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I have a long and intensive rack cleanup project coming up, and I wanted to know what your most effective methods of labeling cables are. I currently use adhesive labels from a brother P-touch labeler, but all the adhesives are coming off after a couple days. When the exhaust fans are blowing heat on them, they all but lose their adhesiveness. I will be labeling monitor cables, ethernet cat-5 cables, and power cables. I looked into the http://cableorganizer.com/unitag/ and the kableflags, but they look too bulky and at times completely overkill for what I need, which is simple labeling that's easy to identify and doesn't come off. Any ideas would be great, Thanks!

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Sep 10 '09 at 18:20

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

    
Helpful tips - 1. Label BOTH ends of the cable (preferably the same). 2. Put the label about 2-3 inches away from the cable end...putting it too close to the jack makes it hard to read, especially on the back of a server in a rack. 3. Consider labeling the cable in multiple places on the cable, for instance along the cable run under the raised floor or overhead ladder. –  TheCleaner Sep 10 '09 at 20:11
    
Hmm, funny that Brother labels fall off. I've had horrible experience with Dymo labels, but brother labels stick on everything for me: wrapped around cables, on batteries (round surface!), etc. Sometimes when I really don't trust it, I staple the label wrapped around cables. –  Halfgaar Sep 17 at 7:13

21 Answers 21

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I'd also recommend using a color scheme of sorts to quickly identify what a cable may originate from or go to. Granted labeling is always the #1 preferred method, color is something I use (when I can) to quickly visually eliminate some possibilities when wiring stuff up. For example:

  • Black - From Servers to patch
  • Blue - From patch to Switch
  • Gray - From Switch to workstation switches/hubs
  • Yellow - From Switch to Firewall/Router

I'm sure others people have better or more creative color schemes, but this idea works for me in general.

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+1 for color scheme, we do it by function, iLO/DRAC, Mangement, uplink, etc. –  Zypher Sep 10 '09 at 18:39
    
+1 for color scheme of the wires themselves. I consider this a no brainer but it is obvious that a lot of people stick with the basic "blue for data, white for voice" approach for everything. –  TheCleaner Sep 10 '09 at 20:13
    
If you crimp your own cables, you may want to add different coloured 'end-caps' to the cables in order to avoid a junior person accidentally plugging the cables looped-back. –  sybreon Sep 11 '09 at 1:07

We use a Brady ID Pal label printer: http://cableorganizer.com/brady/brady-ID-pal.htm

They are decently priced and the labels won't come off at all. You can print at various cable "girths/widths" along the length of the cable and it will automatically print it multiple lines to wrap the cable well so that you can see it from multiple angles.

Example of that:

Server 1 - 192.168.1.1

Server 1 - 192.168.1.1

Server 1 - 192.168.1.1

Server 1 - 192.168.1.1

It prints it out like that so that when you wrap the cable you can see the label from any side of it.

as well as banner style (for labeling servers/racks) and other settings.

It's a great little machine for the price. You can have different colored labels, different widths, and different "material" based on what you are sticking the label on.

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We use the Brady IDXPERT to do our labeling. We use vinyl labels for the front and backs of servers. And Self Laminating labels for cabling, one one each end.

Generally for the Cables we put Server name on line one, Switch port on line two, and Server port on line three.

So you would get something like:

SERVER1
SW01-P12
ETH0

Then we print up the Server name on a Vinyl label and put on on the faceplate, one behind the faceplate, one on the back of the chassis, and one one wire management basket if it has one.

Basically there is not such thing as too many labels!

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I use the Brother P-touch labeler, too, with great success.

Are you applying the label along the length of the cable? That might not work.

What I do is print out the text twice on the same label (leaving some space in the middle). I then place the cable across the middle of the label and wrap the label around the cable, sticking the two adhesive sides together on the other end... like a little, colored flag (now printed on both sides).

That works really well and it never comes loose.

