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How can I keep cable patching projects on track?

What are some best practices for cleaning up a data center with over 100 patch cords to change? Everything must go back the same way -- patch panel port to switch port.

Patching and cable management in the data center can get out of control without a strict regimen.

Cable patching is time-consuming, and the data center technician doing it is often dealing with someone else's system -- or mess.

Re-cabling and similar projects require a lot of planning before the work begins. There's nothing scary about re-patching 1,000 cables as long as you've nailed the preparation. Problems arise when you start fixing bits and pieces without fully understanding the cabling system and data center environment.

Break planning down into two parts: Gather information and determine logistics.

Collect all possible information from existing documentation. Collate this information and prepare cabling schemas in diagraming software, such as Microsoft Visio. Now verify that the schemas match the reality in the data center. Ideally, have another team member carry out this 'sanity check,' but if you're patching cable alone, this is still necessary. Documentation is rarely 100% accurate and up to date.

Next is the logistics of how to accomplish the cable patching project without unduly affecting IT workloads:

  • How many of x cable (Cat 5, Cat 6) should you order, plus spares?
  • Are all of the racks the same height?
  • Do all of the racks have the same amount of patch panels and switches?
  • What time frame do you have to cause an outage to the entire server room, allowing extra time for mistakes and checking afterwards that all systems are working?

Use patch cables that have a number at both ends for easier tracing and re-patching. Color-code cables based on function for simpler organization. Keep accurate documentation of any changes. Also, generate a report on what worked, what didn't and why.

If multiple technicians are going to work on the re-cabling project on multiple racks, demonstrate how you'd like them to run the cables, rather than assuming everyone will do it the same way.

About the author:
Adam Fowler is IT operations manager at a law firm in Australia. He's worked in IT for over a decade, including responsibilities in systems, infrastructure and operational service.

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