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Why Data Centre Cable Management is Important
Cable management is one of the most visible processes of data centre administration – particularly when it goes wrong. Network administration is routinely hampered by bad cable management, which not only increases maintenance costs and decreases the efficiency of thermal and airflow management but also increases the rate of human error – which accounts for 24% of the unplanned data centre outages, according to a Ponemon Institute study.
Proper cable management has a variety of other benefits too, with the most notable being the positive impact it has on power consumption. One way cable management betters power consumption is by reducing cable clutter and ensuring that cables are properly organized and routed. This helps prevent cables from becoming tangled or damaged, which can lead to power issues or interruptions.
Proper cable management can also help to reduce the length of cables used, which can help to reduce power loss due to cable resistance. When cables are too long or improperly installed, they can cause signal degradation and require more power to transmit data over longer distances.
Proper cable management helps to ensure that cables are not overburdened, which can lead to overheating and increased power consumption. By properly managing cables and ensuring that they are properly ventilated, the risk of overheating and power issues can be reduced.
A data centre with properly-managed wiring is often the subject of envy. This routinely comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of this subject: cable management, just like project management or innovation management, is as much a feature of an organisation as it is a process. Maintaining the cabling of data cabinets tidy and efficient is not done only through adequate planning and initial deployment, but through devising and implementing a sound cable management process, as part of a larger data centre management strategy and process portfolio. This integrated approach is difficult to articulate, especially for companies whose data centre has grown organically or over a long period of time.
Data Cabinet Tidy Essentials
A tidy communications cabinet has three defining features: equipment, cables and their respective connections are easy to identify, equipment and cables are segregated by function and connections, and cables have correct routing parameters such as length and bend radius. All three factors are essential for efficient network management and growth: combined, they ensure the quality of maintenance operations, thermal management, and H&S regulation compliance, and support further scaling of the company’s core network capabilities.
Historically, data cabinet tidy services have been employed to reduce mounting maintenance costs within the data centre environment. The high port density of modern network equipment (with 24, 48, or even 96 ports per unit or more) inherently results in a high cable density of the modern data centre, with hundreds of cables going between various devices, sometimes spread across several cabinets. As the complexity of the network grows, so does the congestion inside the cabinets, especially when cable management protocols are not followed. Identifying the cable responsible for an unstable connection, confirming that a physical connection exists when two devices do not link up, inspecting or replacing bad cables are routine maintenance operations which become inefficient and error-prone when patch cords are twisted around each other in a jumbled mess and cannot be identified through any distinctive feature, such as colour or labeling.
Maintenance incurs large costs not only in its planned form (where longer execution timeframes can at least be managed), but also in its unplanned form. Slow unplanned maintenance is, in fact, slow disaster recovery.
According to the Ponemon Institute’s study, most of the losses incurred during a data centre outage are in the form of indirect costs (organisational efforts, time and effort) and lost opportunities. In other words, improving maintenance efficiency is not only a good way to prevent downtime in the first place – it also has the potential of mitigating major losses in case of an outage.
Disorderly cable and equipment also have a negative impact on your London office’s day-to-day network operation and growth. Something as simple as mounting a 1U equipment can end up taking up to an hour if it involves moving and disentangling patch cords to get them out of the way. Installing or upgrading network equipment is hampered at every point and, if you factor in the additional room for human error and post-installation troubleshooting, the time required even for non-radical network upgrades can increase dramatically.
Thermal management is another major concern that is addressed partly through regular data cabinet tidy operations. Virtually all data centre equipment today uses forced cooling – the forceful expulsion of hot air from inside devices’ cases through fast-spinning fans. In order for forced cooling to work, the flow of air must be regular and unimpeded – and twisted cables hanging at the rear of the cabinet are the most common obstacle against regular, high-quality airflow.
According to a survey conducted by Hoffman, a leading enclosure and cabling facilities provider, heat and power density is, by far, the leading concern of data centre managers. Indeed, improper cooling contributes directly to decreased equipment lifetime (and, therefore, to decreased network availability and reliability) and significantly increases the environmental footprint and – even more palpable – the energy costs associated with running a data centre. Energy efficiency is such a major enough concern that even tech giant Google has invested significantly in reducing the energy consumption of its data centres by up to 50%. Your London office shouldn’t be any different.
Proper cable management also plays a major role in maintaining adequate network performance. Sharp cable twists can degrade the electrical characteristics of the cable or its electrical insulation and, thus, significantly reduce the distance over which it can adequately carry information and the data rate which it supports.
Last, but not least, proper cabinet wiring management plays an important role in Health & Safety regulations compliance. Tripping and falling is a common cause for workplace injuries in the UK, and both employers and employees are responsible for mitigating the risk associated with such events.
In-Cabinet Wiring: Planning and Implementation
It should be clear by now that keeping the data cabinet tidy is an important part of efficient network management. Tidy, colour-coded and labeled cables feature prominently in the PR imagery of data centre giants like Google and Amazon and is one of the first metrics by which an experienced network engineer judges the quality of an installation.
Obtaining it, however, has traditionally been a challenge for fast-growing companies. Many UK companies, particularly in high-growth fields, such as the financial sector, have gone from requiring little more than a small business server and renting a few cloud instances to needing their own data centre in a very short time. IT teams quickly become overwhelmed, even when they have the best intentions – especially as growth plans tend to focus more on structured cabling and backbone network design than in-cabinet cabling operations.
Managing network cabinet wiring is no different than managing any kind of data centre component: it works best when it implements a set of clear procedures and when the implementation is continuously verified, through regular audit and (if needed) intervention.