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3  
+1 this is what we do –  Matt Rogish Sep 10 '09 at 19:02
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The problem with the flag approach is those flags get snagged in the racks a little too easily for my liking. Also when you start getting into high density wiring it just becomes a mess, makes it harder to see things like switch port lights without having to dig through a bunch of flags. –  Zypher Sep 10 '09 at 19:22
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I agree with Zypher. I used to do the "flag" approach and it never looked as clean...especially on 48 port switches...as ones that wrap the length of the cable. The Brady ID Pal actually wraps the label around the cable a few times so you are sure it is going to stay. –  TheCleaner Sep 10 '09 at 20:05
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If you use Brother P-Touch instead of a Brady, I recommend the TZ-S tapes. The S stands for Strong, they have much stronger adhesive and it stays wrapped around the cable much better then the standard TZ tapes. (This is assuming you don't do the flag method.) –  Ward Mar 10 '10 at 6:37
    
Say no to flag labels (for the reasons others have mentioned). Invest in a Brady labeler. MUCH better than the $50 labelers from Office Depot....more expensive but after you do the first 5 labels, you'll come back to thank me. –  user78940 Jul 20 '11 at 14:11

I use the DYMO RhinoPRO 5000. It is hand held. It has a wire wrap mode and a very flexible nylon tape to allow labeling cat 5 cables and other wires. You can use tape width from 1/4" to 3/4". It also has a fixed mode to number patch panels. Also does the standard labels. They have heat shrink tubing labels for very hard to remove wire labeling. I have been using it for 6 months and have had good results. The labels are rated for industrial use and have a heavy duty adhesive.

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Thank you all for your suggestions. I had my security camera come by today to help with video camera planning, and had with him a DYMO RhinoPRO 5000! I tested it out and applied some labels, and he said he NEVER had any of them coming off using this type of label cartridge from DYMO. I believe I will settle on this option thank you all, and thank you Tony for the suggestion! Also thank you osij2is, I will definitely use colors codes for my cables as well!

Hmmm, I'm not sure how to Mark Tony and osij2is's answer as the one I wanted. I originally asked this on StackOverflow, and it got migrated here (I had no idea this site existed until it got migrated). Any admins can help me out here?

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In addition to what sort of label to use, there is the question of what information it shows.

I've found the following practice quite useful, especially when there are lots of short term changes. First, EVERY cable gets a matching label at both ends with a unique serial number (or better, its length + unique serial number). There is no significance to the serial number - it simply makes it much easier to find the other end of a cable whithout having to physically trace it through all the cable management trays and bundles of cables (most of the time you've got a pretty good idea where to look).

This system is easiest to implement when you are starting with a clean state. Just label both ends of all the cables before you even let them in the patch room (and label all the unused spares before they get used).

If the cable is fairly permanent, you can always add a second label describing what it's connected to as well. But when things get busy, these second labels never seem to happen, so it's very handy to have the serial number labels to help find the other end.

At first, some people will grumble about the unecessary work, but after a few months they'll be grumbling every time they have to trace a cable that wasn't labelled with a unique serial number.

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Having tried a few different methods I've given up on labeling the cables. Regardless of the method used the labels either come off, become illegible or end up inside a bundle where they can't easily be read.

Instead of labeling the cables I use a database in which I record the two end points of every cable in the server room. e.g. Server 1, NIC 2 connects to switch G2, port 5). I've found this to be very effective but does have the drawback that it requires disciplined maintenance or it can become worse than useless. As such, it will probably only work well for smaller shops, where just one or two people are responsible for it.

Coupled with this I use different colours for certain connections. e.g. Servers to switches have one colour, DMZ connections have a different one, etc.

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I worked for a time at a university where a custom program was developed which queried all the switches via SNMP and created at database of which device was plugged into each switch port by collecting the MAC address of each device on each switch port, the IP address associated with the MAC address, and the host name associated with the IP address. It also collected utilization and error data for each switch port. All this accessible through a web interface. Wonder what became of it... –  jnaab Sep 10 '09 at 22:53
    
Thanks for the idea. –  John Gardeniers Sep 10 '09 at 23:42

We use a little brother labeler for printing. Stick the label along the lenght of the cable, about 2-3 inches from the end. And on top we use a transparent heat shrink tube.

