4 Steps for Fixing a Neglected Server Room

It’s time to head down to the server room for a routine cable patching job for a network point, but there’s just one problem: the cabling is a tangled and unlabeled mess. Does its cleanliness really affect its functionality? Technically, no it doesn’t.

In the IT Expertise: Installing Network Cabling and Devices Nugget “Rack and Stack”, CBT Nuggets trainer Jeremy Cioara says he’s “been in hundreds of server rooms and they are a physical representation of all the configuration and documentation that goes into making a network run well.” We also understand that a network can be perfectly configured despite your server room being a mess.

There are few things as nerve-racking as having to manually trace a network cable through a knotted nightmare of tangled cables in a live environment. One false move could bring down a critical server or core switch, which would instantly make you the most unpopular person in the building.

Had there been a cable management system in place, things could have gone a whole lot faster and a lot less stressful. But fear not! It is never too late to whip your networking infrastructure into shape. We’ll take a look at some cable management process basics and how they can help you in the day-to -day management of your network.

Plan Ahead as Best You Can

If you oversee a brand new installation, then you’re in great shape. Jeremy actually runs through this scenario in his IT Expertise: Installing Network Cabling and Devices course. You have a golden opportunity to start from scratch with a new site plan and network layout diagrams. Your server and storage arrays can be placed exactly as you would like them, and you have the final say. Awesome.

But for everyone else, there is a great big clean up in the cards, and during this time there’s a whole lot of retroactive labeling, cable re-routing and tracing, untangling of cables, and hard work in general. Unfortunately, that’s more the reality. Jeremy’s new IT Expertise course, Building and Configuring a Business Switch Network, confronts the realities IT professionals face in the unkempt server rooms across the planet.

The biggest thing to know when planning: All of your efforts will need to be documented in exactly the same manner as a new installation would be, and this means sitting down and figuring out how you’re going to label each segment of your network.

Believe it or not, the easy part is the cleanup or the new installation of your IT infrastructure. Tight deadlines and pressure from management are great motivators for getting the job done on time, so the incentives are clearly defined for you to complete the job sooner rather than later. The real work begins with the day-to-day management of your server or network room and the processes that go with it.

Cabling Standards Are There For a Reason

Now that you’ve got a basic idea of how your cable labeling process and naming conventions are going to work, it’s a great idea to color code your cable runs.

This isn’t always possible, especially if you are just cleaning up and not running new cables yourself, but you can still color code your patch cables that run from your patch panels to your network switches. This is incredibly useful because it allows you to see exactly what is going on at a glance if you need to start troubleshooting.

Cable tension is another factor to consider, so make sure that all of your cable lengths are correct and that there are no tight cables pulling on their connector sockets. An intermittent connection is often harder to diagnose than a failed one, so make sure that you have enough slack and that you’re not pulling on your connectors.

Power cables for your equipment need to be run separately inside your network cabinet and server enclosures so that they are out of the way. This helps ensure that they cannot be unplugged accidentally. Fastening power cables with extra strapping is a good idea as well. Power plugs must also be labeled, both at the power socket and at the equipment end, so that if any equipment ever needs to be unplugged, then you know exactly what you are bringing down.

If you’re unsure where to start, you might want to revisit the asset management portions of Network+ or CCNA. While Jeremy’s new course follows him into the server room, the basic training will help you remember fundamental best practices.

Configure By the Book

Once you have everything labeled and setup to match your network plan, it’s time to establish a few basic procedures and processes. Think about who is authorized to work in your server room and networking locations, and then create an access register.The access register ensures that anyone working on your equipment keeps to the set standard. As an added bonus, you know who to go talk about to if any deviations come to light.

Keep network diagrams and documentation down there too. When there is an emergency, it’s always great to have all of your documentation close at hand such as network diagrams and site layouts.

The next step is to make sure that everyone follows the labeling convention that you have set in place, and make sure that all patch panels (and future patch panels) follow the same numbering schemes. This continuity of process makes your networking equipment and cabling infrastructure a pleasure to work on as you move forward.

Play by Your Own Rules

It’s tempting to bypass your own rules when there is an emergency on your network. This could be anything from running a temporary fly lead from one cabinet to another when a bad cable is causing issues, to using the wrong color for a patch cable when adding a new device to your network. As we all know, a quick fix has a way of becoming a permanent one if it is not actively monitored and managed through some kind of cable management process.

Lastly, make sure that you follow a weekly and monthly checklist and always follow up after any work is done with your cabling. It may seem like a bit of extra work in the short term, but the time that you will save in the future by following some of these suggestions and creating your own cable management process will be well worth the effort.

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