Cable management procedures vary from one company to another, but a general set of guidelines do exist. While the field is minimally regulated, the industry has developed a set of best practices which aim to ensure that cables are easy to identify, inspect and replace, that connections are easy to diagnose, and that equipment and entire cabinets can easily be installed, reconnected or even relocated, if necessary.
On the cable side, the primary management mechanisms are identification, bundling, and segregation. Identification is carried out through colour-coding (using cables of a specific colour for each function and connection type) and labeling. Colour-coding is useful in identifying a cable’s function. Labeling is useful in virtually every maintenance operation, as it quickly allows one to identify both ends of every connection without having to manually trace the cable. Together, these two techniques can reduce minutes of tracing long, twisted cables to a few seconds’ worths of reading a couple of labels.
Bundling helps primarily with thermal management, as it allows network engineers to route cables out of the air’s path. That being said, cables are not bundled haphazardly: cable bundles are assembled based on the cable type and destination, which aids in troubleshooting and increases reliability. For example, thinner fibre optic cables are bundled separately from the thicker, bulkier copper cables, so that the heavier copper cables do not weigh down on the more sensible fibre cables. Similarly, ingress and egress cables can be assembled in separate bundles to facilitate equipment transfer and installation and aid in connection troubleshooting.
Procedures for managing the wiring of a company’s server and network cabinets are usually worked out in the network planning stage. They are based on well-known practices but are typically tailored to each user’s demands because they have a significant impact (and are, in turn, directly influenced by) what type of equipment is needed and how it is placed in the data centre. A storage-focused data centre, for instance, will require focusing on different cable management aspects than an HPC-focused installation, even though the objectives of wiring management are essentially the same.
However, maintaining these procedures is a critical part of their adoption. It is rare, but rapidly-growing companies have managed to get by (at least for a time) with no procedures, but experienced network engineers who “just did the right thing”. The reverse – no cable management, no tidying activities, but good results – is practically unheard of. Successful long-term implementation of these procedures rests on two pillars: education and continuous evaluation.
Providing network administrators with adequate training and information is the primary vehicle through which responsibly managing wiring is propagated. Ideally, cable management should beintegratedin day-to-day network operations, not kept separate from them. The occasional slip due to an upgrade marathon or an unplanned maintenance operation, followed by a few hours of putting cables back in order, is a reasonable exception. Ideally, though, the outcome of any maintenance, upgrade or installation operation should be a tidy network cabinet.
Network cabinets that are left in disorder for a long time are usually costly to put back in order; deferring this operation is unproductive, too, as the cost of equipment moves and changes increases dramatically with the cabinet’s disorder. Consequently, it is best to cut disorder early on, by identifying problems as early as possible through regular verifications.
Not all companies have the luxury of planning for, and growing with, well-managed cabinets. Jumbled patch cords are a regular feature of companies that went through a quick growth period, or which have quickly shifted to a more network-centric business model or have adopted technological change at an accelerated pace. These companies regularly struggle with containing network outages, high downtime, and frequent system problems.
According to the Ponemon Institute, the costs associated with data centre outages have increased, on average, by almost 40% in just six years, and as businesses move towards an increasingly network-centric operational model, these costs are expected to rise. If slow maintenance, frequent network problems, and high downtimes are an important problem today, five years from now they can become the main threat to a company’s growth.
Cable tidy services are meant to address precisely this type of problem. If cable management becomes a systemic issue (or, ideally, prior to that), it is still possible to correct it and to adopt and implement wiring management solutions.
The process usually starts with a thorough inspection, in order to determine the scope of the work, the main problems, and challenges, to plan a proper wiring scheme and draft an outline of the operation.
The scope of the work is not as easy to determine as it sounds: oftentimes, mismanaged cabling hides additional planning problems. Several operations may be needed in addition to catering for the data cables, such as installing additional vertical or horizontal power strips, installing or moving racks or revising cooling schemes.
An outline of the entire operation is essential because one cannot simply unplug all the cables in the data centre and then take a few days to route them properly. Re-patching is carefully planned so as to eliminate (or at least minimise) downtimes; it can be scheduled outside office hours for the internal network, devised so as not to result in downtime for essential services that must be active 24/7 and so on.
By and large, the cable tidy process then follows the outline we mentioned above: cables are labeled, segregated and bundled according to type and purpose. This is usually a good time to also perform a thorough audit of the cabling, equipment and expansion options because company growth usually outpaces not just the network itself, but also the internal records regarding the company network.
However, it is important to stress that cable tidy procedures are a short-term solution that facilitates cable and equipment management but does not replace it. It is the first step towards adopting proper management techniques in a neglected network, but allowing the cabling to decay and periodically tidying it up is not efficient in the long run.
Tidy network wiring is an essential element of proper network management. Well-managed cabinet wiring prevents network outages and decreases the costs associated with recovering from those outages that do occur, reduce the energy consumption and the environmental footprint of a company’s network and helps maintain the network’s performance. Furthermore, it ensures compliance with H&S regulations, which are particularly stringent in the UK.
Wiring management is best planned for and implemented as early as possible, as it is essential to day-to-day operation and to network scaling. Having firm procedures from day one is not always possible, though. Data cabinet tidy services can be employed at a later stage, when the network is already operational, to identify and correct cable management and deployment management and to facilitate long-term implementation of proper cable management procedures.
Doing so can dramatically reduce maintenance costs, decrease downtime and increase productivity and performance. ACCL has 25 years of experience in achieving all that and so much more for London-based companies. If you’re looking for top-quality data cabinet tidy services, you have come to the right place.