Just remember to put a slice of the tube before installing the rj45 !! (or you will need a bigger tube)

http://cableorganizer.com/heat-shrink/

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We usually put the server/device name as well as whatever port it's going to. That along with colour coded cables for KVM, network, etc...

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Different people like to do this different ways. I just moved a datacenter and chose to just label both ends of the cable with the same number. So I printed a bunch of numbered labels with 2 copies of each label.

The only thing this really does is make sure it is easy to trace the cables. I like it however as it doesn't really have to be maintained in any way. For power, you might want to use different colors for A/B power, but if you have vertical PDUs with short power cables you don't really need to label them (or at least I didn't).

You might also want to make a couple of exceptions if use this system. For example, label the main Internet lines etc.

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+1: I once worked on a system where every cable was labeled EXACTLY based on room numbers and wall port... it was a thing of beauty. Then some PHB came along and decided that the room numbers needed to be changed, and the whole thing became worthless. Label them with a unique number: it's short, sweet, and it'll stay useful no matter what ELSE changes. –  Satanicpuppy Mar 29 '10 at 20:55
    
The only problem here is finding out what piece of networking kit a cable goes back to -- cable 12345 could be "sw001 3/24" one day and "sw006 2/12" after an upgrade, and you need to maintain that mapping somehow... –  voretaq7 Mar 29 '10 at 21:18
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This is the most maintainable system I've come across. Labelling the 2 ends of a cable with the same (unique) number is an excellent validation method. There is no silver bullet for patching, but this is as the most useful labelling method. –  Chris Thorpe Mar 29 '10 at 21:29
    
@voretaq7 No no no, that stuff is going to CHANGE, and then your labeling is going to be worthless. I see that happen all the time. –  Satanicpuppy Mar 30 '10 at 14:54
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@Satanicpuppy I see unique number systems devolve into unmaintained spreadsheets or hours of number-hunting "all the time" too (6 companies, all messes, especially once patch panels got involved). Like I said in my answer above, you're picking your poison either way: In my environments I prefer enforcing "move the cable, change the label" and knowing exactly where each cable is going by looking at it rather than tracing/hunting for a number. YMMV –  voretaq7 Mar 30 '10 at 21:03

Not an easy one as every one has a different idea (as mentioned). We use a label printer Label Printers They are available in a wide range of prices.

We also use different colored cables for different tasks. Red for us is always cross-wired, for example. Any power cords are labeled as to what is connected. Any system is labeled by DNS name where possible.

It just makes it easier if someone who is unfamiliar with the setup to troubleshoot.

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+1: Different color cables are a lifesaver. If you know you're looking for a KVM cable and KVM cables are green you really can cut down on the number of labels you have to read. –  voretaq7 Mar 29 '10 at 21:20

Labels are for wimps!

Seriously though, for cables I use self-laminating printable cable tags - the kind that wrap around the cable and hang off like a little wing. These go on any wires (network, power, telco), and are written as:

  • ServerName | SW### | CARD/PORT
    For network cables.
    • If the cable runs back to a patch panel, add that before or after the switch info.
  • ServerName | {A,B}
    For power cables (A/B distribution).
  • [Phone Number] | Panel/Trunk/Etc.
    For telco.
  • etc.

Whatever you do make sure the cable labels are machine printed and covered (self-laminating) so they don't wind up illegible. If you try to write it out by hand you will be in a rush one day or something will smudge and you'll have to hand-trace the cable later to figure out where it goes.

Servers have a printed label (Front - on the CD ROM drive, Back - anywhere it's visible & not blocking a vent) with their name. Same for switches, routers, etc. -- If it's in my rack I want to know what it is by looking at it.

Patch panels (if I have to manage them) are labeled with the Switch/Card/Port or Rack/Panel/Port that they tie back to.

I also use different color network cables for different purposes (primary/backup network, cross connects, IPMI management net -- however you want to break it down).


