Managing more connections

08 October 2021

Joost Grillaert, product manager, Nexans Telecom & Data Systems

Joost Grillaert, product manager, Nexans Telecom & Data Systems

Bandwidth demand continues to grow which in turn leads to a vast increase in the number of connections. The question is how to manage this, given the fact that space in a data centre is limited and expensive. Simply stuffing all your racks with ultra-high density connections isn’t recommended. So how then?

The drivers for this increase in bandwidth demand are tied to the rollout of 5G, IoT, the cloud, network convergence and more. For data centre operators, one of today’s main challenges is to significantly increase the number of connections without using more space for rack units and cabling. After all, space for cabling and hardware in data centres is finite and generally limited. Partly because the space itself is expensive, but also because a great deal of available real estate is taken up by cooling and other facility equipment.

Higher density racks and patch panels make it possible to add significantly more connections in the same space. However, simply introducing the highest possible density throughout the data centre isn’t the answer – partly for cost reasons but also from an access management point of view.

The most efficient approach is to install ultra-high density solutions where space is most restricted, and large volume connections are absolutely necessary. However in many areas in the data centre, where space is less of an issue, cost-effective lower density solutions are perfectly adequate. This approach can cover both fibre and copper requirements.

There are two main factors that determine density requirements: the size of the facility and the specific area in the data centre that needs to be connected. In a medium-sized data centre, for example, ultra-high density isn’t always necessary. In large data centres, the number of connections required is significantly larger, and it might seem logical that there would be more space to accommodate these. However, the space in a large data centre is used up by servers and the amount of room available for patching isn’t necessarily larger than in a mid-sized data centre.

In central patching zones, where hundreds of connections come together, and rack space is at a premium, with panels stacked on top of each other, it is definitely worth introducing ultra-high density patch panels. It is, however, essential to make sure that the choice of panel, cables and connectors allows easy (rear) access and moves, adds and changes can be easily and quickly carried out.

In server racks, however, fewer connections are required, and high density doesn’t really bring any significant benefits. There’s usually just one single panel at the top of the rack. Here, standard solutions offer more than enough connection capacity, although you need to ensure there’s always some extra capacity for future expansions. Even if you only need 24 ports, we recommend putting in 48. Make sure you can reach the patch cords and cables from above or below.

Previously, there would always be a trade-off between introducing high densities and making operational aspects and procedures more difficult, but today’s solutions balance these aspects better. For instance, for ultra-high density fibre patch panels the introduction of sliding trays greatly improve the accessibility to the patch cords and make it easier to patch in such dense zones. In addition, new generations of copper and fibre cords come with a significantly smaller diameter. They provide greater flexibility, support higher density, save space, introduce better airflow and less congestion, don’t cause issues with sharp bends and ensure a nice and tidy look and feel.

It’s important to realise that the number of connections required today in a given area of the data centre should remain similar for the next five to ten years. Although data requirements will continue to increase, this will be offset by higher bandwidth. Therefore, introducing very high density connectivity for future expansions in areas where you do not need those connections today might not be the right choice. You could be spending a great amount of money with a very uncertain future benefit.

When specifying a solution, the key questions are: can I get the right density at every location in my data centre? Can I support the needs for the core and access networks? Is patching still convenient?
If in doubt, consult an expert!