By: Oliver Lindner, Director of Product Management at FNT Software
At the heart of digital transformation is network cabling. These cables are pivotal to global communication and information flows. Without them, supply chains would come to a standstill while self-driving cars and aircraft would be immobilized. After all, Wifi and 5G will only cover the last mile and still depend on a lot of physical cabling in the back. Modern societies rely heavily on seamless data communication, and data centers serve as the core infrastructure for this communication landscape.
Maintaining flawless communication between devices and ensuring the integrity of data links are critical components of this interconnected ecosystem. Despite its inherent complexity, making cable management as simple and cost-efficient as possible is an important part of professional data center management. However, that’s easier said than done. Without the right cable management software, data center operators face many challenges from rising costs to capacity problems to cable fires.
Common Challenges for Data Center Operators
Depending on the deployed technology, even a mid-sized data center with 50 racks can have between 20,000 and 50,000 individual cabling and port components that need to be managed and documented. If we then look at a data center that serves a corporate campus and add the connections to the backbone cabling infrastructure of the individual buildings and the distribution cabinets on each floor, the number of structured cabling elements soon rises exponentially.
One of the drivers behind this growth in elements that need to be documented and managed is the continuing increase in density. Standard tool-based approaches to documentation using spreadsheet-style lists simply don’t cut it at this kind of scale and can even pose significant operational risks.
The mix of cabling technologies and architecture plays a role. Powered and unpowered copper (PoE, Power over Ethernet), fiber optic cabling in the usual dual-fiber configuration, MTP/MPO multifiber trunk, break- out and conversion cables for high-density backbone cabling, a switch from point-to-point cabling to structured cabling, different architectural designs such as top-of- rack (ToR) and end-of-row (EoR) – those are just a few of the key aspects worth mentioning. When different technologies and architectures are involved or changes are planned, a professional approach to cable management becomes essential in order to manage the complexity. This is the only way projects aimed at changing architecture and technologies can be implemented on time and on budget.
There may also be day-to-day operational challenges which provide clear signs that operators need to engage with a professional data center cable management software provider. The most important reasons for taking action are:
- Instability and unavailability: When operators are experiencing faults and outages of communication services that can be attributed to technical defects in network cabling or improper modifications.
- High implementation and communication effort coupled with poor work outcomes: When operators find that making changes to structured cabling is increasingly time-consuming and mistakes are becoming common during implementation.
- Capacity problems: When there is a perpetual shortage of ports regardless of how much was invested during an expansion.
- Thermal hotspots in cabling: When heat effects are reported in cable trays containing large numbers of cables laid together. In a worst-case scenario, operators may have already had to deal with a smoldering cable or fire.
- Poor PUE values and sustainability: When changing regulations are forcing operators to reevaluate their cabling.
- Audit stress: When preparing for certifications, such as ISO 27001, or an audit to ensure compliance with structured cabling standards is very demanding on the organization.
What to Look for in a Modern Cable Management Solution
Depending on an operator’s starting point and existing level of maturity, adopting new principles can be a challenge. Executing changes to organizational structures, processes, and multiple diverse solution elements ties up considerable staff resources in the analysis and design phase. It also means engaging in a lengthy change project with an uncertain outcome, and often results in time-consuming modifications to a wide range of specialist tools in order to create a uniform data foundation for collaboration going forward.
Ideally, operators should deploy a software solution that incorporates the fundamental concept of a digital twin of the data center and provides the following features:
- Detailed 2D and 3D footprint images of the data center
- Photo-realistic, interactive representations of active and passive network components
- Sophisticated planning support for network planners with logging of planning, including extensive feasibility checks for quality assurance purposes
- Generation of work orders with detailed step-by-step instructions for network and cable technicians
- Seamless collaboration capabilities that bridge different organizational units through proven processes by way of workflow support
- Powerful signal management and auto-routing functions
- Generation of installation suggestions for components requiring cabling, taking into account space, power, and cooling reserves
- Ready-to-use analyses and reports on capacity utilization
- Upload capability for cabling measurement logs
- Multi-client and multi-user capability with the ability to set up detailed access control, considering roles and authorizations as well as SSO
- Detailed change logging to ensure comprehensive traceability
- Communication support for active network management systems (NMS) with powerful integration mechanisms and a comprehensive API
Benefits of Professional Cable Management
The impacts of this different approach to data center cable management are substantial. First, cable infrastructure will be more stable, and the availability of connection services will increase. Inappropriate changes or changes that have not been quality assured in advance will no longer occur, planning of changes without taking SLAs into account will be a thing of the past, and the wrong plug will never be accidentally pulled again.
Next, operators will be able to make changes to structured cabling much more quickly and the number of implementation errors will trend to zero. Work instructions for technicians will always be complete, comprehensive, and unambiguous. What’s more, technicians on site will find that real conditions on the ground correspond almost 100% with the assumptions on which the planned change was based. The need for the usual ad-hoc communication and queries will be nonexistent.
Operators will also be able to make better use of available resources and will be able to identify emerging bottlenecks – especially in port capacity – earlier and address them in a timely fashion. Identifying connections that are becoming obsolete and retiring them in a timely manner ensures that the existing capacity covers needs for longer. If shortages nonetheless occur, they will be identified sooner, enabling operators to make the requisite investment and to plan, optimize, and install the necessary active and passive components.
Additionally, thermal hotspots can be avoided. The planning process and associated plausibility checks give operators the ability to recognize during the digital twin simulation whether a change will exceed critical threshold values.
Lastly, scheduled audits can be completed with confidence. Regardless of whether operators are preparing for certification regarding key standards, such as ISO 27001, or an audit to ensure compliance with structured cabling standards, they can be sure that the cable infrastructure and corresponding documentation will stand up to scrutiny.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Oliver Lindner is Director of Product Management at FNT Software. He has around 30 years of experience in IT and IT infrastructure management with a focus on data centers.