I moved to this labeling system after using one like the one Kyle described (The inherent problem with that system is that you nave to keep an up-to-date list of which cable goes where, or trace the cable every time ; The inherent problem with my system is that you need to re-label cables any time something changes. Pick your poison.)


When you're done it's time for the acid test: bang your head against the wall until you forget everything, then try to figure out your cabling system using only the labels: If you can't, your system is no good.

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+1 - Also make sure both ends are labeled the same. It may seem redundant to have the sever name on the server side of a network cable, but it will tell you if the cable was accidentally moved (same for the switch side with switch name/port). –  Doug Luxem Mar 29 '10 at 21:26
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+1 for the test –  fahadsadah May 24 '10 at 19:46

As Kyle said, labelling each end of a cable with the same unique ID number is the most useful labelling method that requires zero maintenance.

IMO everything else becomes unmaintainable very, very quickly. The main flaws are:

  • You need full buy-in from everyone that's going to touch those cables and that's not always possible.

  • If you label cables with info pertaining to the kit they're plugged into, you have to update that every time the connections change, or you add a new cable.

  • You have to put a new cable in one day and your labeller is out of tape.

  • You set a cable colourscheme (e.g. red for ilo, blue for data, green for backup)... then one day you need to make an iLo connection but you only have blue or green cables. Are you really going to be so anal that you'll wait for red cables to be delivered? No. So your system breaks down.

There are some scenarios where stringent labelling works, and is almost mandatory. You're setting up a rack for a client, which will be handed over to them. Full labelling is just a professional expectation in this scenario. Likewise, if you're configuring patching at a remote site that's not going to be altered very often, and you may need to walk someone through re-patching remotely... then you need a solidly labelled setup (plus photos of the racks, and a good diagram of every connection).

More important than cable labelling is removal of dead cables, and sensible routing of connections to avoid big, tangled masses. If you keep up with those tasks, labelling becomes even less important. Even when cables are fully labelled, you're unlikely to yank them just because the label says so... you'll end up tracing it regardless. So if you're going to trace the cable even when it's fully labelled, what's the benefit of the labels?

tl;dr cable labelling is IMO usually taken too far.

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+1 for removing dead cables and keeping your wiring neat. I would say this is more important than all the labeling and color schemes in the world. (In my racks it's a given; in other environments it's a fantasy) –  voretaq7 Mar 29 '10 at 21:56
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I once had a network engineer tell a new VP that he could not activate the data port in the new VP's office because he was out of green 2ft patch cables, and they were on back-order at our cable vendor. I told the engineer to use either another color or another length (he had 3ft green cables) and swap it out when the right cables came in. So two weeks later he swapped the cable out in the middle of a large data upload... –  BillN Mar 29 '10 at 23:50
    
This goes to show that above all else, common sense is the most important aspect of any organization system. –  cathode Aug 8 at 20:12

Try this.

For the outlets Voice/Phone - V(#) ex V-192 (100 = first floor)

NetworkData - D(#) ex D-267 (200 = second floor)

Label each cable just as such on each end. Make sure you color code your cables.

-Network cables - BLUE

-Voice - YELLOW/SILVER

-Crossover - RED

-FiberOptic - ORANGE

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It mostly depends on your needs.

A good way to manage this without having to use a third party software that cost 1000$-10000$ per year here is what you can do :

Label each interfaces 00, 01, 02, 03, 04, ...
Label each cabinet 100, 200, 300, 400, ...

Use Excel (or whatever that can do it) to generate your numbers as follow :
[Cabinet]-[U Number]-[Interface]
Example : 100-32-00
This cable goes into Cabinet 100, U32, Interface 00

Unless you have multiple devices/servers per U, which is only possible with switchs, firewall or devide that does not take a full U. For those you can add something in the tag.

Once all your tags are generated, have fun tagging the cables with small quality tape, I say quality since the temperature in a datacenter is somewhat cold and may affect its "stickyness".

In my opinions this solution is viable for small numbers of cabinets.

Hope this help.

