The spaghetti junction

Effective cable management is necessary to ensure the overall health of a datacentre. However, the effort needed for proper cable administration might prove to be too much for most enterprises in the region.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  December 2, 2007

Cables are one of the first things that IT managers and teams think of when putting together a datacentre. Properly selected and well-installed cables, placed in structurally well-designed infrastructure within a datacentre, can make life much easier for an IT team later on.

"In the case of something that has been built in the last five or six years, I am almost certain that best practices are being adhered to while being built, especially when it comes to the cable management later on," says Kevin Lloyd-Bisley, global technical director for Molex.

"In the case of buildings that came up pre-2000, people have been building upon a system that has already been installed with quite a lot of new equipment going in continuously. They suffer badly from basically not de-commissioning old cables enough and also where the planned roots are becoming over congested. This is a big problem in old datacentres."

The problem with just working to correct problems and not documenting where cables are going and who is doing what to a system is that future problems will begin to compound.

While this is the case in more mature markets, especially Western and Northern Europe, many vendors believe that enterprises in the Middle East are not paying enough attention to ensuring that cables are installed and maintained well at their datacentres. Considering the boom in greenfield datacentre implementations in the region over the last two years, vendors state that a continued indifference from enterprises to proper cable management could portend doom in the future.

Where it goes wrong

"Datacentres typically grow 50% per year and a doubling of floor space is required every three to five years. So a well designed datacentre is one that can evolve properly with time. This includes floor space, pathway fill ratio, proper routing of cables to ensure continuity of service during MAC's (moves, adds, and changes), and of course the all important management of the system," says Gautier Humbert, technical and training manager for Ortronics Middle East.

Tarek Helmy, regional director for the Gulf and the Middle East at Nexans, agrees.

"The required infrastructure at the datacentre is quite different when compared to the standard LAN. Datacentres require high density terminations as well as high speed transmission. In addition, datacentres have a long life expectancy with up to 20 years not uncommon by today'sstandards," he says.

"The choice of cabling infrastructure needs to take into account current and future expectations to ensure that longevity of the cabling can be sustained."

While a lot of enterprises in the region plan well for the datacentre, a majority of them still suffer from considering cables to be a part of infrastructure that you can easily cut costs on, rather than as an integral part of a datacentre that is connected to its optimal performance.

This results in most organisations cutting corners when choosing and implementing datacentre cables. This mindset also plagues the eventual management of the installed cables, leading directly to an administrative nightmare on the floor and having an adverse effect on all the connected networking infrastructure.

"Some of the biggest mistakes that IT managers make when managing cables in the datacentre include not having the correct change order controls, procedures and systems in place. An accurate database assists in times of emergency situations and regular maintenance or change control operations. Many a datacentre lacks suitably skilled and trained maintenance staff. Most do not have sufficient cable quantities in stock and when they do, they tend to have incorrect cable lengths or incorrect cable types," states Eugene Botes, technical director for MEA and India at Swiss cabling vendor R&M.

"I think the single biggest mistake I find is the use of cabinets (with front doors) instead of open racks for patching management. The standard is clear, in the main distribution area and horizontal distribution area, it is mandatory to use open racks with vertical cable managers in between. These areas are where all the patching is done. That's where you'll typically find a large density of patch panels and switches. So what are closed cabinets for? They're basically used for the equipment distribution area where the servers will be found, and when it is mandatory to lock the front door. Many companies tend to confuse the two types and the result is always the same - a huge mess where it becomes impossible to locate, let alone move, any patch cords,"says Humbert.

He also states that he is not too keen on keeping spare cable in organisations without a trained technician to handle it.

"I usually prefer the idea of intelligently pre-cabling as much as possible," Humbert explains.

"The reason is simple: if you need to add cables, you will risk disrupting the existing ones. Not a good thing. So plan a design that allows adding equipment with the least cabling modification. For those who plan to have frequent changes with the fibre infrastructure, there are some special products dedicated for this - MPO, also called MTP. These are pre-terminated fibres with 12-core connectors. They allow changes in the fibre without the need for any special tools. This will reduce the need for a technician as well. However, this comes at a huge price," he adds.

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