A review of the many advantages of using pre-terminated cabling systems, particularly with respect to data centre applications.
Pre-terminated cabling systems have been in use for a number of years. When they were first launched they were considered a somewhat quirky or alternative kind of cabling solution, nowadays they are regarded as the “norm” for Data Centre applications. This article looks at the real benefits of using pre-terminated solutions and the specific advantages they offer in the Data Centre environment.
Pre-terminated solutions help to save time in a number of ways. Firstly as the products are terminated in a factory environment and delivered to site, minimal engineering or assembly work is required on site. Many leading pre-terminated fibre solutions are provided in a cassette format, allowing the installer to “plug and play” multiple connections with one cassette, this in itself contributes towards time saving when compared with the traditional method of individual connections. Pre-terminated solutions also save testing time. The pre-terminated solutions can be tested at the factory and transported to site. This 100% testing at the point of manufacture minimises the occurrence of faulty connections. It is still best practice to test the installed system on site, but those niggly connection problems are pretty much eliminated, saving testing and rework time on site. In Data Centre environments, the architecture has changed dramatically in recent years to allow for flexibility and scalability and the modular “pod” design has become popular. With pre-terminated solutions, complete pods can be built off site and delivered to site as and when required. This can help enormously with planning and implementing Data Centre expansions. A recent study by a leading manufacturer of pre-terminated cabling solutions revealed that using cassette based pre-terminated systems could reduce installation times for copper solutions by 85% and for fibre solutions by 95%. This is a substantial saving in terms of both labour time and project completion timescales. This time saving also impacts on the ROI for a Data Centre by shortening the investment to revenue timescales.
With conventional cabling system projects, installers carefully map out the resources they need to be on site for the life of the project. Often they will use multiple tiers of skillsets to carry out specific tasks, such as making connections, testing and troubleshooting. The use of pre-terminated solutions simplifies the entire manpower planning process. As all the connections are pre-terminated, this mitigates the need for manpower to make terminations on site, the manpower can move straight on with laying out the cabling infrastructure and making connections go live. As the pre-terminated links have been pre-tested, this vastly reduces the need for troubleshooting and retesting.
In the world of Data Centres, space is at a premium, so anything that contributes to space saving is welcomed. Fibre is increasingly used in Data Centres primarily to achieve the highest data transmission speeds of 10Gbits/sec often with upgrade paths to 40Gbits/sec. Pre-terminated fibre is much higher in density than copper solutions. Using high quality MTP connectors it is possible to accommodate 576 fibres in a standard 1U panel. This is a substantial improvement in space utilisation with the added benefit of premium performance.
Minimal on-site disruption and waste
Traditional cabling installations require loose components and tools to be brought to site. Installers need space to store the components and work areas to make terminations. There is also some wastage as a result which ultimately needs to be removed from site. Using a pre-terminated solution vastly reduces wastage as the pre-terminated links are “made to measure” and if they are delivered to site at the appropriate time, they don’t need to be stored and can be put to use immediately. Additionally some manufacturers have developed recyclable reels for pre-terminated links in the effort to minimise waste materials and this has been well received by installers and end users.
Heating and ultimately cooling are big issues where Data Centres are concerned. One of the key drivers for the adoption of pre-terminated solutions for Data Centre applications is the increasing need for high density cabling. Cabling blocks airflow so the higher the density of the cable, the better the thermal management– an important consideration for Data Centre applications. The modularity of current pre-terminated solutions provides installers with a lot of flexibility in terms of configuration within the Data Centre. The “pod” design of Data Centres, which include top of rack (TOR), middle of row (MOR) or end of row (EOR) configurations can easily be achieved using the array of trunk cables, array cables and plug and play cassettes, when used in conjunction with high density frames. Cables can be configured to optimise airflow, thus reducing cooling costs.
Whilst it may not seem immediately apparent, the use of pre-terminated cabling solutions offers a number of security benefits, something which is of paramount importance in a Data Centre environment. These security benefits come in a number of guises and we can examine them individually in more detail. On-site- security: On-site security is an issue for most commercial organisations, but perhaps more acutely in a Data Centre environment where SLA’s and downtime can result in costly penalties. When using a pre-terminated solution less manpower is required for the installation, meaning less engineers working on site at any one point in time, making the job of managing “contract personnel” simpler. In some cases organisations use their own teams to install pre-terminated solutions as the process requires less specialist skills and this reduced the level of third party contractors on site. Network security: In a Data Centre environment, network security is critical, and in a co-location environment even more so. Most pre-terminated fibre cabling solutions offer the option of colour coded and keyed connectors and adapters that enable the identification or segregation of parts or paths within a network infrastructure. By deploying colour coding client zones can be clearly identified and managed. The use of keyed connectors can also help to minimise accidental or malicious network access in ultra- high security environments such as government or military facilities. In some cases, additional product security is provided by manufacturers who supply cassette systems include a seal on the cassette. If the seal is broken this can indicate that the cassette may have been tampered with and whilst this doesn’t prevent individuals opening a cassette it certainly acts as a deterrent.
Pre-terminated cabling systems offer a number of advantages for a variety of different network installations, and are particularly suited to Data Centre environments for reasons of time saving, space saving, cooling and security. It is, however, important to recognise that to reap all the benefits that a pre-terminated solution offers, there is a serious amount of planning that needs to be carried out prior to installation. Attention to detail in the site survey process and the ensuing plan is critical or these benefits will be lost or additional cost incurred. A pre-terminated solution is a pre-planned solution – when done well it works very well. If it is poorly planned the “gains” can soon be lost.