How Patch Panels and Patch Cable Organisers Simplify Data Installations
In a computer networks, server rooms and datacentre environments cable management can be one of the biggest unseen challenges. There can be literally thousands of connections and metres of cable to manage and connect to numerous ports within a facility.
Without proper management and a structured approach, the cable management side of the operation can quickly become unmanageable and lead to potential outages, poor connectivity and slow responses to requests for server connections and optimisation. Tangle cables and power cords introduce the potential for accidental disconnection and make troubleshooting even more problematic. All of this can be avoided with the right choice of patch panels and patch organisers and their correct installation and usage.
What Is a Patch Panel?
Patch panels are a relatively simple device used within IP-networks to connect hardware devices together. The panels can be relatively small with just a few ports or more complex devices with up to several hundred ports and can be configured to for network and communications cables including CAT (Category) 5e, 6 or 7 and fibre optic cables. They are gateway devices without which our internet and every-day IT driven services would not operate.
Patch panels connect IT servers, accessories and components together and can be found within many different types of network-related installations. Examples include IT closets, computer rooms, server rooms, and datacentres. Telephone systems provide a further example as they move from a traditional telecom switch to Voice over IP (VoIP) and Cloud-based services.
Why Do You Need Patch Panels?
Patch panels connect devices together and onto a network, no matter where they are located within or external to the installation. The connection could be to another point on a local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), virtual local area network (VLAN) or the internet. Patch panels provides several major benefits when it comes to cable installation.
- Scalability: once installed a panel with sufficient ports allows new cables and to be plugged-in and new connections made to the network.
- Safety: using a patch panel, with clear cable labelling, it is easy to move devices between ports and provide for new connections without disrupting existing devices.
- Security: structured cabling into a patch panel reduces the chances of an accidental disconnection and device downtime.
- Troubleshooting: becomes easier when a patch panel is used as the panel helps to prevent the cables becoming tangled and the installation messy.
- Cable Costs: can be reduced through the use of shorter cables as a patch panel is typically installed within a server rack or data cabinet and therefore close to the devices to be connected. Cat-5 connection cables can also be used in place of more expensive network fibre optic cables to reduce cost.
- Simplified Testing: cable tests become simpler as the ports can be more easily tested rather than each device at the end of their cable run.
Patch panels are one of the simplest and oldest forms of network device in use within a server room and datacentre network. Good practice when it comes to patch panels includes:
- Clear Labelling: labelling both cable ends clearly and for long runs in the middle makes it easier for IT engineers to ensure they are working with the right cable.
- Organiser Usage: using a patch cable organiser helps to prevent tangles and makes it easier to see a complete cable run.
- Colour Coding: using coloured cables, end connectors and labels allow for quick and easy identification according to the network colour map.
- Cable Ties: can be used to bundle cables together for neatness and especially when they are going into the same location or along the same cable channel.
One of the most important aspects of using a patch panel is to start with a clear plan in mind of how the IT network will scale from day-one upwards. Thoughtful planning at this stage makes it easier to scale and add additional patch panels, cables and devices as the network expands or needs modification to respond to changes in usage, need and technology.
What Is a Patch Cable Organiser?
A patch cable organizer is, as the name implies, a device that helps to organize cables. They are typically mounted inside of a server rack, and the cables run through the organiser, so they are easy to follow, and look nice and professional.
Why You Should Use A Patch Cable Organisers
There are several advantages to using a patch cable organiser. Patch panel organisers help to ensure tidy cable runs whether this is for low or high-density servers or IT peripherals including routers, switches and other IT devices. Tidy cable runs help to present a cleaner installation, with cable slack more easily contained, less risk of cable damage from over-bending and make it easier to add or remove new devices. They can also help to improve energy and cooling efficiency as airflow and prevent rack or cabinet ‘hot-spots’.
Ease of Vertical or Horizontal Cable Management
Patch panel organisers allow cables to be easily run and secured into place and provides them with a degree of protection from damage when technicians or engineers are working within the cabinet or removing or installing devices. The devices are easy to install and mount directly onto a serve rack, either horizontally or vertically.
Vertical Cable Installation
Vertical cable managers allow of vertical cable runs from the top to bottom (or bottom to top) of a server rack or cabinet. There are many different sizes available to cope with several communications cables and ensure that cables do not exceed their bend radius when they exit the rack or are connected back into other devices.
Vertical cable management can reduce signal interference through a clear separation of data and power cables. The device is installed within the server cabinet and along the vertical pole or strut edge to ensure that valuable equipment space is not taken up within the rack or cabinet. For most installations, one vertical cable manager can be installed for each server rack, helping to reduce overall costs.
For safe vertical cable management it is important to have proper cable labelling in order to trade cables easily and especially when removing cables from compact runs.
Horizontal Cable Installation
Here the cables are run horizontally within 1U or 2U sized units that separate and hold in place the cables. A horizontal cable management strategy can make it easier to trace cables and add additional cables, especially as the units can help to manage both front and rear facing connections. The disadvantages of a horizontal installation are that the patch cable organisers can take up equipment space and need to be placed within the server rack in an easy to access area.
There is no doubt of the important role played by patch panels in helping to secure and manage network cable runs within server room and datacentre facilities. Depending upon the number of server and data cabinets and their size, the installation may have to use a combination of horizontal and vertical patch panel organisers as part of their cable management solution.
There are times when it makes sense to use an open frame in an IT installation rather than a completely enclosed rack or server cabinet. How do you decide and what are the advantages of an open-frame rack?
In the IT industry point-to-point network cabling has been the de-facto standard for almost 25 years when connecting control networks or interconnected devices. As datacentres expand their processing power and capacity through virtualisation and more powerful servers, a higher speed, higher density and larger scale network cabling approach is required and the best alternative is known as ‘structured cabling’.