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When Networking for the Future, Don't Neglect Your Cabling

Thursday Jun 21st 2018 by Arthur Cole

It might not be the most exciting part of the network, but cabling is critical to supporting today's increased traffic loads.

As the enterprise delves into advanced fabrics, virtual networking and wide-area connectivity to the cloud and IoT, it may be easy to overlook the fact that all of this will likely require upgrades to basic data center cabling as well.

While the focus of most emerging data initiatives is to push processing away from centralized resources in favor of distributed points around the globe, increases to traffic load in the data center are inevitable. This means much of today’s copper infrastructure will likely convert to fiber. At the same time, advanced bundling and installation solutions will drive efficiency and performance of connected resources.

According to Grand View Research, the global structured cabling market is expected to top $14.2 billion by 2025, a compound annual growth rate of 7.6 percent. While most deployments will cater to carrier-level infrastructure, the data center segment is expected to see growth around 8 percent per year due to the increased data demands of smart devices and mobile users. The key driver, of course, is to reduce latency for all types of traffic, but particularly the portion of IoT traffic that must come back to central facilities for processing and analysis.

But market forces are not the only reason cabling is becoming such a hot commodity. Chatsworth Products’ David Knapp notes that new standards for everything from Power over Ethernet (PoE) to 5G cellular are forcing many legacy centers to revamp their wiring. New IEEE PoE formats that bump the range from today’s 25.5 watts to 60 and 100 watts, for example, will spur demand for new switches and power injectors, as well as more breathable bundles to prevent overheating. Likewise, new Wi-Fi requirements will allow access points to support more devices and services catering to hi-def video and AR/VR streaming, which will drive higher bandwidth requirements and more power consumption that is best supported by Cat 6A or better.

The challenge, of course, will be to deploy these new cabling infrastructures in ways that do not inhibit, and preferably enhance, air flow to equipment racks. According to Datanet IT’s Jeff Hodges, current methods for preventing “air damming” are no longer sufficient and should be replaced with intelligent planning methods that promote flexibility, reliability and efficiency. A proper layout the reduces the density and provides greater distribution of cabling infrastructure can help reduce hot spots in the data center and perhaps avert a costly and disruptive facility redesign. At the same time, new cable solutions should accommodate future growth so data loads can increase naturally without putting surrounding systems at risk.

In addition, these rules should apply to specialized network infrastructure, like the SAN. Rodney Jacks and Todd Wheeler of Data Center Systems, argue that many organizations are not getting the full benefit from high-speed interconnects like NVMe because they lack the proper cabling. Even if you are running NVMe over Fibre Channel or advanced fabrics, you may be losing out if your switch is too far from the central patching location. Also, plan out your speed requirements at least one generation ahead, approximately 18 to 24 months, so you don’t have to discard the cabling infrastructure you just installed.

Cabling may lack the excitement of installing a new core switch or central fabric controller, but it is important nonetheless in the drive to faster, more reliable networking. No matter what architecture you use or how virtualized it is, bits must still get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. And nobody will be happy if the newly installed super-platform produces only middling performance because the supporting infrastructure cannot handle the load.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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