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Data center cabling management: Mind over matter

Many data centers' cabling arrangements look like a rat's nest. But proper planning and better communication between IT and facilities can untangle the web.

ORLANDO, FLA. – Data center managers can use all the wire guides and fancy cable trays they want. Good data center cable management is as much about a mind-set as it is about hardware.

That was the consensus among data center managers and staff at the AFCOM Data Center World in here this week.

For more from AFCOM Data Center World
Notes from AFCOM Data Center World: Day one

Message to data center managers: Speak up!

 "You have to get people to learn discipline," said Greg Rottman, assistant director in the IT lab at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. "You need record keeping and good follow-through. It's the art of discipline."

Rottman spoke standing before a display at the booth of CTI, a data center networking infrastructure company that provides ways to better organize cables. On the left was a cable access panel that looked like a rat's nest. On the right, cabling had been rearranged and was organized. Rottman smiled and pointed to the neat panel. "I just want to see this one month later," he said.

Disciplined cabling management
Good cable management is important. Better organization means easier access, better knowledge of which cables go where, and potentially improved airflow for data center cooling. Never mind how it looks.

"This works," Rottman said, pointing to the rat's nest. "It just doesn't look professional. When anybody comes into the data center, appearance matters. It's like when you leave a room messy at home."

When C.J. Veverka became the data center manager at a hosting company in the Midwest, he said the cabling was a bit of a rat's nest. The organization didn't buy additional equipment. To prevent disturbing the production environment, it used off-hours to make changes and organize cabling.

"The migration took time," he said. "We just used a lot of common sense. We had a combination of tight cables and slack that we spooled." In many ways, the data center cable management issues reflect the general problem of the IT-facility gap: the lack of communication and understanding between distinct IT and facility staffs.

Scott Eckert, a senior project manager at CTI, said he sees it all the time. He goes into a client's shop and sees rat nests all over the place, blocking access to a panel, consuming space in the underfloor, and just looking messy in general.

"Often, it's 3:00 on a Friday, and an IT guy gets a call that he has to make three changes before he leaves," Eckert said. "You need to get the IT people to plan ahead better and not do so many rush changes. Not everything is an emergency. To the IT guys I always say, 'Dudes, slow down. Take your time.'"

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head, and Server Farming.

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