Effective cable management is more important than ever within data centres, where an increasing need for high density installations means that there is an abundance of optical fibre, copper and power cables installed within walls, under the floor, suspended from the ceiling or in overhead containment.
Once a cabling system has been installed, the cable management isn’t particularly prominent – it doesn’t have any attention grabbing elements such as flashing lights – but it really shouldn’t be neglected. Put simply, the post installation consequences of unravelling the problems caused by poor cable management can be significant.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, for the data centre sector, it is the best of times and the worst of times. The demand for data centre capacity has never been higher and shows no signs of lessening in the foreseeable future, with research from Mordor Intelligence suggesting that by 2026, the sector is expected to be worth more than $105 billion a year.
However, given that costs are rising across every other aspect of life, it should come as no surprise that data centre construction is facing record breaking inflation. According to research from Turner & Townsend, the average cost to build data centres has increased by 15% across global markets during 2022. Supply chain issues, material shortages and costs, and a lack of skilled labour are all having a massive effect on the ability to construct these facilities.
Knowledge is power
In the Turner & Townsend study, 92% of respondents reported that they are struggling to meet construction demand due to a shortage of experienced site teams. The skills shortage is particularly noticeable when trying to find mechanical and electrical (M&E) fitters. Being able to reduce the reliance on these skilled contractors is proving to be key in reducing delays and making sure that projects are completed on schedule.
On-site construction challenges can impact the quality of an installation due to labour, materials and environmental factors. Therefore, as with most other aspects of data centre construction, increasing attention is being given to modular and prefabricated cable management. As well as leading to faster and more accurate construction, it is helping to improve standards across the industry. Although they are often used interchangeably, it’s important to differentiate the two terms:
Prefabrication refers to any construction process that does not take place on-site. It is an umbrella term used to describe construction in a climate-controlled factory environment. Prefabricated building materials can be easily shipped or assembled and may be delivered to a building site as complete components.
Modularity is type of prefabrication and specifically consists of the building of repeated sections, called modules, being built in a factory and then assembled on-site. Modules are essentially separate structural units which, post assembly, make up the entire structure.
Time and money
Modular designs can save huge amounts of installation time, specialist labour, waste and cost – helping a project meet quality, schedule and capital expenditure targets. Likewise, prefabrication is a big part of how data centres can be built in a far smarter, better way. A prefabricated cable management system that is produced and tested in a factory by skilled engineers ensures the highest standards of quality.
Modules should arrive on a just-in-time basis, ready for integration with a minimum requirement for on-site engineering services. They can be configured by those with little to no experience, with components that are simple for M&E contractors to install on-site.
Modular and prefabricated solutions also offer contractors improved confidence in budgeting and accurately achieving agreed product costs and labour rates. There are fewer nasty surprises, as most jobs are delivered to an agreed quote, while faster installation increases the on-site productivity time contractors can achieve, due to avoiding the transfer times, security and environmental challenges that can reduce the number of useful hours they can work.
Joined up thinking
Every data centre presents unique challenges in terms of navigating cables into and around a building. Many factors need to be considered during the planning phase of the installation to ensure cables are mapped, routed and organised in the most effective way. If insufficient consideration is given to cable management as part of the planning process, problems can occur post-installation.
Investment in robust cable management solutions during the planning and implementation stage of an installation can therefore help to ensure that a system is easy to both maintain and develop moving forwards.
It’s for this reason that working very closely with M&E contractors from both a digital and an on-site perspective is so important. Clear communication and collaboration, information sharing, dialogue, regular meetings, and shared responsibility with a project’s M&E contractor enables manufacturers like RMS Cable Management to create practical and cost effective solutions.
Companies with experience in modular and prefabricated manufacture, modern methods of construction (MMC) and design for manufacturing (DFM) can help ease the pressures and challenges faced by main contractors and enables all parties to value each other’s position in the supply chain. Most modern construction projects now require digital models to provide open and sharable information. 3D computer aided design (CAD) software can be used to create modular cable management solutions. Taking building information modelling (BIM) and/or Revit files, extracting the M&E layers and working with contractors can help develop the best solutions for their cable management needs.
Safe and secure
Labelling, identification and floorplan schematics are all part of one complete cable management system. Diligence is required throughout all project stages, from planning to handover, to ensure a specification-compliant installation. Often this will involve input from installation teams, project engineers, project managers and, sometimes, end-users.
The proliferation of data centres and, in particular, colocation facilities, is driving the need for easy and foolproof identification of cable containment hardware for individual clients. Colour coding cable trunking, tray, ladder, basket and electrical metallic tubing (EMT) based containment is a tried and tested method of facilitating this.
In addition, when it comes to EMT, not only is experience with cutting, joining and bending pipes necessary, there is an additional catalogue of essential components required to cater for the navigation of fibre optic cables. Working with a manufacturer that has a comprehensive set of simple, adaptable products to complement standard EMT pipes is therefore advisable.
Cable management systems also play a role in protecting data. A system needs to prevent accidental and malicious damage from point of entry to point of use, and modern EMT systems provide this through secure, robust, thick-walled steel pipes, coupled with tamperproof transit box units to load, pull, inspect and maintain cables. They allow end-to-end navigation through walls, ceilings, floors, both externally and internally, and can be manufactured from steel, using tamper-proof screws to secure access hatches.
Green for go
Regulations applying to noise, smoke and fumes, hot-works and everyday working conditions all contribute to the challenges faced on-site. Likewise, every organisation is being challenged to be more sustainable. On-site production methods often create excess materials, as well as waste from installation processes.
Modular and prefabricated cable management solutions can reduce a carbon footprint, as the delivered product contains less packaging than separate components and they also minimise material waste by up to 20% versus on-site production. Leading cable management companies that take sustainability seriously will also have defined recycling policies to ensure that all waste packaging and other materials are segregated and recycled appropriately. This all adds up to offer greater carbon certainty for construction projects and manufacturers should be able to provide embodied carbon calculations for prefabricated modules.
Making a difference
Good cable management can make a massive difference to the efficacy and long-term management of a data centre and should never be underestimated. When considered against typical installation and implementation project costs, reduced waste and packaging, savings on on-site contractors and the benefits of guaranteed quality, it’s no wonder modular and prefabricated cable management are here to stay.