Electronic Design

Unique Cabinet Solutions Fortify Small To Medium-Size Data Centers

The control of data communications for smaller entities and businesses continues to shift further away from external management to internal efforts. From hospitals and medical centers to schools and universities, from hotels and restaurants to banks and credit unions, and from law enforcement agencies to local municipalities, the movement toward in-house control of data flow is on the rise.

There are several reasons for this shift, most of which tie back to a more efficient operation. Data usage is higher than ever, with no reduction in sight. With data usage continuously on the rise, the expenses for external operation increase proportionately. The buildout and integration of an in-house data center becomes cost-efficient to many smaller and mid-sized businesses as data usage increases and external costs mount.

Security is also a concern. The establishment of an in-house data center may not guarantee protection, but the internal control aspect adds protective layers from theft, as well as system crashes and power failures. It may also prove more attractive to customers in the business world, knowing that their records remain under lock and key in the same facility with no outsourced control.

Large data centers such as those for big businesses, Internet service providers, and data storage companies tend to be large, technical-core spaces with potentially hundreds of cabinets arranged in multiple rows. Smaller businesses and entities rarely have a similar space to establish a data center and likely no need for such real estate. The challenge for these businesses, and the integrators in charge of building out the centers, is to work within a tight space without shortchanging the data distribution and storage requirements.

Typically, these small to mid-sized entities build and house their data systems in an empty office space or closet set up to accommodate racks and cabinets, as well as the associated power and electrical infrastructure. Some facilities, including K-12 schools, universities, and hospitals, may employ both.

In these situations there may be several local-area network (LAN) closets, or independent distribution frames, feeding data over Ethernet backbone wiring to the central room or main distribution frame. This accommodates shorter cable runs of usually less than 300 ft.

The limited real estate of the closet/backroom application presents the data integrator with both numerous and varied challenges, from the initial wiring through cabinet integration. Flexible cabinet sizes for width and depth assist with space challenges, particularly in a single LAN closet application requiring only one or two cabinets. Beyond size, a number of design attributes of the cabinet itself will simplify the integration process and address important factors such as power, cooling, and cabling that are instrumental to the health of the data operation.

The standard rectangular cabinet with perforated sides isn’t always ideal when working within a limited space. Cable management can be especially tricky, particularly when wiring high-density server clusters. European data integrators are increasingly opting for alternative cabinet designs that ease cable management challenges in compact spaces.

Although data integrators are finding an increasing number of choices on the market that differ from the traditional cabinet design, perhaps the most popular alternative is the wishbone, or X design within the cabinet, a topology design engineers find optimal for server and cabling integration. The X Frame cabinet is one such new cabinet that incorporates this wishbone design (Fig. 1).

The X design of the bottom and top of the frame structure resembles two wishbones that meet and connect at the middle. This is a radically different design approach than the traditional rectangular frame of a server or cabling cabinet that employs a square top and bottom welded for four corner posts. The design brings a greater sense of freedom to integrators to work within the cabinet without limitations in both network cabling and serverheavy installations.

Network cabling is the lifeblood of communications within and outside the data center. Integrators feeding cable to the cabinet need plenty of space to operate and efficiently manage the runs, bundles, and connections. The challenge with running cable through traditional cabinets is maneuvering the cables through port holes and around the top and bottom of the frame. A cablingspecific cabinet design can make the job easier for the integrator, especially in a tight space.

The X design simplifies cable runs through the cabinet, presenting a less complicated environment for managing cables for multiple routers, switches, and patch panels (Fig. 2). The design allows the integrator to secure the cabinet into a specific space and bring the cabling into the cabinet from a ladder rack above or through flooring beneath the base by simply pushing the cable into the cabinet.

This eliminates the need to fish cabling through access holes and over the frame of the cabinet. Integrators can also step into the X cabinet due to its very open frame design, which improves access to difficult to reach points while dressing and labeling cables.

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Users also benefit from better tie-off points. A growing trend on the integration front is the implementation of a flat-cablemanagement panel featuring tie-off points with a Thook design, which looks like a mushroom head. These tiny slots serve integrators better than traditional lance or port holes.

Tie wraps easily loop over the Thook, allowing cables to hang in place. The tie wraps can be zipped down to secure the cables to the cable management panel for a professional look after the cables are dressed and neatly arranged. The point of this design is to enhance the organization of multiple cable bundles for a cleaner installation.

Plastic molds, also known as bins and bobbins, are the recommended method for diverting cables away from the equipment and into the peripheral area of the cabinet. This maintains the bend radii necessary to preserve the performance of high-speed, 10-Gbit cables, ensuring cable bends are not overly sharp or abrupt.

Cabinets designed specifically for network cabling applications typically include square holes to accommodate traditional cable-management rings that assist with bend radii. This ensures integrators have the right features to work with when managing cable in varied situations. It also promotes easy assignment of equipment locations from every cable coming out of the patch panel without compromising cable performance.

The coupling of 10-Gbit cabling and its associated bend radii means that the size of a cabling-specific cabinet is a considerable attribute. Cabinets dedicated to network cabling between routers, switches, and patch panels require substantial width and depth, up to 1000 mm each. While 600 mm and 800 mm are more common measurements in smaller data centers and LAN closets to optimize space, a wide selection of cabinet sizes allows integrators to best match the cabinet size for each cabling application.

Server applications typically have less cabling in the cabinet. Therefore, they require less width, the standard being 600 mm, especially in raised floor environments where a series of sub-floor grids is strategically spaced to avoid the obstruction of cables.

Servers continue to get deeper, denser, and hotter. A more open frame design allows for increased airflow through the cabinet with perforated doors serving as an entry point into an open area of more than 60%. Better cable-management features allow cabling to remain clear of the airflow path to improve cooling and equipment performance.

For example, power cables can be shortened and dressed out of the airflow path. Designers also can use full length, rotated vertical power strips within the cabinet. Less cable means a cleaner installation, less integration labor, better cooling, and, in turn, better equipment performance.

A longer life span for the equipment is a consideration, but uptime is more critical for most data networks. A cool system is a working system. Server installations in data centers will reveal and magnify any cabinet-related airflow deficiencies. Removing airflow obstructions and streamlining the cable management can also create large savings in energy associated with a more efficient air-conditioning system.

Power is a substantial consideration for any data center, particularly as servers evolve to accommodate heavier media applications from video distribution to storage. Numerous rack- and vertical-mount power strips are currently available to support heavier power consumption and protect data and other content with various designs to match the requirements of any sized data center.

Though there is no shortage of other power-strip designs on the market to manage power within the cabinet, one suggestion is the PowerOptions power strip for integration into any type of cabinet (Fig. 3). The vertical-mount versions with rotatable receptacles are ideal for users who need to manage power consumption and occasionally relocate strips within the cabinet (Fig. 4).

The driving force behind the X design and other emerging configurations is to provide a new style of cabinet that saves time for the integrator while also offering a maintenance-friendly design for swapping components, managing power and cabling in and out of the cabinet, and supplying consistent, reliable airflow. A well-maintained system will certainly help minimize any maintenance requirements long after the integrator has left the building.

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