When you look up layer one management, you quickly find out just how many colors have been created for cable jackets and patch panels. There are also truly stunning developments in cable trays and cable lacing systems that can help make the back of a network rack a thing of beauty. Aesthetics aside, though, how do you make sure the cable plant is manageable when you're putting the whole thing together? Paying attention to a couple of things, one architectural and one technological, will help keep your cable plant from spiraling out of control.
On the architecture side, we're seeing a rebirth of structured cabling, which has waxed and waned through the years. It waned when everyone harbored hopes for a universal CAT 6 UTP infrastructure, but that brief, golden era of cabled harmony is rapidly meeting its end as server virtualization spurs higher bandwidth requirements. We're beginning to see an increase in both copper and fiber physical media types (and connectors) to meet the different needs of servers, racks of servers, datacenters, and client devices. The bad news is that this complicates the inventory of cables, connectors, and infrastructure pieces you must maintain. The good news is that a properly structured architecture makes it much easier to design and manage the infrastructure for best performance on each network segment.
Multiple segments and cable types bring up the importance of managing the cables, patch panels, and other layer 1 components. Fortunately for network administrators, there are a growing number of ways to manage the collection of cables coming into a datacenter.
When admins start running through cable plants and management tools, the biggest issue revolves around change management. If cable physical plants never changed, they would be easy to manage, but most networks are dynamic creatures. Products like the CommScope Systimax Structured Cabling Solution or the 3M Volition Intelligent Management System can identify links, keep track of destination components, and deliver information on the first four layers of the ISO stack to front panel displays or to management consoles in the network operations center. This information is important when installing new equipment, vital when changing or moving equipment, and absolutely critical when something goes wrong in a big way -- like, when someone runs a floor buffer over a cable bundle (a real-life story with very annoying consequences).
The new cable types datacenters are using to support 40-gigabit and 100-gigabit networking present significant challenges to network architects and administrators. Fortunately, new opportunities for better management are coming along with the challenges. Revising the cable plant on a structured cable model and building room into the budget for cable management at the patch panel level will help ensure that faster networks are also more reliable.
And if you want to choose cable jacket and lacing colors that look nice together, that won't hurt a thing.