Best Practices for Cable Management in Data Centers
Every network administrator in the world has a horror story about cable management. In data centers, those horror stories grow into genuine nightmares. If enough people work on a system for a long enough period of time, the cables will eventually turn into some type of Ethernet vine monster. Only strict adherence to cable management practices can prevent this disaster. The following best practices assume you already know some of the basics. Instead, they’re aimed to help you avoid subtler missteps that occur frequently in modern data centers.
Plan for Growth
Everyone says this. Everyone acknowledges. It’s still common for data centers to struggle with growing pains. This is the first and most important principle in cable management and network design because it applies to everything else you do. It is easiest to see when planning space for additional cables.
The challenge is finding the sweet spot. If you leave too much space for growth, you’re hurting efficiency. If there is too little, you hit major challenges with future upgrades. The safest and most reasonable rule to follow is that of 50 percent. If your initial design and subsequent add-ons always plan around 50-percent growth, you should stay close to the golden sweet spot.
The other component of planning for growth applies to equipment selection. As you already know, everything in your data center will eventually be obsolete. The most efficient way to manage the cost and labor of upgrades is to plan around cabling. Replacing or upgrading major pathways is the most labor-intensive work in a data center. So, any time that labor is required, it should be accompanied with cable upgrades. Spend the money on the most up-to-date cables and connectors, and you’ll save a lot of pain down the road.
Plan in General
Growth is important, but you need a good plan for the center to function correctly. So much goes into network planning that covering it all here is impossible, but cable management needs to be a central focus in general planning. Modular and gridded support structures enable you to access cables at any point, and it makes replacement and management much simpler. In general, you want an initial plan or add-on to your center to follow a gridded approach. There should never be any doubt as to where any given cable can be accessed for any plausible reason.
You know the basics of cable management already. Labels and color coding help to keep track of everything and cables should not be arranged willy-nilly. And, while you already understand that stress is bad for cables, many network engineers still allow too much in their systems. The key to managing cable stress is the same as doing any job in the world: use the right tools.
Horizontal and vertical hangers are widely available. They’re an easy place to consider cutting costs, but more often than not, this is a mistake. The hangers help manage cable stress, and they almost always save money in the long run.
The other key to alleviating stress is to take your time. Yes, labor is expensive. That’s exactly why you don’t want to be re-running cables that have kinks and tears. As much as you feel pressured to get work done quickly, it’s worth a small investment of time to make sure every bend has a gentle sweep and nothing is unceremoniously stuffed into a corner of your pathway. It’s the simplest thing in the world, and it costs data centers everywhere thousands of dollars a year.
The last tip for today is in interference. This is slowly becoming less of a problem because fiber optic cables are less prone to interference in the first place. Regardless, you still have copper lines, and they still require care. As you know, major electrical circuits are the main sources of signal interference for those copper lines. You have to put as much space and shielding between these components as possible. None of that is new.
What might help you is to remember that a few parts of your data center have surprisingly powerful currents. Major power lines aside, fluorescent lights and liquid coolers surprise many designers with how much interference they can provide. Keep that in mind.
These tips aren’t enough to make a novice into an expert network engineer, but hopefully, they can help you steer clear of a few common mistakes that plague experienced professionals. In addition to these tips, you want to spend the time to thoroughly investigate your choices on connectors, boots and cable structures. A few small decisions can save a lot of time and effort when you’re maintaining your data center.
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