Streamlining Data Center Cabling18 min read

by | Oct 18, 2023 | Blog

It’s fun to look under the floors of old, or even not so old, data centers. Sometimes the jumble of cabling and the sheer quantity of wires are a shock to the senses.

Fortunately, the days are numbered when it comes to seeing spaghetti-like cabling under floors or multi-colored wires stuffed haphazardly above ceiling tiles. The latest cabling approaches and technologies are quietly changing the face of the data center (or at least its underbelly).

Here are some of the areas that are contributing to this change. Some are relatively new. Others have been around for a while but are now gaining more traction.

Fiber Optic Cables

Copper is steadily giving way to fiber-optic cables where higher bandwidth, lower latency and longer distances are critical. Fiber optics are also gaining ground as a way to address issues such as interference and as a means of lowering power consumption. As they can support data speeds beyond 400Gbps, expect fiber-optic cables to be more common within the data center as high-performance computing (HPC) and AI increase in popularity.

“IT workloads related to AI, machine learning, training, and video processing are increasing the prevalence of graphic processors, high-end CPUs, and other accelerator chips,” said Rob Bunger, Program Director, CTO Office, Data Center segment at Schneider Electric.

Better cabling that manages heat and power consumption more efficiency has become critical. Fiber optics often fits the bill. 

Cable Management

Cable trays are almost becoming the standard for the data center. These metal or plastic trays help reduce cable congestion, give more protection to cables, make it easier to identify which cable is which and improve airflow within the data center.

With so many cables in the data center and so many types (copper, fiber optics, ethernet, power distribution, and other cables) cable management has become essential to route, label, bundle and organize everything. A variety of companies offer cable trays, cable ladders and cable management systems to bring order to the often-disorganized world of data center cabling. Cable management systems are also emerging that are more suitable for HPC and high rack density applications.

“The rear of HPC racks are hot, which impacts not only cabling but power distribution, including PDUs, lighting and cable management pathways,” said Mike Andrea, CEO, Oper8 Global. “We’ve experienced many failed PDU’s as a result of their inability to handle the hot air in the rear of the racks, particularly when exceeding 35kW per rack.”

Pre-Engineered Cabling

Some vendors have introducing pre-engineering cabling. Corning, for example, offers the EDGE Distribution System. It is said to lower installed costs, shorten installation time for server cabling by up to 70% and lower the carbon footprint by up to 55% by minimizing materials and packaging.

“Server row cabling often requires routing large numbers of patch chords of different lengths through overhead cable trays and dropping patch cables down to each cabinet that requires fiber connectivity,” said Nate Hefner, Market Development, Data Centers. “Our approach consolidates all the patch chords into one cable and provides tools to help get the order and configuration exactly right.”  

This product is available in single-mode fiber only at this time. Hefner added that the EDGE Distribution System is best for data centers that have a repeatable design i.e., they have several server rows that all have the same dimensions so they can benefit from ordering one part number to install in multiple locations.

Improved Ribbon Cables

Ribbon fiber cables were introduced more than 30 years ago to increase fiber core counts in smaller diameter cables as many traditional cables were too large. Generally, these ribbon cables are double-jacket and single-armored.

More recently, vendors are further reducing the diameter and weight of ribbon cable designs while improving their flexibility. The Fujikura SpiderWeb Ribbon is a high-density optical fiber cable. 12 fibers are connected by a periodic UV-curable resin bond. A 288 fiber WTC cable, for example, has a diameter of 11.7mm and a weight of 101kg/km compared with 21.4mm and 310kg/km for the traditional equivalent.

Cross Connects

The cross connect system has been around for a while. but it is now seeing broader adoption. It entails the creation of a dedicated patching area so that data center personnel can more easily manager moves, adds and changes. This approach lowers the risk of disrupting live circuits when staff are servicing patch panels, thereby isolating mission critical active equipment from potential harm. Another advantage of cross connect cabling is that it introduces standardization to patching. As a result, upgrades or data center expansion projects tend to be faster and more reliable as networking has become more orderly.


Hefner mentioned another strategy for cabling efficiency.

“A good data center architecture should plan for future growth,” he said. “One way to improve the efficiency of the cabling in a network as it grows is to utilize a pre-terminated solution.”  

In essence, the manufacturer terminates and factory-polishes the connector end-face to ensure proper polarity management and quality for faster installation and easier moves, adds, and changes compared to a spliced solution. Such techniques may add time in the short-term, but they end up saving a lot more time over the life of the data center. This is all about planning for the future and taking actions now that make things easier up the line.

Installing Backbone Cabling

Another smart way to save time in the long run and plan for the future is installing backbone cabling that can remain in place as transceivers improve. Whether the data center is going from duplex to parallel transmission or from 40G to 100G+, a base-8 structured cabling offers more flexibility when it comes to migrating existing gear to higher bandwidths. 

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Drew Robb

Drew Robb

Writing and Editing Consultant and Contractor

Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.


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