Cable management: A not to be underestimated part of digitalization
The advancing digitalization has also led to increased demands on networks, which means that datacenters and network cabinets need to accommodate and manage a great number of power and data cables. A well-managed network not only contributes to reliable system availability, but can also reduce operational costs and time, and increase the flexibility of the network. A comprehensive cable management solution is therefore not just about aesthetics, but a must-do in any modern environment.
Appearance is not the only thing that counts
The obvious order and structure cable management will give to networks are not the only essential arguments for an efficient cabling system. The clean separation of power and data cables also greatly reduces the risk of crosstalk and interference between cables.
Structured cabling also makes accessing components easier and much faster. Cable management can contribute to saving a significant amount of time in this context, for example when replacing defective devices or installing new ones.
Preventing damage is another crucial point: Improper or uncontrolled handling can cause damage to cables. Complying with bending radii is not only important with optical fiber cables, but affects copper cables as well. In the context of datacenters, operators often have to guarantee fail-safe operation for up to 99.8 percent of the time. This is 1.5 hours a year, during which a component can be shut down. Without efficient cable management, these requirements are almost impossible to meet.
Active components release hot exhaust air. They should therefore not be blocked by cables, as this can provoke overheating and possibly failures that are time consuming and costly to remedy. Good cable management can keep the critical airflow paths clear. It also simplifies moving, adding, and modifying components, making future additions easier.
A good cable management strategy can also lead to a significant reduction in space requirements. The space required is a critical component in many environments. Especially with tightly calculated cabinets, each height unit is valuable. Messy cabinets are extremely hard to read and can cause confusion for others, which in turn can lead to human errors. It is not only the orientation that takes a lot of time. Subsequently added cables can often no longer be laid properly, which further worsens the situation.
Good planning is half the battle
As a first step, an operator should therefore think about what requirements the network has to meet. Is it a one-time setup that does not need to be touched again, or a maintenance-intensive environment with critical downtime? The requirements of datacenters also differ greatly in comparison to network cabinets. An operator should therefore plan their cable management appropriately and take the arrangement of components into account. This also includes saving space for cable channels or height units for cable management.
Nowadays, there are a multitude of options available for cable management, from classic patch panels to isolated solutions from cabinet manufacturers to complete solutions such as the Patchbox. However, the shortest or most direct route is not always the best. Cables should not run directly from one component to the next, otherwise they will make access to servers and other hardware components much more difficult, and create the dreaded chaos over time.
Rather, it is recommended to route the cables to the rail edge using horizontal cable management to bundle them at the side and lead them to the target component. Our advice: planners should orientate themselves by electrical wiring diagrams, ideally the cables should run in straight horizontal and vertical lines and right angles.
Identifying and labeling cables is essential for working hassle-free on your network in the future. It is always advisable to attach a label to both ends. It is also worthwhile to be consistent and comprehensible in order to make it less complicated for colleagues to work on the cabinet. The choice of label is crucial as well. If an adhesive label drops off at the slightest touch, the installer could have saved the effort.
Clearly assigning cable colors to functions can also make work considerably easier.
Green = printer
Yellow = telephone
Red = critical
Implementing color coding also makes it easier for colleagues to navigate the network.
Excess cable lengths are dangerous, because they are the beginning of every chaos. However, there are several ways to solve this problem. On the one hand, an operator can measure the required lengths of patch cords beforehand and buy them in the most suitable length, which of course is not always feasible and takes a lot of time.
On the other hand, cables can be assembled to the required length. Moreover, an operator can draw on support systems, such as the Patchbox. With its retractable cables, it always provides the proper length. Cable management systems where the cables are just out of sight, for instance with 1U brush panels, should be avoided altogether. Although such systems provide a neat look at the front, it comes to knots, kinks and cable clutter behind the 19" level.
After assembling patch cords, the data transfer rate should be tested with a quality device to ensure that the desired standards can be met. Later on, this step can prevent a great deal of extra work when, otherwise, complicated troubleshooting would be necessary.
Count on quality cables
Those who skimp on cables ultimately pay twice. Those who bank on cheap cables have to expect poor shielding, small strand diameters and even copper-coated aluminum cores as conductors. These can break more easily and also have a lower electrical conductivity than copper. For non-specialists: The AWG (American Wire Gauge) number indicates the diameter of the conductor. The smaller it is, the larger the conductor diameter and thus also the electrical conductivity.
Known in theory, but not always implemented in practice: data and power cables should always be kept separate, otherwise electromagnetic interference (EMI) can occur. Shielded cables reduce the risk of signal degradation through EMI as well as radio frequency interference (RFI). Nevertheless, it is still important to pay attention to separate cable routes.
Cable management should be part of every cabinet design. It is not important to have as much cable management as possible in your network or server cabinet, but rather to plan, select and place it wisely. The aim of every cable management system should be to prevent cable clutter in the long term in order to support an efficient, maintenance-friendly and future-proof network for as long as possible. This will save time, money and resources.
© Text and images: Miriam Boubachta / Patchbox, 2018. se only with the express permission of the author. Miriam Boubachta works at Patchbox.