The dependence on quality, reliable data is now more business critical than ever. Businesses rely on data centers for 24/7 connectivity; to uphold federal codes and regulations; and to ensure resiliency, performance and more—all so they can stick to meeting the demands of their customers. Data centers should also be highly adaptable. With today’s technology changing daily, new business opportunities presenting themselves at every turn and looming threats from competitors, companies must be able to seamlessly position resources—servers, applications, storage and services—across enterprise networks swiftly, without any service disruption.
These growing demands have forced businesses to look in the mirror and assess their infrastructure. Whether it be modernizing an existing data center, scaling up to meet business needs or building completely new network architecture, this article will address the considerations necessary to ensure superior performance of today’s mission-critical data centers.
Although your data center might be “out of sight, out of mind,” it’s the central hub of your business. There are simple ways to increase organization, ease of use and scalability in your network centers.
What to Do
Opt for Modularity
Choose cabling products that you can combine to create any number of design configurations to meet your cable-management needs and provide the option of scaling as your business grows. Various customizable cabling-management systems are designed to meet particular business needs and specifications.
Wire baskets provide the flexibility to create a grid system out of wire-mesh trays. They’re produced first by welding a net from high-strength steel wires, forming the channel and finishing after fabrication. The powder-coating process can even use a UV adder, if needed, for additional lifetime protection. The 2” x 4” mesh allows for continuous airflow and prevents the buildup of heat, dust, bacteria and other contaminants. With increased airflow reaching the cables, your facility will achieve greater energy efficiency, improved cooling and less interference risk.
Among complex installation environments, the benefits reaped from a wire-basket cabling-management system can go a long way. Even filled with maximum cables to code, the grid system is naturally stronger and lighter. To this point, it requires less frequent support locations—typically every 9–10 feet--creating a domino effect of benefits. With fewer support locations necessary, the facility has more-optimized space.
Because wire-mesh cable trays are lightweight, the installation can be completed by just one person, saving not only cost but time as well. This fact leads to the next consideration: cost and time savings.
Choose Accessories That Save Installation Time
With technology changing rapidly, technicians should be armed with the equipment to quickly pivot in response. Small but important considerations can help speed installation.
Wire baskets contribute to open structure efficiency by providing the option to drop cables out from any part of them. And the wire-mesh structure allows easy cable organization using cable ties or a variety of accessories:
- Clip-on wire-basket accessories can aid in the attachment of conduit to the wire basket and provide two different latching configurations for mounting 1/2” to 1-1/4” EMT connectors. A bottom-mount design accommodates all load depths, but it also allows side mounts to 4” and 6” load-depth wire baskets.
- Another option to easily secure cables is a channel-tray system that offers prepunched holes. This approach saves time and labor by eliminating the need to drill holes, and it allows for the easy inspection of cables. It’s also more versatile and flexible than enclosed raceways and wireways.
Pre-attached, auto-locking splice plates that connect two or more wire baskets can save time by allowing an installation contractor to run wire baskets the length of the facility, with specialty hardware woven on that easily snaps together. These quick latches decrease time and labor when splicing two wire baskets after field cuts that require removal of the factory splice. Pre-attached, auto-locking splice plates also eliminate the need to carry bulky tools and accessories to connect each basket to the next, and they reduce the amount of scrap and the subsequent cleanup time.
This type of systematic, organized cable management can help prevent kinks and entanglement while evenly distributing weight and keeping cables cool—important elements in improving overall network performance.
Organize for Increased Efficiency
The next important factor in continuous data center uptime is organization. There are various ways to increase the organization of your cables.
Colored cable is a time-tested method of quickly and easily identifying different cable runs at a glance. Wire baskets provide optimum visibility of wire paths, but even more so when you use color coding. Although the cabling standards don’t specify the color of the cables, there are general guidelines to consider. Group color selections by the following:
- Type of cable: Having one color for CAT5, one for fiber and so on will make it easy to determine the cable type at a glance.
