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Anybody who's ever worked with servers and even a small LAN environment knows (or should know) how messy things can get. Cables, routers, hubs, servers and so on.

Everything crawling where it shouldn't go, and good luck finding that one cable that's preventing John's PC to connect to the rest of the Intranet when John works on the first floor and the servers where you need to check it are on the third floor.

So, for everyone here who works in environments like this: how do you keep it clean? A clean environment means at least some improvement in efficiency, so what are you tricks? What are the absolute do's and don'ts and why?

Or do you enjoy some Spaghetti? alt text

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11 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Label both ends of every cable.

The cable should clearly show where each end is going, and you should be as specific as possible.

For example, a label in our data center looks like this:

<-- ATL-SW-1 PORT 23
SERVER-01 NIC 2 -->

The same label is put on both ends of the cable so no matter which end you are looking at you know exactly where the end point is.

With this simple process even a mess of spaghetti cables can easily be handled. The biggest problem with spaghetti cables is when you are forced to hand trace a cable to its end point.

However I do recommend cable management to avoid the physical mess :-)

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In my experience, it's a bad idea to label both ends of the cable with source/destination. In an environment with reasonable change, the labeling tends to get skipped, or worse not updated. Instead, label the cables with unique numbers. That way you don't need to trace -- just match the numbers. –  Gary Richardson Jun 12 '09 at 22:39
    
I hadn't thought about the unique number idea... that's a pretty good idea –  Max Schmeling Aug 4 '09 at 16:40
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Use velcro tie wraps when running horizontal cable.

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Hmmm, that's disgusting - but thanks for posting a picture worth-a-thousand-words. 8)

  • Set a standard and stick to it, for example...
    • In every rack, the bottom X RUs are reserved for switches
    • Public interfaces will be green
    • Private interfaces will be red
  • Use racks that have facilities for cable management on the doors.
  • Use the same model of rack globally
  • Label all cables (at both ends) with a barcode (or similar) writer
  • Label the Racks as per the grid that they are if you look at them plane-view
  • Inventory everything
  • Don't let staff walk in and walk out of the server room
    • Only operations team should be allowed to touch the servers
    • Only the networks team should be allowed to touch the cavles
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When adding new cables, use a different colour. When about 50% of your cables are the new colour, re-cable the affected area. –  Francois Wolmarans May 30 '09 at 13:42
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  • Set a simple coloring standard for cables, and stick by it, for example:
    • Blue for intranet
    • Green for public/DMZ
    • Red for VOIP telephony (if applicable)
    • Gray for bridging and servers
  • Label both ends of cables with a good description of where they're going (server/socket).
  • Use a label printer, and use quality nylon-based stickers, plain paper stickers wear out and fall off really fast.
  • Don't use longer-than-required cables. If it's a short reach, use a short cable. Saves gobs of space and mess.
  • Try not to have cables hanging in front of the panels/switches. Route them from the panel, through the back of the rack, and back in front to the switch/server.
  • Immediately replace cables with broken lock-pins on the end. (this is more of a general advice)
  • Install rack cable management accessories like hair-comb-like attachments to the back of the network jacks panel and door/sidewall mounted clips and straps.
  • When having numerous cables going to/from the same location (like multiple blade server cables going to a switch) - enclose them in a cable organizer. This can drastically reduce the amount of cabling you have to untangle when looking/moving something.
  • Same goes for cabling that goes outside the server room. Whether it goes above or below the (acoustic) ceiling - try to have a snake-tray or similar cable grouping system, don't just let the cables lie "naked".
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I am not a sysadmin, but when I saw our server room I was surprised by the neatness of it. and lack of colour coding. The logic behind not using coloured cables was that sooner or later there would not be the right coloured cable when it was needed and no colouring was better than it being only mostly right. Seemed to make sense. –  Jeremy French Jun 24 '09 at 11:17
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It's an obvious one, but use rackmount servers and KVM switches.

Set things up so that your cable runs can be as short as possible. If you can get a space of 1U left between each patch panel in the rack, that's a great place to put switches and it means that you can use quarter meter lengths with no trailing whatsoever, and no need for cable management either (you don't need to manage what isn't there).

Separate things out into different racks if possible. If not, at least arrange them so that, for example, all switches for the first floor are physically located together.

FULLY DECOMMISSION OLD GEAR! If a switch dies, don't leave it in the rack and put a new one in wherever you have space - haul it out of there.

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+1 for the recommendation to decommision old gear. I've got some gear I need to pull out of the DC. –  BillN Jun 15 '09 at 18:39
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Label the front AND the back of your machines

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  1. Reduce the number of physical servers by using virtualization.
  2. Use meaningful server names that would allow you to easily locate the server. e.g., elements in the periodic table (that's an idea from Stackoverflow)
  3. Use a cable tie to group similar cables.
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Blades help.

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I don't know why people are downvoting this - blades have helped me enormously when it comes to managing physical environments. –  Chopper3 Jun 2 '09 at 5:36
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Nearly everything you can do has been mentioned already. It all comes down to being methodical and strict. Having to hand trace a cable at 2 am, armed only with a tile lifter and a torch is no fun at all.

One addition is to make sure that every cabinet door can be closed, i.e. no bodge jobs connecting device together that bypass the structured cabling. If one is allowed, then others will follow and ultimately you end up with a mess. Before any changes are made, make sure that you can achieve it with structured cabling. If not, you need to re-plan it properly, free up dead ports etc. If not you'll end up with a 20m cable chucked over the top of a row of cabs that is doing something important.

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In reply to: V. Romanov

All the standards i've seen say that red should be cross over and telecommunications (eg: pabx/voip) should be yellow, compared to the red for the voip like you suggest, whats your view on this?

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The important thing is to keep it consistent and documented. –  duffbeer703 May 31 '09 at 4:00
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I primarily work in a startup environment. My current organization is a startup, and a previous business model was consulting startups. The biggest key to organization was outsourcing data center operations to dedicated hosting companies like Rackspace and Servepath, and also using cloud and virtualization technologies such as Amazon EC2 and KVM.

I haven't had to trace a cable in almost a year, and finding systems is a matter of looking at the master server that tracks all the nodes that check in for their configuration.

It's much nicer than a previous position where our servers were at a hosting center, but we had to physically manage everything (which resulting in cable messes, despite best efforts and proper labelling).

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