Let’s discuss the core cabling challenges modern data centers struggle with and their solutions. In this article, we highlight what you can do through proper data center cable management to improve data center operations, performance, savings and efficiency.
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Cable management is a fundamental aspect of the data center industry. Without it, AI, 5G, automation software, and other innovations dominating the news would be possible. Cables are a vital building block of IT infrastructure and will continue to be so as the pace of technological change continues to increase.
For data center managers, engineers, technicians, and others in data center operations, refining your network cabling is more than just necessary – it is critical. Let’s discuss the challenges, the consequences of not addressing them and the practical solutions available.
The Current State of Cable Management in Data Centers
The growth of data transmission has been remarkable in recent years, driven by a variety of factors, including advancements in internet infrastructure, increased day-to-day (and sometimes minute-by-minute) online activities, a surge in digital transactions, and the widespread adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). You can measure this colossal growth in the sheer number of Google search query statistics this year alone: 99,000 searches per second or 8.5 billion searches per day!
The expansion of high-speed internet access, including the deployment of fiber-optic networks and the rollout of 5G wireless technology, has significantly enhanced data transmission speeds and capacity.
This new wireless technology allowed us to fly through the internet at 20 gigabits per second. That’s 100 times faster than its predecessor, 4G! Regardless, data transmission at its core is still rooted on servers that depend heavily on cables to make these wireless transmissions possible.
Everyday Online Activities
There’s little debate that day-to-day usage continues to grow. The popularity of video and music streaming platforms has surged, leading to the need for faster data transmission to support high-quality streaming.
Regardless of the platform, whether social media networks or pay-to-use services and streaming apps, they all depend on physical servers. These servers are massive and use unimaginable amounts of cables to allow real-time activities and communication on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Although data transmissions through the communication mediums mentioned above seem massive, so are e-commerce platforms. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has over 100 data centers worldwide. Each data center can have around 50,000 – 1.4 million servers.
Amazon disclosed this in 2014. Who knows how massive their server infrastructure is today? And to make it more staggering, we’re only talking about one e-commerce platform. There are approximately 9.1 million e-commerce platforms.
Add to this, the vast network that cryptocurrency depends on. From simple mining setups at home that require cabling, to whales that situate their operations in warehouses, they need to implement good cable management to be effective.
The Future State
The growth of data transmission is exponential, challenging the capacity of existing infrastructure. As a result, there is a constant push for innovation and investment in network technologies. The need for better infrastructure to meet the increasing demand for faster, more reliable, and secure data transmission is still high.
The development of technologies like 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and the expansion of fiber-optic networks will play a crucial role in accommodating ongoing data transmission growth. Additionally, data security and privacy considerations become more critical as data volumes increase, leading to a continued focus on safeguarding the transmission and storage of personal information.
At its foundation, proper cable networking or data center cable management is a fundamental aspect that makes all that possible. It’s not an understatement to say that at the current and even in the foreseeable future, cables will play an invaluable part in our IT industry.
Challenges and Problems in Almost Every Type of Data Center
Now that we’ve discussed our current IT infrastructure and the needs of the future, let’s delve into the challenges that data centers have with cable management. We’ll focus on the main challenges in both the planning stage and post-planning stages, early warning signs and the consequences if cable management issues are ignored.
Base Causes of Cable Management Challenges
Professional network cabling, especially at the highest level (data center cable management), truly is an imperative. When done correctly, data centers have the potential to save millions of dollars by ensuring more reliable and stable uptimes. It also speeds up troubleshooting, lessening the odds of downtime dramatically. The reasons for network cabling challenges are complex, however there are a few core causes – the basics – of improper cabling:
Training and Expertise – a significant number of network cabling problems can be due to a lack of knowledge and experience. When data center operators skim on training, duplicate installations can happen. Duplicates can dry up the organization’s budget and exhaust cable management components. Experienced managers and technicians will know how to avoid many issues before they become problems.