- Cable purpose: Standardize a specific color for specific wire purposes. For instance, color coding by internal wiring, user equipment or external wiring can be an effective strategy.
- Cable destination: For some large buildings or wide applications, color coding on the basis of which floor or building area cables are routed to can be most effective.
Ensure each color has an intent and be consistent. Use colors that stand out and that aren’t commonly confused (pink and red, for instance). Doing so will make it easier to avoid confusion, follow cable runs and troubleshoot issues. Powder coating is one way to color code different runs in red, blue, yellow, green, black and white. Colors can be customized using the RAL color scale.
What Not to Do
Don’t overload your baskets and go beyond code. Avoid using a tray system that’s so big it becomes bulky and hard to move. Rather, plan cabling pathways and take into account parameters that influence cabling pathways, including rack density, cable type/count/diameter, end-equipment cable entry and room height.
Select basket sizes compatible with the size of your facility. For instance, standard ladder trays can range from 12 to 20 feet long and may be difficult (and even damaging) to maneuver if you have a small data center. Alternately, seek a wire basket that comes in 10-foot lengths for greater movability.
Codes vary on the basis of cable type. For multiconductor control and/or signal cables, adhere strictly to NEC 2017 Article 392, Cable Trays, 392.22.2 Ladder or Ventilated Trough Cable Trays Containing Multi-Conductor Control and/or Signal Cables Only, which says that with the use of these cables, a 50% fill ratio of the cross-section is permissible. In other words, the total of the wire cross-sectional area must be half of the total cross-section of the basket tray. For multiconductor power cables rated for 2,000 volts or less, follow table 392.22 (A) for allowable fill in NEC 2017.
Often, contractors purchase a width larger than what the application requires to allow for future modification of the cable electrical runs. Think of how often an additional conduit run is necessary after the job is complete. With cable trays, the only thing you need to pull is the wire if the basket is appropriately sized.
Rely on Electro-Galvanized Steel
Small but mighty zinc whiskers wreak havoc on sensitive electronic equipment by disrupting day-to-day equipment operations. Failures can include short circuits, voltage variances, signal disturbances and complete system resets.
Whiskers are caused by tiny “spurs” splintering off of zinc-electroplated steel surfaces. Although a thin layer of zinc coating can prevent rust and corrosion, it’s under compressive stress and will tend to relieve that stress through the splintering effect—zinc whiskers. Eventually these whiskers break off, and that’s when the damage happens. Unattached zinc whiskers can circulate through a facility’s air system and settle on sensitive equipment.
So how do you avoid these potentially damaging whiskers? The answer is simple: reduce or eliminate the amount of whisker-producing electro-galvanized steel in and under the server room. To do so, choose materials wisely—consider the difference between electroplated zinc and powder coating.
Powder coating, specifically applied to wire baskets, provides superior protection compared with standard electroplated zinc galvanizing. This application also projects an aesthetically pleasing, sleek, high-tech appearance ideal for a data center. It’s also durable, corrosion-resistant and resistant to most common chemical substances. By replacing electroplated steel with powder-coated cable trays and wire baskets, you’ll prolong the life of your products and protect your investment.
Whether your data center needs a complete overhaul or just a few minor upgrades, the wealth of cabling and cable-management solutions can make it more efficient, safer and more organized.
About the Author
Mitch Diamond is VP/GM of Cable Management–Cable Solutions, a division of Atkore International. Mitch received his appointment to this position in 2015 with responsibility for sales, manufacturing, engineering, distribution and logistics in the cable-management business. He formally spent the previous five years on the commercial side of the business with Atkore as the senior regional sales manager for raceway sales in the Northeast region, building strong relationships, driving specifications and product training with strategic accounts across all business portfolios. Before that role, Mitch held various engineering and operational positions including plant manager for Atkore. He holds a Master of Management degree in business administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State University, along with a Six Sigma certification.