Cable Management 101: Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Organizing IT Cables

An efficient, well-designed IT system should work in a similar way to the body of a living organism. Each part has a role to play and, in order for all of the parts to operate in sync, they have to communicate effectively. In IT, that’s where cables and wires come in—you could say they’re the nerves or veins of your system.

Careless and inconsistent cable management can tangle your organization’s informational nervous system and introduce all kinds of issues. From data interference to tripping over loose cables, you’re asking for one headache after another—and the longer it goes on without a solution, the worse the problems can get. Whether you’re setting up a new server room or trying to untangle a spaghetti bowl of cables, here are seven key mistakes to avoid.

#1. Designing a space without cabling in mind

To keep cables organized, it’s vital that you have room to run them in the first place. This is often a problem with makeshift spaces that weren’t designed to accommodate the equipment they hold. If your servers are jammed into a hall closet that’s barely big enough, you’re risking not only tangled cables but heat-dispersion and ventilation issues as well. When you’re choosing and designing your IT spaces, try to follow server room design best practices as much as possible.

#2. Not leaving room to expand

This issue often goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. It’s important to see the physical spaces for IT equipment as investments that will need to grow as your organization does.

Cable raceways are a great example of this. When choosing raceway conduits and having them laid in your facility, always try to leave plenty of room in case you need to expand your setup further. That often means choosing a larger size of raceway than you currently need, and designing your layout with room to grow and branch out. Talk to your electrician about the best way to create a roomy and flexible configuration.

#3. Running cables straight up or down, rather than to the side

It might seem like it makes sense to run a cable directly down or up from the hardware to the cable’s destination. To keep your cables properly organized, however, it’s actually better to run them to the side of the rack first, then up, down, or to another piece of hardware.

Here’s why: Running cables to the side allows them to be more easily bundled with other cables going to the same place and also keeps them out of the way for anyone working on the hardware in the racks. Those are two major keys to effective cable management, and running cables to the side accomplishes both.

#4. Letting cables hang loose

On a similar note, it’s vitally important to keep your cables secured as much as possible. If you’ve walked through a “Spaghetti Junction” server room, you know the risks it presents. It’s easy for employees to accidentally disconnect cables or damage equipment, and it is difficult to work on hardware and troubleshoot problems.

Reusable ties like the VELCRO® Brand ONE-WRAP® fasteners are excellent for keeping cables securely fastened to your racks. They’re strong and sturdy enough to keep your cables in place, but gentle enough to cinch without pinching. On top of that, they come in a variety of colorful hues that you can put to good use in your color-coding scheme. You are using a color-coding scheme, right?

#5. Using color schemes and labeling inconsistently or not at all

Ever seen an action movie where the hero sweats as they try to guess which wire to cut to defuse the villain’s device? If more movie villains used proper color coding and labeling techniques, they wouldn’t have that problem.

All kidding aside, those scenes are grounded in the genuinely nerve-wracking experience of having no idea what a given cable does or where it goes. There’s no single right way to do cable color coding and labeling, although there’s plenty of cable color coding ideas from seasoned IT professionals. The one common factor? Making your scheme consistent within your organization. Labeling is equally important, and there’s one area where all IT professionals agree: You should label just about everything in your IT infrastructure. Cable terminations (on both ends), data ports, power supplies, and more—all should be labeled using a clear and consistent system.

#6. Using overlong patch cables

As previously mentioned, it’s important to keep your rack equipment cables running in an orderly fashion that makes it easy to add more. That can mean leaving a little bit of extra length in a cable to give it the necessary slack and flexibility.

That doesn’t mean abandoning moderation and common sense with your cable lengths. Patch cables are one particular area where you might be tempted to cut corners by using, say, a three-foot cable where a one-foot will do. However, this is the kind of decision that quickly piles up into an unmanageable cord jungle. Leave some play in your cables, but use your best judgment and plan for the future.

#7. Neglecting end-user equipment

It’s certainly important to have your AV closets and server rooms properly organized. However, according to one study, the average employee now uses three or more devices a day for work-related activities. That means cabling nightmares can sneak out of server rooms and right up to employees’ desks!

To combat these issues, consider using an all-in-one solution like the WireMate workstation cable manager. It’s a durable polystyrene enclosure that helps organize and protect cables and wires at the workstation level. For true cable management optimization, it’s essential to target clutter and disorganization at every level.

These are just a few of the most important considerations when you’re deciding on a cable management strategy for your IT hardware. While there are certainly many others, most can be summed up with one principle: Don’t make your job (or someone else’s) harder later. It’ll pay big dividends if you commit to doing things the right way, right now.

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