A Guide to Data Center Structured Cabling

April 2, 2024

With thousands of connections and extensive requirements for uptime and maintenance, data centers demand highly organized cables. Structured cabling is crucial for well-managed, efficient and reliable data center operations. Explore this guide to structured cabling in data centers for more information on implementing a dependable solution in your facility.

What Is Data Center Cabling?

Data center cabling refers to how components in a data center are connected. Devices like servers and switches usually connect to each other via ethernet or fiber cables. These connections fall under the umbrella of data center cabling, which has two main types:

  • Unstructured: Unstructured cabling uses point-to-point connections, linking each device directly to another rather than using distribution systems to connect devices. These systems can quickly lead to disorganized or tangled cabling, also called spaghetti cabling, especially if you have many connections. An unstructured cable system can cause an array of problems, like performance issues, maintenance challenges, poor visibility and reduced airflow. These issues stem from inefficient and sometimes dangerous cabling practices.
  • Structured: A structured system connects a data center’s devices through a standardized approach that addresses labeling, technical specifications, connection methods, testing requirements and other elements. Data center structured cabling solutions create a more organized system optimized for performance. Many data centers run their connections into a main distribution area (MDA), which serves as a hub and distributes cables across the data center. Overall, structured cabling supports operations in many ways, with benefits like better data throughput, longer equipment life, simplified maintenance and increased visibility.

The structured approach is essential for modern data centers.

Elements of Structured Cabling

Structured cabling in a data center addresses many elements, including the following:

1. Organization and Cable Management

Naturally, a cabling system includes devices and strategies to organize the complex physical networks formed by cables. Structured cabling uses products and techniques like patch panels, cable trays, bundling and color coding to keep cables organized. It also employs thorough documentation for tracking, improving the visibility of the system.

This organization is essential for maintaining a clear picture of cables and ensuring quick, accurate changes or additions. For instance, it reduces the chances that technicians accidentally move the wrong cable, causing data loss or damage. Strong organization also helps maintain a safer facility, as proper routing can keep cables confined and prevent accidents like trips. You can often use cables with smaller diameters, too, which helps to prevent cable damage or airflow blockages from large wads of cables.

2. Compliance and Security Risks

Many standards and regulations implement strict requirements for data integrity, security and environmental waste. Data center structured cabling solutions help minimize the risk of noncompliance by improving performance, reliability and transparency in these areas. It also generally supports better security, with less risk of equipment failure or cabling errors that could hurt your reputation or put data at risk.

3. Airflow

Proper airflow prevents damage throughout the data center by avoiding overheating or hot spots. With efficient cable routing and a smaller footprint, structured cabling’s benefits for airflow can help boost the life span of your equipment, ultimately increasing its value and reducing maintenance demands.

4. Maintenance Processes

When you perform maintenance tasks, structured cabling employs systems for easier identification and tracing, allowing technicians to find the right cable at the right time. They can work faster and more accurately to reduce downtime.

5. Scalability and Flexibility

Since many data center activities require frequent adjustments, structured data center cabling often aims to provide flexibility through modular designs. You can easily make changes and add new equipment to these systems without impacting other connections. Visibility and tracking resources also support this easy scalability since you know exactly where your connections are and can make faster decisions.

Industry Standards for Structured Cabling

Industry standards provide consistent guidance for safe, reliable infrastructure developed by respected accrediting organizations. Common data center cabling standards include:

  • ANSI/TIA 942: From the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), this standard offers comprehensive guidelines for a data center’s physical infrastructure. It covers elements like architecture, topology, power systems, environmental design, cooling, redundancy and monitoring. It includes four ratings reflecting redundancy, security and protective mechanisms.
  • ANSI/TIA 606-B: ANSI/TIA 606-B offers guidance on labeling to ensure consistent, logical labeling schemes and management. It can greatly simplify tracing and maintenance.
  • ISO/IEC 11801: This standard comes from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and replaced ISO/IEC 11801. It offers specifications for general cabling in data centers and similar spaces in other buildings.
  • ANSI/BICSI 002: ANSI and Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI) offer this standard, which often complements ANSI/TIA 942 with more detailed information and recommendations.

Some of these standards have designated resources for specific types of facilities, such as modular data centers and edge data centers.

The Advantages of Structured Cabling in Data Centers

While structured cabling requires more work upfront, it has an array of long-term benefits that affect many different parts of your operation, including:

  • Operating costs: Faster maintenance and updates, higher uptime and reduced risk can all support lower operating costs. You can also reduce costs with more efficient cooling and power usage.
  • Equipment return on investment (ROI): Structured cabling can help improve your equipment’s ROI and life span by reducing unnecessary strain and providing an optimal working environment.
  • Growth and resilience: Thanks to the scalability and flexibility of a data center’s structured cabling system, you can pivot to changing demands and industry conditions.
  • Risk: The consistent, standardized design of structured cabling can help data centers reduce safety, security and compliance risks and maintain a reputable operation.
  • Visibility: Clear labeling and documentation allow you to make more informed decisions, such as utilizing available ports, predicting when you will need more or troubleshooting issues.

Meet Your Goals With Data Center Structured Cabling Services

Structured cabling can be a highly complex undertaking with varied technologies and connections. With professional data center structured cabling services, you can leverage our team’s expertise for dependable cabling solutions. DataSpan is one of the largest data center service providers, with 50 years of experience supporting some of the world’s biggest businesses. We know the importance of ensuring peak performance at all times and will work with you to meet your facility’s unique requirements.

Our data center structured cabling solutions include end-to-end service with custom-engineered solutions. We offer a Layer 1 data center assessment, infrastructure installation, on-site support and documentation services.

Contact us today to learn more about our structured cabling services and get started on building a more efficient, reliable and profitable facility.