The datacentre combover

You can laugh if you want to but Bobby Charlton's hairstyle exemplifies everything about good cable management. In fact, if a man turns up for an interview in your datacentre with a long hair on one side of his head, which is swept across a bald patch, I suggest you sign him up immediately. He will hold the secrets to lowering your power bills, shrinking your carbon footprint and managing your connections efficiently. Like the ex Man United and England striker, your datacentre will be a powerhouse that never goes down easily.

In datacentres, you can judge how good a company's IT management is by the 'hairstyle' of its kit. I am indebted to Dominic Monkhouse, the MD of Peer 1 hosting, for this insight. The hairstyle of the kit is the pattern of cables coming out the back of the rack. An untidy rack, in which cables tumble out of the sockets willy-nilly, and some are allowed to be far too long, causing them to bunch up and tangle, aren't just an eyesore; they are a sign of a network manager or datacentre boss who is not on top of his game.

If you visit a potential hosting partner, and you find what looks like a gonk hiding in a spaghetti tree growing in their hot aisle, this is a sign that the man in charge of your critical missions is a buffoon, according to Monkhouse. Unless the cables are all neatly labelled, and prettily bunched together with colour-coded ties, you're sleep-walking into the abyss. Your IT infrastructure, your company's life and indeed your entire future is in the hands of an incompetent.

Monkhouse says he gives a bollocking to any datacentre manager with untidy filaments. He sounds like an old fashioned Sergeant Major: “Am I hurting you, son? Well I should be: I'm standing on your hair!”

That may sound harsh, but it's fair. A messy panel indicates a slapdash management style which could lead to expensive mistakes, such as the wrong plug being pulled and extensive periods of downtime as the hapless manager takes forever to work out which plug goes into which port.

A messy cabling infrastructure raises the heat of a hot aisle too. Air becomes blocked and the lack of ventilation could raise server temperatures to dangerous levels. This means that the cooling system has to work harder to cool the environment down.

Mark Hirst, T4 product manager with Cannon Technologies, says Bobby Charlton's influence could help here. By drawing all the cables across the closet, then pulling them down the side of the wiring closet, you not only neaten up the cabling, but you help to remove all obstacles for hot air flow. The heat is drawn out into the hot aisle and sucked up into the ceiling vents. That means the processors in the servers can be cooled more efficiently. The fans don't have to come on so often (and they consume 15% of the server's power) - which makes for good infrastructure management, lowers power bills and cuts the datacentre's carbon footprint.

“Air control can be one of the first casualties of moves and changes, because a new cable will effectively punch a hole in any carefully created barrier,” says Hirst.

So, in more ways than one, the Bobby Charlton haircut is synonymous with cool. If only its techniques could be used to protect the Amazon rainforest. Perhaps the Brazilians could deal with deforestation by growing trees really long at the perimeter of the jungle, and combing them across the bald patches in the middle.

It might work. Or they could just build a datacentre there. They're all green these days, you know.

This was first published in December 2012

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