What is Structured Cabling? (and Why You Should Care)
In the cable world the term structured cabling gets thrown around often. People say it like a buzzword, but what does it really mean? What exactly is structured cabling?
Well, to be thorough and methodical let’s look at some definitions.
According to the Fiber Optic Association
“Structured Cabling is the standardized architecture and components for communications cabling specified by the EIA/TIA TR42 committee and used as a voluntary standard by manufacturers to insure interoperability.”
If you look into TIA TR42, it’s likely your search will bring you to discovering that structured cabling is even more technically defined and outlined by TIA 568.
You can see that this path leads to lots of lengthy and highly technical language. If that is not what you are looking for, that leads logically to a simple question.
What Is Structured Cabling (in Plain Language)?
Structured Cabling… is defined as building or campus telecommunications cabling infrastructure that consists of a number of standardized smaller elements (structured).
A properly designed and installed structured cabling system provides a cabling infrastructure that delivers predictable performance as well as has the flexibility to accommodate moves, adds and changes; maximizes system availability, provides redundancy; and future proofs the usability of the cabling system.
– as defined in cabling glossary
From this definition you get a good sense of what structured cabling is and its purpose.
What Does Structured Cabling Look Like?
To answer that I would use the word “organization”; structured cabling is an organized approach to a cabling infrastructure. To fully understand this concept, it is easiest to look at what structured cabling isn’t. In many data centers the cabling methodology used is defined as “point to point”. This is running patch cables (or “jumpers”) directly to and from the hardware that needs connectivity.
With that defined, I will go back to structured cabling again. In a structured cabling system, a series of patch panels and trunks are used to create a structure that allows for hardware ports to be connected to a patch panel at the top of the rack. That patch panel is then connected to another patch panel via a trunk (multi-fiber assembly designed for use in conveyance) in the MDA (Main Distribution Area).
The MDA is the key aspect of structured cabling. This is where all the MAC’s (Moves, Adds, and Changes) can be made with short length patch cords.
See below for some helpful diagrams.
Structured Cabling vs Conventional Point-to-Point Cabling
Structured Cabling Solution
What Are the Benefits of Structured Cabling?
Once again, organization is the key word here. With an organized structured cabling system the benefits are:
- MAC’s are much quicker due to the fact that they are done in the MDA versus running long patch cords from equipment racks.
- Potential for downtime is reduced as potential for human error is drastically reduced due to this organization.
- Time savings; cable and port tracing becomes a much easier job with a structured cabling system.
- Aesthetics; Never underestimate the looks! A structured cabling system will look much cleaner than a point to point method. Since the changes are done in the MDA versus at the hardware, the hardware can be cabled up and not touched in most instances. This allows the cabling in front of the switch to remain aesthetically pleasing.
What Are the Risks Of Not Switching to a Structured Cabling System? DOWNTIME!
With an unorganized messy cabling infrastructure, mistakes are commonly made. Incorrect ports are unplugged. Even worse is the messy cabling that gets in the way. Trying to remove a single cable from a large tangled mess can cause stress on the other cables. This stress can lead to network and channel errors in the hardware that are very difficult to trace.
Airflow: If a point to point method is used, the front and potentially the sides of the switch are congested with cabling bulk. This impedes the airflow that the switch needs to operate. This also translates to underfloor cooling; cabling congestion in this space hinders the airflow of the CRAC unit and can cause cooling issues.