three plus years of IT and telecommunications experience to Datacenters.com. With a wide range of expertise, Michael assists his clients in determining the best solutions needed for their technology roadmap. As information technology infrastructure evolves, Michael continues to suggest and present comprehensive, stable, and scalable solutions. This helps clients take advantage of the best and latest technologies that support company objectives while freeing up time to concentrate on core competencies. With a passion for helping organizations meet their goals, Michael is willing to go the extra mile to support his clients. A Navy Veteran and proud husband and father, Michael and his wife (Jessica) spend their spare time raising puppies as a volunteer for Canine Companion for Independence (CCI).

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