We all know that it’s really important to keep cable management under control, but sometimes the distinction between project management and process management can get blurred. Tasks that should be maintained on a regular basis start to fall by the wayside, getting grouped into a larger project further down the road.
This leads to a less than optimal working environment for you and your team, and it gives management and visitors the impression that your company’s infrastructure is not being maintained properly.
If you’ve never been inside a messy server closet, then you can follow CBT Nuggets trainer Jeremy Cioara into real-world server rooms with serious cabling issues — and see how he manages to tame a bundle of unruly wires in his latest IT Expertise course.
There are a few different approaches to cable management and we’re here to help you determine when a task needs to be incorporated into your day-to-day operations, and when a project needs to be formulated so that all of the finer details can be extracted and ironed out.
Project vs Process: What’s the Difference?
In the IT Expertise Nugget Rack and Stack, Jeremy says he can walk into a server room and tell immediately what he’s dealing with from how the cables appear. And that’s why making cable management a process is always better than as a project.
The easiest way to think about the project versus process approaches is to imagine each as its own specialized tool. A project is likely to be an undertaking that you haven’t done many times before within your organization, such as commissioning a new satellite office for your company or migrating your data center from one location to another. Objectives like these will require a large amount of planning and will require a strict schedule with milestones and goals to help you to manage your progress.
A process, on the other hand, can be thought as the day-to-day operations of your department, with repetitive tasks and jobs that need to be done at regular intervals such as user maintenance, asset tagging, and the capture of PC hardware serial numbers. Think about all the asset management basics you learned in CompTIA Network+ or Cisco CCNA. That type of work could be considered housekeeping and ensures that all of the little tasks are kept in check so that no big surprises can knock you off course unexpectedly.
So, the bottom line is this: If you have a task that will require some kind of operational change that also needs quite a bit of planning in advance, then you’re probably looking at a project. If you are looking at a repetitive task that needs to be actively managed on a regular basis, then you are most likely looking at a process.
Processes to Consider
Daily Processes. Nobody likes to start a new habit, but once the routine kicks in it can be very rewarding to follow up on your cable management processes. There are many different things to check on a daily basis, and these tasks can form part of your reporting tools. A good example is loose cables win your server room. These are cables that may have been added after the loom was zip tied together. This is a good chance to identify any tripping hazards or anything else that could be stepped on as well.
Check that cables are labeled correctly, that the correct paths have been followed, and that no cables are snaking their way along their own individual path. The name of the game here is uniformity. On the power front, make sure that all UPS power is secured correctly, that all of your server and racking equipment is plugged in properly, and that there is enough slack in the cables to release excess tension. This is a good opportunity to see if any of your server’s power supplies are displaying error lights.
Air flow should also be checked to make sure that the temperatures in your server rack are cool and breezy. A tangled bunch of cables can really restrict airflow, so be mindful of any mess in there. Jeremy makes a good observation in IT Expertise: Installing Network Cabling and Devices while working on an MDF, “If you don’t have ventilation on this device, [it] starts turning into a furnace that ends up cooking your devices.” You don’t want that.
Weekly Checks. For weekly cable management tasks, think about areas in the business that aren’t seen very often. One such area could be where your main fiber connection enters the building. This is a good place to check regularly, as pests like rodents can set up shop quite quickly, and a chewy critical cable is often the midnight snack of choice for rats.
Infrastructure like wireless access points can also do with a quick check on a weekly basis, especially if you have some that are far away from your office. Maintenance staff can sometimes inadvertently pull cables loose or pull out slack when working close by, so it doesn’t hurt to take a look.
Monthly Checks. It is nobody’s idea of a good time, but a monthly user check is a worthwhile task to add to your cable management process. Being able to sort out small issues like tangled cables is a lot easier to rectify for one desk than it is to do an entire floor, so try and keep on top of these small issues as you go about your monthly check.
Also check your cable closets throughout the building, making sure that all of the cables are neat and tidy, and that the doors close properly. You never want cables hanging out at any point. Junction boxes and trenches are also worth looking at on a monthly basis, especially if you have a campus or series of buildings on a single property that are all connected.
In these instances, you will want your cables to be off the ground, and the cable trenches should be free of water. If there is liquid present, then get in touch with your maintenance staff and have them check out the drainage situation to make sure that things remain relatively dry.
More thorough monthly checks also keep away the spiders, squirrels, and even a little water.
When is a Project Needed?
The simplest way to find out if you need a project is to see how many of your processes are succeeding, and if there are items on your process list that are no longer needed or valid. You’ll most need a project when something in your organization, that way your processes can be customized to support the outcome of your project.
Examples of projects:
Disaster Recovery Plan. Your recovery plan should already be in place to help you when the unthinkable happens, but following up on your daily, weekly, and monthly checks can help you to avoid or lessen the impact of a failure on your network.
Backup switch. You need a backup switch when one of your core switches fails, rendering parts of your network offline. If you have been making sure that your cabling is neat and that your documentation is kept up to date (including switch configuration backups), then you can have a replacement switch installed and restored in no time at all, provided that you have a hot spare in stock.
Cable cleanup. When your cables are a tangled and unlabeled knot, you need to inform the boss that there is going to be a bit of down time, and that is going to lead to you having some pretty unhappy users.
Room cleanup. If you find that your daily server room check is no longer adding value because you cannot enter the room without tripping over cables and decommissioned IT equipment, or even Christmas trees, then you may need to consider a server room cleanup project.
A few basic cable management processes can really help you in your day-to-day efforts within your organization, and if done correctly, they will highlight any shortcomings on your network. This then helps you to plan for a project, and once your project is done, then your processes can be reformulated to support the new and improved environment.
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