Structured Cabling in Data Centers: Characteristics, Benefits, and Uses

Data centers heavily rely on structured cabling. Today’s modern high-bandwidth systems are making it easier than ever before to achieve energy efficiency, especially in regard to server virtualization. Still yet, as each year passes, we are finding a need to enhance structured cabling systems. The goal is to broaden our telecommunication systems while maintaining low maintenance and clear lines of communication for data sharing. We’ve seen time and time again the drawbacks of traditional point-to-point systems, including messy wires and an inability to transmit data at high speeds. Here’s a closer look at structured cabling in data centers: characteristics, benefits, and uses.

Characteristics of Structured Cabling in Data Centers

Cabling is at the core of a data center’s infrastructure. Over the years, we have seen multiple generations of cabling options hit the market. We went from coax to category 3, 4, 5, 5e, 6. As of today, there is a generation of 10 Gb/s and 40 Gb/s cables. And if monetary means are available, you can even deploy 100 Gb/s cables.

When designed properly, structured cabling can boast high capacity and high-performance benefits. We are seeing an immense increase in the use of fiber cables, both in structured cabling and top of rack (ToR) systems, but from a data center perspective, structured cabling almost always comes out on top. Point-to-point systems create numerous issues and are extremely costly. And although many ToR equipment mounting options are available on the market, they should only be used for supplementation purposes. Never should they be used to actually replace a structured cabling system.

A structured cabling system that has been designed and deployed effectively will consist of all necessary cables and hardware to form a complete telecommunications infrastructure. The exact type of infrastructure will be determined by the services being offered by the data center. Some data centers simply provide telephone services while others host and transmit enormous amounts of locally stored information through computer networks.

Structured cabling systems can be broken down into multiple standardized parts; this is what makes it structured. It provides predictable performance and has the ability to scale with a business as it grows. More so, it optimizes system availability and delivers redundancy. Most importantly, though, it future-proofs the serviceability of a data center’s operations.

Redundancy is exceptionally valuable in data centers. It ensures there are backup components in place to counteract the consequences of a failed power supply, ethernet cable, or networking card. When the primary source fails, redundancy optimizes high availability and provides optimal access to power and backup resources to guarantee no data is lost. It also keeps the infrastructure up and running to mitigate downtime.

Terms of ownership can be looked at to gain a clearer understanding of the characteristics of structured cabling systems. These systems begin at the termination point defined by the service provider, also commonly referred to as the point of demarcation or demarc. In some instances, it is referred to as a Network Interface Device.

Because all data centers are different, their structured cabling systems are as well. Variations in multiple facets of the data centers impact the infrastructure of their structured cabling systems. These variations often include:

  • Differences in the architectural design of the buildings used to house the cabling
  • Types of cables used and their connection products
  • The function of the cables
  • The various forms of equipment the cabling is designed to support, both present and future equipment to be used
  • Any preexisting equipment and hardware installation
  • Customer requirements
  • Warranties granted from manufacturers of equipment and cabling products

A simple way to understand the characteristics of a structured cabling system is to view it as an organization. The system will likely include:

  • Entrance facilities
  • Vertical and horizontal backbone pathways and cables
  • Work area outlets
  • Rooms for equipment
  • Closets for telecommunication hardware
  • Cross-connect facilities
  • MUTOA (multi-user telecommunications outlet assemblies
  • Points of transition
  • Points of consolidation

The main components of a structured cabling system are:

  • Cable pathways; this is going to include conduits, penetrations in the floor like slots for cable to run through, and shafts
  • The cables themselves; cables will be either twisted-pair copper, fiber optics, coaxial copper, or possibly a combination of these types
  • Connecting hardware: patch panels, cross-connections, connecting blocks, and interconnection parts
  • Cable support hardware
  • Firestopping and grounding hardware

Instead of cables here and there, the infrastructure is highly organized and is designed to expand on an as needed basis. With a point-to-point system, patch cables are used to form connectivity by directly connecting cables to hardware. In structured cabling, patch panels are installed along with trunks to form a structure that enables hardware ports to be directly connected to the patch panels. Each patch panel is connected through a trunk to the nearest patch panel. This trunk is typically located in the main distribution area.

Benefits and Uses of Structured Cabling Systems in Data Centers

Because structured cabling systems are so highly organized, they boast an array of benefits. Any moves, adds, and changes (MACs) can be efficiently performed because they take place in the main distribution area. There is no need to install and alter long patch cords.

Data centers are able to significantly decrease human error when operating via a structured cabling system, which minimizes downtime, and they are also able to complete cable and port tracing more efficiently because the entire infrastructure is neatly organized.

From an aesthetic perspective, structured cabling has a more modern and professional appearance than point-to-point systems. When installed correctly, even the main distribution area, where the entire network infrastructure comes together, can be neatly organized.

Practical cable management practices combined with structured cabling have the ability to increase passive airflow. Data centers will also notice higher bandwidth capabilities, and now that we’ve moved into an era of storing massive amounts of data on single devices, this higher bandwidth is proving more valuable than ever before.

To carry out server virtualization — allowing multiple application to run at the same time on a single device — high bandwidth is a necessity. Redundant cabling is essential as well. Structured cabling breathes life into server virtualization and makes it a reality. This allows your data center to run applications simultaneously, which maximizes the services you are able to provide. You’ll have greater insight regarding the data you are storing and transmitting, and you’ll be able to pinpoint and address issues quickly.

Conclusion

There’s also the technical downside of not using structured cabling in your data center. A point-to-point system tends to include a switch area that is congested with cables. This not only causes time-consuming maintenance and repairs, but it also blocks airflow, which is crucial to the switch’s functionality. In fact, it can lead to major cooling issues.

If your data center consists of messy cables and wires, you not only decrease efficiency, but you run the risk of injuring employees and clients. You increase the cost of repairs and maintenance, and most importantly, you never know what you’re truly working with. And even worse, you limit your growth because the system can’t easily scale. Incorrect ports get plugged into and unplugged. If a single cable needs to be replaced, you have to mess with untangling the cables, which can take hours. All of this translates into lower levels of productivity and network errors.

A structured cabling system comprised of high-performing cables, such as copper or fiber, minimizes the need to recycle cable because generation after generation of devices can use the same channels. This lowers the number of switch ports your data center will need, which increases power and efficiency.

As you can see, structured cabling boasts advantageous characteristics, benefits, and uses. If you have yet to make the switch, now is the time. You can easily outsource structured cabling practices to a reputable service provider that specializes in IT procurement. In doing so, you can rest easy knowing you are operating a fully secure network that features remote access to data, which further increases productivity and provides onsite and offsite access to valuable operational data.

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