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I've gone off the idea of labeling cables as a general rule. Sure, some cables should be labeled but not all of them. Labeling is high maintenance and can become a real nightmare when things change.

The purpose of labeling is to be able to know what the cable is for. This purpose in most cases can be better served by having a database of endpoints. You need to record what the two ends connect to. e.g. A cable connect switch 37, port 3 to server 19, NIC2. A simple database with just 3 fields is all that's required. Endpoint, endpoint2 and a notes field. Initial setup in no more work than labeling. Use and maintenance are vastly easier. On the other hand, It's absolutely vital that the endpoints are clearly and unambiguously labeled but that should apply regardless.

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We use these at our locations.

http://www.nudata.com/cables/cablemanagement/unitags.htm

They are great, 1 tag will work with almost any cable type. They look great with printed labels, and they are easy to remove and rework with out having to mark out the old information.

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Combination of two answers here:

  • Label both ends of the cable with a unique identifier. Don't bother trying to label them according to what they are connected to or a room number or anything like that, as things change and then it makes no sense whatsoever. Just a unique ID works fine[1]

  • Stick the label perpendicular to the run of the cable, and to itself, like a bread-bag seal tag (at least they're like that in the UK). Print the number twice on the label with a bit of space in the middle and when you stick it around the cable and onto itself it will show up on both sides, so there's minimal need to move cables/labels around to read them.

Using the stick-to-itself method it doesn't seem to matter too much about what label printer you use, they just stay stuck there, although I suspect that paper labels won't work as well as the label printer rolls of plastic label.

[1] Isn't this just for tracing cables physically? If you're trying to track what is plugged into what then LLDP and network mapping tools are the way to go, not a huge table of IDs which is almost immediately wrong and requires manual updating...

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In the case of rack equipment in data centers, we put the target port and source port on every label - preferably in two lines. It's reversed on the opposite end of the cable. For example if I have a server CALPROD1 and I'm plugging into the iLo and on the other end I'm coming from switch CALSW035, blade 3, port 2, the labels would look like this...

SERVER SIDE:

CALPROD1 /ilo

CALSW035 /3.2

SWITCH SIDE:

CALSW35 /3.2

CALPROD1 /ilo

There are several benefits to this. Firstly, if service has to be performed and the cables need to be removed (like a chassis has to be pulled to replace a board or add memory, etc.) the engineer knows exactly where the cable came from and where to plug it back in. From a tracing perspective, you know exactly where the this cable is going on the other end - patch panel, switch, another server, etc. Sometimes we even put the cabinet info. Example: [A42] CALPROD1 / ilo

I merge all my labels from spreadsheet using the USB to a brother p-touch. Their extra sticky labels are great in high-heat situations (like the back of servers) and their flexible ID tape is great for creating flags by wrapping cables. If you use the "regular" labels in high heat, the lamination comes undone because it wants to return to flat while the white backer remains wrapped.

When you have 40+ flags to put on, (often after you've already cabled stuff up), it's a real pain to get two sticky things to line up perfectly straight and without any creases or wrinkles. The flags hardly ever come out like they look in the pictures. IF ANY OF YOU HAVE A TRICK TO DOING FLAGS, PLEASE ADVISE!!!

I'd love to label parallel to the cable and then put a clear shrink sleeve over it but we cannot use anything like a heat gun or torch in a production data center. Plus cables need to be unplugged in order to thread the sleeve. Often times we're under a time crunch so cable dressing and labeling come after the system's spinning.

Panduit flags are awesome to stick labels on (even the basic labels). have to zip tie them but it's quick and easy to do even on active connections. Cables are no longer "snag less" and Panduit tags cost more that the CAT5e cables themselves! WTF? Can't these be made overseas for practically free?

Hope this is helpful.

Great discussion! Thanks!

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We use PatchSee cables all the way. No labeling required anymore. 16 colors available so it's easy to tell each cables function.

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How expensive are those? I don't see pricing on their site. Be sure to pack some extra batteries for the next outage. You wouldn't want the trace probe to be offline. –  jscott Oct 14 at 20:04

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