Written by Nate Josephs
Sr. Systems Engineer/Data Center Manager
Standardized cable labeling is a key component of data center best practices. Consistent cable labeling provides data center staff “at a glance” the location of cable termination points. A clear understanding of cable connections is important when planning any moves, additions, or changes in the data center and significantly increases mean time to repair (MTTR) when troubleshooting connectivity issues.
A variety of cable labeling standards exist within the IT industry. One popular standard is to include both the source and destination device names on the label. The problem with this standard is device names can be lengthy and at times difficult to fit on a small cable label. Also, there may be more than one name for an IT device which can cause confusion for someone if an unfamiliar name is on the label. Device names can also change while the cable connections remain the same. This results in an outdated label.
Another popular cable labeling standard uses a numeric code. For example, a cable labeled with a unique number such as “00123” is recorded in a database or spreadsheet along with its location, cable type, and connection details. The advantage of this standard is the amount of text printed on the label is minimal. However, this two-step process wastes technician’s valuable time having to first read the cable’s numeric code and then look up the number in a spreadsheet. Furthermore, these spreadsheets or databases are prone to becoming outdated and unreliable.
A practical cable labeling standard exists that is both concise yet provides data center staff a quick and easy way to confirm a cable’s location at both ends without using a spreadsheet. This standard includes rack grid location or rack label, U location within the rack, and port number for both the “source” (the cable end near you) and also for the “destination” (the far end of the cable). Symbols such as a colon separate the grid, U, and port locations, and a forward slash followed by a second row of text separates the cable’s source location from its destination (far end) location. This labeling method avoids using IT device names as that information can be found when a person is physically at the cable’s end location.
Here’s an example of how using a rack, U, and port label standard would appear on both ends of a cable:
Standardized labeling of cables is a key aspect of data center best practices. In order for a labeling standard to be useful, it needs to be concise while providing the necessary information to quickly locate both ends of the cable when planning for future changes, or when diagnosing connectivity issues. Excluding device names and avoiding cumbersome spreadsheets, while instead including rack, U, and port location on labels is a practical cable labeling standard for data center staff to adopt.