Data Center Management 101 Part I (Cable Management)

One thing I have always tried to remember when people ask “Why?”, is to try to think of the end result of the Cable Plant you wish to have. Is this something you can be proud of, and something your CIO would like to show off to his colleagues? More importantly, is this something that is useable when you get that call at 2:00AM saying “‘X’ piece of equipment is down, please come in to take a look.” In a matter of minutes you know where everything is and can easily eliminate or target a physical layer problem. Those are the times you will thank yourself that you took the extra effort to ensure you have a sound professional cable management design.

As far as cable management goes there are many schools of thought around this subject. So while there is no one right answer, I will provide you with the ammunition you need to deploy an efficient cable plant which will go a long way to supporting your environment well into the future.

The thing I find interesting is that almost none of the storage vendors (Server, Disk, or Switch) provide any real detail around this subject, potentially because everyone’s data centers are different. There are many facets of cable management depending on how detailed you want to get. These include: 

Inside the storage device rack

Inside the server device rack

Inside the physical network layer 

All of them are equally important to the bottom-line of why we want to make sure all our cables are dressed and labeled properly. The most important line being “trouble-shooting”. Those of you who have had the luxury of visiting environments with no cable management will appreciate the true need of ensuring this is accomplished properly.

Rather than digging thru a spaghetti mess of cables, wrapped around power-cords, twisted in knots, fiber cables being zipped tied and etc., you will have the luxury of knowing where everything is from your documentation and physical inspection. Other aspects of cable management also assist in hardware maintenance of servers, switches and storage, as well as new server, switch and storage physical rack installation (e.g. not having to unplug 12 production switches in order to install one new one because of poorly designed cable plant). Finally when it comes to data-center cooling, having a properly strung cable plant will allow for all your systems to be cooled efficiently versus having the cooling environment blast thru a mess of cabling.  

As important as it is to have proper physical cable management, it’s just as important, if not more so, to properly document that information. This can be done in any number of ways. Choose whichever suites you best, but the key here is constant maintenance of the cable plant and then documenting the changes as they occur in your physical layer. As with any data-center process, cable-management needs to be repeatable over and over again so ensure the cable management guidelines you deploy in your facility are adhered to.

Only you and your team can track down to the physical layer. This may seem like a lot of busy work but when you have issues or a new storage / switch rollout you will thank yourself that this detail is written down somewhere and easily referenced. Not only does it allow you to easily locate things, but it will allow you to logically add new connections into the cable plant, prior to physically doing it, thus giving your accurate counts of switch/storage ports available in your environment. 

If you haven’t looked into implementing proper procedures for cable management, I encourage you to do so. It’s painful and time consuming but it will greatly assist your organization during times of install and maintenance. At the end of the day, having properly strung glass and copper cables is going to make the life of the technical system admin much easier to bear.

Part II in this series on data center management will look at labeling of cables, servers and storage systems. 


Wrong Example:


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Correct Example:


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Tim Anderson

About Tim Anderson

Tim serves as a Senior Analyst HA/Infrastructure for DCIG

6 Comments

  • Dave says:

    I have installed 2376 HP servers in 2 data centers over a 33 month period.
    Models include: DL360, DL380, DL385, DL580, DL585, and C7000
    I have been told that my cabling is a work of art. I am asked why I install the patch cables so neatly. I give them 3 reasons.
    1) It facilitates better air flow. I insist on right-size cables. This keeps the amount of cable in the cable management arm to a minimum which allows hot air from the back of the server to escape better.
    2) Better operation of the cable management arm when extending the server out of the rack for service. One should be able to pull the server out 1000 times and the cabling remains neat and enacted.
    3) It looks good. There is a sense of pride when your multi-million dollar data center looks like a multi-million dollar data center.
    Currently, I am working as an Analyst teaching others how to properly cable servers and teaching them about the vision of having the neatest data center on the planet.
    Dave

  • Dave, well put and I agree on all three points you bring up. Also, Tim, excellent article! I work for a website called http://www.ShowMeCables.com where we sell data and connectivity products, and I always try to mention that the little upfront cost of using cable management & best cabling practices will always, ALWAYS pay for itself in the end.
    Sometimes people will even complain about the cost of using Velcro straps… so you can see how sometimes cable management is thought of as an afterthought, wasted budget, or just plain waste of time.
    The cost of cable management is so little compared to the labor involved in trying to navigate a disconnected or broken cable. The article hinted at the ability to quickly troubleshoot or replace lines, but, more importantly, think of the mission critical data that could be held up for hours while a technician tries to go through the rats nest of cables in the first picture.
    It’s funny, but an entire section or sector of your company can be dependent on a single Ethernet cable that costs less than what you spent for breakfast, yet it could literally cost MILLIONS of dollars from downtime or loss of connectivity for every minute the system is down.
    Not to mention scalability, and how much time that can be saved when adding to your network, it just makes sense to use proper cable management.
    Thanks,
    James D Mitchell
    The HelpMeCableGuy
    http://www.HelpMeCableGuy.com
    http://www.ShowMeCables.com

  • Dave, well put and I agree on all three points you bring up. Also, Tim, excellent article! I work for a website called http://www.ShowMeCables.com where we sell data and connectivity products, and I always try to mention that the little upfront cost of using cable management & best cabling practices will always, ALWAYS pay for itself in the end.

    Sometimes people will even complain about the cost of using Velcro straps… so you can see how sometimes cable management is thought of as an afterthought, wasted budget, or just plain waste of time.

    The cost of cable management is so little compared to the labor involved in trying to navigate a disconnected or broken cable. The article hinted at the ability to quickly troubleshoot or replace lines, but, more importantly, think of the mission critical data that could be held up for hours while a technician tries to go through the rats nest of cables in the first picture.

    It’s funny, but an entire section or sector of your company can be dependent on a single Ethernet cable that costs less than what you spent for breakfast, yet it could literally cost MILLIONS of dollars from downtime or loss of connectivity for every minute the system is down.

    Not to mention scalability, and how much time that can be saved when adding to your network, it just makes sense to use proper cable management.

    Thanks,

    James D Mitchell

    The HelpMeCableGuy

    http://www.HelpMeCableGuy.com

    http://www.ShowMeCables.com

  • Indeed, excellent article Tim!
    I would like to add a quick fact: the importance of choosing the “right” cabling contractor if one chooses to go that route.
    Choosing a cabling contractor is like choosing a partner: you want to know that he she not only will do a good job designing and installing the cabling but the company will be around in the future to respond to potential issues and fix them immediately to minimize the potential negative impact on the business.

  • Indeed, excellent article Tim!

    I would like to add a quick fact: the importance of choosing the “right” cabling contractor if one chooses to go that route.

    Choosing a cabling contractor is like choosing a partner: you want to know that he she not only will do a good job designing and installing the cabling but the company will be around in the future to respond to potential issues and fix them immediately to minimize the potential negative impact on the business.

  • mrfixit123 says:

    to hell with ethernet cables. it would be 100X easier to manage everything if cables fiber instead of Cat5

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