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Cable management: the unsung hero

Underspecifying cable management could be an expensive mistake resulting in costly downtime. It’s time to take this neglected area of data centre construction seriously, writes Ben Roberts, Sales Director for RMS Cables.

Effective cable management is more important than ever within data centres, where an increasing need for high density installations means there is an abundance of optical fibre, copper and power cables installed. These cables are vital, carrying both the power and the data lifeblood for your data centre.

The consequences of a poorly designed and installed system using cheap materials that do not adequately protect this cabling could be catastrophic. Yet too often this side of the installation is neglected.

Unfortunately, accidents happen and you need to make sure that it does not result in downtime. What would happen, for example, if a cherry picker inadvertently drove into a poorly positioned cable tray, or cheap plastic pipe carrying the cable? Or perhaps maintenance contractors, not understanding the critical nature of cable trunking, use it as a step up to reach overhead?

A lack of skilled M&E contractors makes an installation even more of a problem. A study from Turner and Turner showed that 92% of respondents state that they are struggling to meet construction demand due to a shortage of experienced site teams. This skills shortage is particularly noticeable for mechanical and electrical (M&E) fitters.

And this is coming at a time when there is a huge demand for new installations, with research from Mordor Intelligence suggesting that by 2026 the sector will be worth more than $105 billion a year.

Prefabricated options

These on-site construction challenges can impact the quality of an installation. 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 delivered to a building site as complete components.

• Modularity is a 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. 

Good design

Good cable management starts with the design, but here it pays to consider the realities of the site. A good off-site manufacturer will visit your site, because even if you think you know what you want with a standardised installation, in truth no two installations are the same. There will be a drain cover or other services in different places, or different thickness of walls, floors and ceilings in each building. 

Where will the cable and fibre optics feed into the building and will you need an adapter to feed it from the HDPE pipe into your EMT tubing on-site? How much cable will you need and will you need space to blow fibre optic cables through the pipe?

Once you consider these issues and numerous others, such as delivery schedules to ensure that the system is not stored outside, you can either start or adapt your existing design.

Going the prefabricated modular route with prefabricated units can save huge amounts of installation time. It also ensures that the installation undergoes factory-controlled quality checking. And most importantly it means that you know what you are getting – there are no shortcuts or breaking the specification.

Time for EMT

We need to remember that cable management systems also play a vital role in protecting data. It needs to prevent accidental and malicious damage to any cabling from the point of entry.

Too many installations aim to cut costs, forgetting that the cost of downtime in the future is far more than the cost of saving a few thousand pounds now. Make sure that you don’t get caught out by this false economy and check the specification with care. 

There is a reason why the biggest data centres in the world use electrical metallic tubing (EMT). While you can of course use a thinner steel or plastic product, you will not get the same cable protection. If someone drove into EMT tubing, for example, they would damage their vehicle, not the cable.

Careful design also plays a role and knowing where to position your system out of harm’s way will be important. Companies with experience in modular and prefabricated manufacture, modern methods of construction (MMC), and design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA) 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 shareable information. 3D computer aided design software can create modular cable management solutions. Taking building information modelling and/or Revit files, extracting the M&E layers and working with contractors can help develop the best solutions for your cable management needs.

Labelling, identification and floor plan schematics are all part of one complete cable management system. You need diligence throughout all project stages, from planning to handover, to ensure a specification compliant installation. This will involve input from installation teams, project engineers, project managers and you as the end-user.

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 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.

Getting the best

Good cable management makes a huge difference to the long-term management and operating costs of a data centre. Modular and prefabricated systems ensure that you are getting a system that has factory-controlled quality checks, is fit for purpose and designed for your needs. Do not cut corners with your specification, it will cost you more in the long run.

Picture of Ben Roberts
Ben Roberts
Sales Director for RMS Cables

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