As they become increasingly vital to the functioning of global societies and economies, the way in which data centers and networks are designed and used is changing rapidly. The role of data centers has changed significantly in recent years. The data center is no longer a repository of huge volumes of information, but helps make all kinds of services possible. This has been triggered by a wide range of developments: the rise of ‘Big Data’, the Internet of Things, new ways of (remote) working and the rise of portable computing devices like tablets and smartphones.
Computing devices are increasingly equipped with communication capabilities. According to research firm Gartner, the Internet of Things will encompass 26 billion interconnected devices by 2020. By that time, Smart Buildings and Smart Cities will also be generating vast amounts of data. All this will lead to further changes and demands placed on data center networks and structured cabling.
Taking care of the data center backbone
Until fairly recently, most content was delivered locally within data centres. Today, however, we see far more inbound and outbound traffic, as millions of people worldwide access data and services 24/7. Data centers are also becoming more virtualised and the utilisation of services is considerably higher. Also, businesses and (government) institutions are dependent on critical processes and wish to be protected from technology issues and downtime, caused by maintenance scheduling or system failure.
If available bandwidth has to be shared amongst too many users, it becomes diluted to the point of becoming unusable. Although many people think 1G bandwidth is enough for the foreseeable future, selecting the greatest bandwidth you can afford is advisable. What might seem like overcapacity today will invariably turn out to be a necessity in tomorrow’s world. (Right now, the best shot at ‘future proofing’ networks is probably offered by Cat6a and Cat8 fibre-optic cabling with standard RJ45 connectors.)
Monitoring the network
It’s important to realise that the use of data-hungry technology solutions might expand at amazing speeds, but the backbone cabling can’t simply be dug up and expanded every few years. You need to design and implement your data center network very carefully, and then you need to manage it. Network visibility can help significantly enhance performance, improve response times and future-proof your network. That requires accurate, up-to-date, audit-proof documentation. Knowing the exact location and status of all ports, switches, cables, links and routers and how they are all connected at any given moment helps. Monitoring also allows you to find weak spots, improve security and plan data center improvements and upgrades. However, this kind of solution shouldn’t be added as an afterthought, but designed-in from the start. If not properly planned and implemented, infrastructure management can take up a lot of staff time, bring unnecessary costs and make inventory consolidation pretty difficult.
Integration of Intelligent Infrastructure Management (IIM) / Intelligent Physical Layer Management (IPLM) with energy, building and other systems makes efficiency enhancements possible. Advancements in IIM technology brings the possibility of automatically tracking fibre and copper cables and interconnects, without the need for additional conductors. Having the additional flexibility to bring security control, power monitoring / management and environmental reporting to the single IIM platform provides a compelling argument.
Smart data center cabling solutions
Adding Traffic Access Point (TAP) Modules enables non-stop monitoring of network and application performance using passive optical tapping that is fully integrated into the cabling infrastructure. With a properly specified management system port and asset utilization will be significantly improved. Network resources can be used more efficiently, downtime may be reduced and higher asset utilization can result in considerable savings. Having an accurate, real time inventory of network components ensures connections and equipment are properly deactivated and avoids multiple assignments to a single ports. ‘Lost’ devices can be detected and optimized or even shut down if necessary. Efficiency can be increased and time-consuming manual cable management can be reduced. IIMs help organizations reduce their power usage, generating significant savings while helping them comply with tough legislation. Also, best practices can be analysed and reproduced rapidly and easily.
The changing role of data centers is largely the result of the vast uptake of portable devices, new ways of working, disruption of the entertainment industry and a vast shift to ‘virtual’ government, commercial and financial services. Data center operators face the challenge of maintaining extremely high levels of availability, whilst significantly improving efficiencies and lowering costs. This requires a completely new approach to architecture, infrastructure and, consequently, structured cabling. Failure to to take that into account now will lead to severe problems further down the line - after all, cabling has to be capable of supporting several consecutive generations of active equipment. Reliability, quality, ease of use and bandwidth must be as high as possible.