Cable management is rarely at the top of the "to do" list for the average network manager. After all, if it all works, who cares whether it looks like a plate of spaghetti, right?
Wrong. While it's true that you can live without cable management when everything's humming along just peachy, you soon regret your lack of organisation when you start to change things – or, more significantly, when something goes wrong and you need to start tracing things. Here, then, are ten tips that will make your wiring closet a nicer place to be.
Colour code your cables. Whether you make your own patch cords or buy them pre-made from a dealer, they're available in a number of colours. You often find installations where you're using the same UTP flood-wiring for different types of service – ISDN, telephones and Ethernet, for instance, so use a different colour for each. And if you have cross-over Ethernet cables, use another different colour. If you use, say, blue for LAN patches, red for telephones, grey for ISDN and a tasteful pastel orange for Ethernet cross-overs, you'll find that you no longer pull out someone's phone by mistake because you yanked at the wrong cable.
If you need a foot-long patch cord, use a foot-long patch cord and not a six-foot one. That said, the opposite applies – you should try to have cables going up and down only at the sides of the rack instead of having loads of direct point-to-point wires, so don't string a direct connection just because you had a dinky cable in your hand and couldn't be bothered to go and get a longer one.
Even if you do run your cables tidily up the edges of the racks, you'll sometimes have to pull wires out from a bunch. They cost a bit extra, but always buy "snagless" connectors – the ones where you can pull the cable out of the pile without ripping off the little plastic tab that holds it in the port when it's plugged in. You'll thank yourself in the long run.
This sounds dumb, but always label your ports – all of them. There's nothing more irritating than to find a patch plate with 24 sockets where only the ones at each end are labelled, because you spend hours of your life counting ports and re-plugging because you stuffed it in the wrong hole.
You should also label all of your switches, routers, modems, servers, desktops and so on, so that you know what you're plugging things into. Again, this sounds dumb – particularly if you have only one or two servers – but when everything's gone pear-shaped and you're in a flap, it prevents you from making the dumb mistake of unplugging the wrong server from the LAN.
Where you're running long cables, label them at frequent intervals so that you can quickly identify them – particularly if you're running dark fibre or copper wires that aren't going to be used immediately. One day you may have to replace your patch fascias and you'll thank yourself if the ends of all those similar cables are nicely labelled.
Write down your cable layout. Sod's law states that something will break when you're away, and if you can tell someone over the phone that you need to move the green cable from port 24 to port 95, you'll save yourself from getting dragged into the office to perform the most trivial of support tasks.
Asset tracking software
If you have a large network, consider buying specialist software that keeps track of your IT assets, including the cabling infrastructure. Particularly for larger installations, the ability to look back through a change history and perhaps spot trends or clusters of incidents can be useful.
Buy a cable tester and every time you install, or move, a cable, run a quick test on it. Patch cords in particular get trapped in desk drawers, run over with roller chairs or yanked overly hard, and a simple five-second test each time you make a change may help you spot a slightly dodgy wire and prevent impending disaster.
If there's more than one of you looking after the network, everyone must work within the confines of your cable management policy. Just one non-conforming, random, undocumented patcher renders the whole lot pointless. So if your staff don't follow the rules, they deserve a good kicking; a sympathetic jury would, we're sure, look kindly on you at the resulting GBH trial.