With the emergence of the Internet of Things, the cloud and mobility, much of the conversation about network connectivity is focused on wireless. However, cabling isn’t going away. Requirements are evolving, but cabling is still an essential component of any IT environment. Because the life-cycle of a cabling system is typically much longer than most of your IT infrastructure, it is important to understand the primary cabling methods and plan carefully. This article will make a comparison between two basic cabling methods: point-to-point cabling and structured cabling.
Point-to-point cabling refers to a data center cabling system comprised of “jumper” fiber cables that are used to connect one switch, server or storage unit directly to another switch, server or storage unit. A point-to-point cabling system is adequate for a small number of connections. However, as the number of connections in a data center increases, point-to-point cabling lacks the flexibility necessary when making additions, moves or changes to data center infrastructure. When the first data centers were built, end user terminals were connected via point-to-point connections. This was a viable option for small computer rooms with no foreseeable need for growth or reconfiguration. As computing needs increased and new equipment was added, these point-to-point connections resulted in cabling chaos with associated complexity and higher cost. Therefore, there is a downside to point-to-point cabling. However, the point-to-point cabling is surfacing again with the use of top of rack (ToR) and end of row (EoR) equipment mounting options. ToR and EoR equipment placement relies heavily on P2P cables, which can be problematic and costly if viewed as a replacement for standards-based structured cabling systems.
As it has been mentioned before, point-to-point cabling had aroused many problems. In response, data center standards like TIA-942-A and ISO 24764 recommended a hierarchical structured cabling infrastructure for connecting equipment. Structured cabling is a comprehensive network of cables, equipment and management tools that enables the continuous flow of data, voice, video, security and wireless communications. Instead of point-to-point connections, structured cabling uses distribution areas that provide flexible, standards-based connections between equipment, such as connections from switches to servers, servers to storage devices and switches to switches. Structured cabling is designed to meet Electronic Industry Alliance/Telecommunications Industry Association (EIA/TIA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards related to design, installation, maintenance, documentation and system expansion. This helps to reduce costs and risk in increasingly complex IT environments.
Traditionally, point-to-point cabling has been used in the manufacturing sector to establish a direct connection between devices and automation and control systems. However, point-to-point cabling lacks the flexibility, reliability, manageability and performance required for the exploding number of connections within today’s networks.
Structured cabling provides the flexibility that point-to-point does not, as well as the capability to support future technologies, faster connections and more intelligent networks. Although structured cabling has long been the preferred approach in IT, we cannot deny point-to-point cabling completely. Here, the pros and cons of selecting a structured cabling implementation versus point-to-point implementation are listed in the picture below:
Cabling is among the most important considerations for organizations managing a data center, and investing in the right technologies to enable flexibility and optimal performance is key. Although there are several instances where point-to-point Top of Rack or End of Row connections make sense, an overall study that includes total equipment cost, port utilization, maintenance, and power cost over time should be undertaken—involving both facilities and networking—to make the best overall decision. On the whole, point-to-point cabling can present data center many problems. Structured cabling is a better choice over point-to-point cabling.