Management Hierarchy – when there is a shortage of expertise, managers and technicians can be left to make big decisions, with potentially catastrophic consequences. This can lead to cabling changes, server rework, and many others that won’t have any immediate impact but can create complexities over time. Moreover, most technicians do not document changes, making it difficult to track changes that may have caused errors and problems in the system. Strict standards and accountability are central to addressing this.
Maintenance – some data centers skim on maintenance. When outages occur, and cables are replaced, the old and problematic cables are often left secured as they take too much time to remove properly. Leaving dead or unused cables in place is a common cause of overloading server racks, resulting in less airflow from the “spaghetti mess”, loss of device performance and more time consuming troubleshooting.
The Sheer Volume of Component Management
The most common challenge many data centers face is the sheer volume of components. Data centers with 40 to 50 racks can have a minimum of 20,000 cabling and port components on their initial launch. Add the growth factor, and the volume grows accordingly.
The volume alone isn’t the only issue either; it’s the documentation. Problems arise when data centers want to cut costs using simple spreadsheets for complex operations. Spreadsheets may work for one or two racks or modular data centers deployed in schools and smaller establishments. But for data centers housing thousands and thousands of servers, it is a hazard.
Underdeveloped Management and Personnel Structure
Having operators for mid-sized and large data centers throughout the day to communicate with is vital. Technicians and engineers should be available for outages immediately. If management is complacent and undervalues shift schedules, unnecessarily lengthy outages can happen.
The challenge here is that finding talent isn’t easy, especially in an industry that has become increasingly competitive. Other problems can occur when managers fail to provide complete instructions to technicians, causing on-the-spot improvisation that may lead to faulty installations and discrepancies between reality and the documentation.
Unnecessary Expansion Spending
As a data center operator, you face an ongoing issue of insufficient port capacity, no matter how much you invest in expansion. The most frequent reason for this shortage is outdated cabling that hasn’t been removed – as described above.
This creates the possibility of having to make unnecessary investments in costly port expansions when you could have achieved the same impact by efficiently utilizing existing ports. These investments tie up crucial funds that data center managers could have better used elsewhere.
Cable Smoldering and Lack of Cable Labeling
In cable trays with numerous cables bundled together, concerns arise about the effects of heat. In the worst-case scenario, you might have encountered cable smoldering!
When identifying the cause or investigating excessive heat, a critical issue emerges: nobody knows which cables pass through the hotspot. Are these cables purely for data, or do they also carry electrical power, such as Power over Ethernet (PoE)? The root of this problem likely stems from insufficient cable labeling and a lack of knowledge or documentation regarding their characteristics.
PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) Improvement and Sustainability Goals
With the increasing focus on the environmental impact of data center operations and evolving regulations, data centers are compelled to reevaluate their cabling practices. It becomes evident that subpar cable management poses multiple challenges to your green IT initiatives.
Firstly, inadequately organized cables disrupt airflow for cooling, hindering your efforts to attain the desired energy efficiency levels. Secondly, data centers lacking comprehensive documentation struggle to implement the circular reuse of cabling equipment. The same obstacles apply to advancing the use of cabling components manufactured with sustainability criteria and a minimized CO2 footprint.
Audit Challenges and Compliance
Preparing for certifications like ISO 27001 or compliance audits for structured cabling standards places significant demands on your organization. During audits, critical findings, such as non-compliance issues, often emerge due to failure to meet the requirements of the relevant standards.
The root cause of these problems usually lies in a lack of knowledge about the existing structured cabling; incomplete documentation and necessary corrections that were not identified in day-to-day operational reporting. Last-minute changes just before an audit are typically unfeasible, putting you at risk of not obtaining crucial certifications. Additionally, maintaining compliance tends to slip after an audit, resulting in new issues to address during recertification.
Consequences of Ignoring Data Center Issues and Challenges
Ignoring data center issues and challenges can lead to various negative consequences that impact business operations, efficiency, and reliability. Here are some of the potential outcomes of neglecting these problems:
- Downtime and Service Disruptions – failing to address issues can result in unplanned downtime and service disruptions, affecting productivity and customer satisfaction.
