An organized rack makes a world of difference in tracing and replacing cables, easily removing hardware, and most importantly increasing airflow. By adopting good cabling habits, your hardware will run cooler and more efficiently and ensure the health and longevity of your cables. You also prevent premature hardware failures caused by heat retention. Good cabling practices don’t sound important but it does make a difference. It’s also nice to look at or show off to your friends/enemies.
When cabling, here are some practices Flurry lives by:
There has never been a situation where you’ve heard someone say, “I wish I hadn’t labeled this.” Labeling just makes sense. Spend the extra time to label both ends of the network and power cables. Your sanity will thank you. If you’re really prepared, print out the labels on a sheet ahead of time so they’ll be ready to use.
When selecting cable length, there are two schools of thought. There are those who want exact lengths and those who prefer a little extra slack. The majority of messy cabling jobs are from selecting improper cable lengths so use shorter cables where possible. A good option is custom made cables. You get the length that you need without any excess. This option is usually expensive in either time or money. The other option is to purchase standard length cables. Assuming that you have a 42U rack, the furthest distance between two network ports is a little over six feet. In our rack build outs, we’ve had great results using standard five foot network cables for our server to switch connections.
Cable management arms
When purchasing servers, some manufacturers provide a cable management arm with your purchase. They allow you to pull out your server without unplugging any cables. For this added benefit, they provide bulk, retain heat, and reduce proper airflow. If you have them, we suggest that you don’t use them. Under most circumstances, you would unplug all cables before you pull out a server anyway.
No sharp bends
Cables do require a bit of care when being handled. A cable’s integrity can suffer with any sharp bends so try to avoid this. In the past, we have seen port speed negotiation and intermittent network issues cause by damaged network cables.
Use mount points
As you group cables together, utilize anchor points inside of the rack to minimize stress on cable ends. Prolonged stress on the cable ends can cause the cable and socket it’s connected in to break. Power ends are also known to unplug. The weight of the bundled power cables can gradually unplug it at any moment. Using anchor points will help alleviate directed stress to the outlet.
Isolate different types of cables (power, network, kvm, etc) into different runs. Separating cable types will allow for easy access and changes. Bundled power cables can cause electromagnetic interference on surrounding cables so it would be wise to separate power from network cables. If you must keep copper network and power cables close together, try to keep them at right angles. Standing at the back of the rack, network cables are positioned on the left hand side of the rack while power cables are generally on the right in our setup.
Lots and lots of velcro
We’ve seen the benefits of velcro cable ties very early on. It’s got a lot of favorable qualities that plastic zip ties do not. They’re easy to add/remove and also retie. They’re also great when mounting bundled cables into anchor points inside of the racks. If your velcro ties come with a slotted end, do not give into the urge to thread the velcro into the ends. It’s annoying to unwrap and rethread. Don’t be shy to cut the velcro to length, either; using just the right length of velcro can make it easier to bundle and re-bundle cables.
Now that you have these tips in mind, let’s get started on cabling a Flurry rack.
1. Facing the back of a 42U rack, add a 48 port switch in about the middle of the rack (position 21U (21st from the bottom). Once you have all your servers racked, now the fun part being, cabling. Let’s start with the network.
2. From the top most server, connect the network cable to the top left port of your switch, which should be port 1.
3. As you go down the rack, connect the network cables on the top row of ports from left to right on the switch (usually odd numbered ports). Stop when you’ve reached the switch.
4. Using the velcro cable ties, gather together the cables in a group of ten and bundle the cabled groups with the cable ties. Keep the bundle on the left hand side of the rack. You will have one group of ten and one group of eleven that form into one bundled cable.
5. For the bottom set of servers, start with the lowest server (rack position 1U) and connect the network cable to the bottom left most port on the switch.
6. Starting from the bottom up, connect the network cables on the bottom row of ports from left to right on the switch (usually even numbered ports).
7. Doing the same as the top half of the rack, gather together the cables in a group of ten and bundle the cabled groups with the cable ties. Keep these bundles on the left hand side of the rack. You’ll end up with two bundles of ten that form into one bundled cable. Look pretty decent?
8. Now, lets get to power cabling. In this scenario, we will have three power distribution units (pdus), one on the left and two on the right side of the rack. Starting from the top of the rack, velcro together five power cables and plug them into one of the pdu strips on the left side of the rack from the top down.
9. Take another two sets of four bundled power cables and plug them into the other pdu strips on the right hand side also following the top to bottom convention. You should end up with a balanced distribution of power plugs.
10. Take a bundle of six power cables and plug them into the pdu strip on the left hand side.
11. Take another two sets of four power cables and plug them into the two pdu strips on the right hand side.
12. Start from the bottom up, bundle the power cables in groups of five. You will end up with two sets of five power cables and a bundle of four.
13. Plug the bundle of four power cables into the pdu on the left hand side.
At this point, you can take a step back and admire your work. Hopefully, it looks sort of like this:
Good cabling can be an art form. As in any artistic endeavor, it takes a lot of time, patience, skill, and some imagination. There is no one size fits all solution, but hopefully this post will provide you with some great ideas on your next rack build out.