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R&M: How high density affects racks

Image: Adobe Stock / Connect world


Andreas Rüsseler, CMO at R&M, discusses implementing high-density into your infrastructure, the benefits and why it doesn’t have to be a headache.

As a result of consolidation, automation, and efficiency enhancements, data centres need to focus on higher performance network architectures and infrastructure consolidation.

Infrastructure needs to be more reliable, flexible, scalable, energy-efficient and powerful. What’s more, the rapid growth in the volume of data being stored and managed in data centres means the largest possible port density needs to be realised in the smallest possible space. 

High-density solutions play a key role in achieving this. Consolidating POP servers in a single rack unit leaves more space for switches and routers. Software Defined Network (SDN) architectures can be planned more sensibly, and high density makes it possible to free up space for additional racks and switches.

You could start off with, for instance, a single rack unit and grow as required, for example all the way up to a 45U rack. Current high-density fibre solutions for data centres generally offer up to 72 LC duplex ports per rack unit. A preconfigured cabinet with connectivity built into the cabinet’s structure, can offer 188 10gb or 96 40gb connections and MPO connectivity without taking up valuable rack space; and importantly, all internal cabling is configured in the factory.


Challenges for racks

In racks, HD connectivity can introduce all kinds of challenges. When developing a high-density solution, a variety of factors need to be taken into account. Obviously, a 19-inch rack space has an inherent size limitation, so familiar products need to be examined in order to ‘shrink’ them and, in that way, obtain more connections.

One approach is by removing the conventional retainer from LC Duplex patch cords. Manufacturers need to overcome the limitations of traditional latching mechanisms on copper and fibre connectors with patch cords designed specifically for high-density environments.

High-density patch panels and patch cables can save rack space and improve airflow, supporting consistent operating temperatures and reducing downtime risk. However, increased density also means racks can be become significantly heavier. It is important to realise that HD racks and patch cables can overload existing rack systems, placing considerable strain on rack equipment and cabling.

In many cases ‘standard’ racks and enclosures won’t be able to support the increased bulk. HD sub-racks and patch panels that are fully populated with cable systems and patch cords may well bend ‘regular’ racks out of shape, and place potentially damaging strain on 19-inch equipment and cabling. It is worth investing in 19-inch racks that are specified for the increased weight of higher density solutions. Of course, it also makes sense to check whether the supporting floor can cope before HD-ready racks and cabinets are installed.

Keeping cool

When dealing with high density of more than 100 ports per rack unit, it’s essential to keep temperatures down. A clutter-free in-rack environment with high-density cabling helps avoid this. Using small diameter patch cords also helps. When these are bundled together carefully, the volume of cable inside the cabinet is reduced, optimising heat removal and reducing the amount of energy required for cooling.

Good cable management also contributes to alleviating temperature buildup, as does ensuring there are no obstructions near air vents in racks and equipment. For longer cabling links, larger conductor cross-sections and/or shielded cables should be used, as these are more resistant to temperature increases. Using modules and plugs with insulation displacement technology is also advisable. This creates stable connections between cables and connecting contacts that are similar to soldering joints.

Virtualisation is making it possible to converge disparate locations into one big data centre, with all functions running smoothly for individual users, regardless of where hardware is located. In theory, the location of servers isn’t always relevant, providing there’s enough bandwidth and low latency. This enables another promising approach: ensuring heat doesn’t simply dissipate, but is put to good use. By moving server racks further apart and placing them in different buildings, heat can be applied usefully. Racks can be used to warm workplaces, public structures and homes.

Monitoring and management

Today’s ‘standard’ high-density fibre solutions for data centres offer up to 72 LC duplex ports per rack unit, but this can be very difficult to manage. Increased density can result in unmanageable cabling, severely hindering fault finding, cable tracking and moves, adds and changes.

It’s worth researching solutions designed with the next generation of high-density in mind. This should include dedicated racks, patch panels and connectors, as well as an integrated hardware and software system that automatically detects when cords are inserted or removed. The entire infrastructure should be represented in a consistent, up to date database, offering precise, real-time information on the current state.

Introducing high-density racks offers an opportunity to diminish footprint. Freed up space can be used to accommodate new equipment or future expansion. Although high-density infrastructure implementation is often seen as an enormous challenge, with the correct planning and tools it really doesn’t need to be.

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