- Financial Loss – data center problems can lead to financial losses due to downtime, data loss, and inefficient resource utilization.
- Data Loss and Security Breaches – inadequate attention to security and infrastructure issues can expose data to the risk of loss or breaches, potentially compromising sensitive information.
- Inefficient Resource Allocation – ignoring capacity and efficiency problems can lead to suboptimal resource allocation, resulting in wasted resources and higher operating costs.
- Reduced Competitiveness – unresolved challenges can hinder a company’s ability to compete effectively in a data-dependent market.
- Regulatory Non-Compliance – neglecting issues related to regulatory compliance can lead to legal and financial penalties.
- Environmental Impact – poorly managed data centers can have a negative environmental footprint, contributing to energy inefficiency and e-waste.
- Reputation Damage – frequent service disruptions and data security issues can damage an organization’s reputation and erode customer trust.
- Missed Opportunities – ignoring advancements in data center technology can result in missed opportunities for improved performance, scalability, and cost savings.
- Operational Inefficiencies – unresolved challenges can lead to operational inefficiencies, making it harder to adapt to changing business needs and market conditions.
- Audit Failures – failing to address compliance issues can result in audit failures, making it nearly impossible to secure certifications and contracts.
- Workforce Frustration – data center problems can lead to employee frustration, as they struggle to work effectively when systems are unreliable or slow.
- Resource and Time Drain – continually addressing emergencies and troubleshooting issues can drain valuable resources and divert time away from strategic initiatives.
- Lack of Scalability – neglected issues can hinder the scalability of the data center, making it challenging to accommodate growth and expansion.
- Long-Term Costs – delaying necessary investments and maintenance can lead to higher long-term costs when problems become more extensive and complex.
- Innovation Stagnation – focusing on managing persistent problems can hinder innovation and adopting new technologies.
As you can see from the list above, the consequences can be varied and widespread. To mitigate risk, it’s crucial for organizations to proactively address data center cabling challenges, implement best practices and stay informed about advancements in cable management innovation. Regular maintenance, monitoring, and planning are essential for maintaining a reliable and efficient data center that supports the needs of the business and its customers.
Cable Management Planning
If you’re seeking a more in-depth and technical guide on cable management planning, please read our whitepaper – Effective Cable Management Planning In Modern Data Center Architecture. Here, you’ll learn better strategies from the data center pre-deployment stage to the deployment stage. You’ll also see charts on Network Architecture Types to help you make the best decision for your future or current data center.
Data Center Cable Management Tips and Solutions That You Can Implement
Effective cable management is crucial for maintaining a well-organized, efficient, and reliable data center. Here are some cable management solutions that you can implement to improve the organization and performance of your data center:
- Cable Trays and Runways – install cable trays and runways to support and route cables overhead or under the floor. This keeps cables organized and out of the way, facilitating airflow and maintenance. This reduces heat buildup and ensures smooth operations.
- Cable Labels and Identification – label cables clearly at both ends to make it easy to identify and trace them. Utilize color coding and cable markers for quick visual recognition.
- Cable Management Racks – use cable management racks with slots, rings, and hooks to neatly bundle and secure cables. These help prevent tangling and maintain order – moving you away from the dreaded “spaghetti mess”!
- Cable Ties and Velcro Straps – secure cables with cable ties or Velcro straps to bundle them together. Velcro straps are reusable and allow for easy adjustments.
- Patch Panels – implement patch panels for network and server connections. These panels streamline cable connections and make it easier to trace and manage cables.
- Cable Management Software – use cable management software to document, track, and manage the physical layout of your cabling infrastructure. This aids in troubleshooting and planning. Avoid using generic spreadsheets for complex operations – they’re just not good enough in today’s landscape.
- High-Density Cable Solutions – utilize high-density cabling solutions that offer compact, space-saving designs for improved cable management in tight spaces.
- Cable Organizers and Raceways – install cable organizers and raceways to conceal and route cables along walls or ceilings, keeping them organized and aesthetically pleasing.
- Cable Length Management – ensure cables are the appropriate length to avoid excessive slack or tension. Custom cable lengths reduce clutter and improve cable management. It also saves the company a fortune (see our whitepaper for more on this – Understanding Stranded and Solid Conductor Wiring in Modern Networks)
- Regular Maintenance – schedule – and stick to – regular cable maintenance to identify and address issues, such as damaged or disconnected cables, and to ensure optimal performance. Regular maintenance also includes removing obsolete cables to avoid unnecessary expansion spending.
- Rack and Cabinet Organization – arrange servers and networking equipment in racks and cabinets, using cable management accessories like cable arms, cable management racks, and cable shelves within the racks.
- Cable Pathway Planning – plan cable pathways, ensuring proper separation of power and data cables to minimize interference and maintain safety.
- Documentation and Labeling – maintain up-to-date documentation of your cabling infrastructure, including cable types, lengths, and connection points. Ensure labels are legible, clear and accurate.
- Regular Audits – conduct routine audits to verify the accuracy of cable documentation, check for cable integrity, and identify areas needing improvement.
By implementing these cable management solutions, you can enhance the organization, efficiency, and reliability of your data center, ultimately reducing downtime, simplifying troubleshooting, reducing expenses, and improving overall operational performance.
Data Center Rack Cable Management – The Best Solution
Horizontal Zero U Cable Management Shelf
One of the most common issues we’ve discussed is unnecessary spending on cables and rack components. Due to the exponential growth in this industry, it’s easy to understand why expansion equates to unending expenses. However, many of these expenses are impractical, especially ports, when there are simply obsolete cables you need to remove to free up more ports.
Another typical expense is buying new server racks. This is not necessary when there are components that optimize server racks that free up more space to add in devices. And that’s where innovative cable managers come in.
The Horizontal Zero U Cable Management Shelf enables technicians and engineers to set up rack servers to free up to 25-30% of rack space. Instead of buying one new rack cabinet, you can optimize three and get the same real estate for networking and storage devices as buying a new rack cabinet.
AnD’s Zero U Cable Management Racks are the ultimate alternatives to conventional 1U or 2U cable organizers. With these cable managers, you can rest assured that you’ll save money and space while enhancing performance and setup.
For more guidance, read our whitepaper Optimizing Server Cabinet Rack Space to Maximize Efficiency and Reduce Costs. In it, we show you how to arrange your server racks, install cable management racks and the best cabling to use so that you’re fully optimized for maximum efficiency.
Optimize Your Data Center With Cable Management Racks Now!
Data Center Cable Management Summary
In summation, we’ve explored three main topics:
- Data Center Challenges – we explored the common challenges faced by data centers, such as issues with management, scalability, security and compliance, and environmental impact. These challenges can impact operations and reliability.
- Consequences of Ignoring Challenges – neglecting data center cabling issues can lead to numerous negative consequences, including downtime, financial loss, data breaches, and reputation damage. It can also hinder sustainability and regulatory compliance efforts.
- Cable Management Solutions – to address cable management issues in data centers, we discussed various solutions, including cable trays, labeling, cable managers, cable ties, patch panels, and software tools. Proper cable management is essential for organization, efficiency, and reliability.
Implementing these solutions can help data centers overcome challenges, reduce the negative consequences of neglect, and maintain a well-organized and efficient infrastructure.
About the Author
Louis Chompff – Founder & Managing Director, AnD Cable Products
Louis established AnD Cable Products – Intelligently Designed Cable Management in 1989. Prior to this he enjoyed a 20+ year career with a leading global telecommunications company in a variety of senior data management positions. Louis is an enthusiastic inventor who designed, patented and brought to market his innovative Zero U cable management racks and Unitag cable labels, both of which have become industry-leading network cable management products. AnD Cable Products only offer products that are intelligently designed, increase efficiency, are durable and reliable, re-usable, easy to use or reduce equipment costs. He is the principal author of the Cable Management Blog, where you can find network cable management ideas, server rack cabling techniques and rack space saving tips, data center trends, latest innovations and more.
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