Why aren't we finally rid of patch cables?

Few tasks are more annoying than wrestling with data center patch cables. It's high time we drastically reduce their number

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That said, they're still not terribly common, and the MRJ21 standard isn't exactly what I'm envisioning either -- it's still only six ports per cable. On a busy aggregation switch, that leaves 56 MRJ21 cables to support 336 ports. If we're talking 96 ports per blade, that number doubles. It's fantastic to be able to achieve a density of 768 ports in a nine-slot chassis, but you're still dealing with 112 MRJ21 cables.

Smaller connectors -- such as RJ point five, which is essentially a squashed RJ45 jack -- are the opposite of helpful. Sure, you can fit 96 RJ point five ports on a single blade, but that makes the cabling problem far worse. Replacing a blade with 48 individual patch cables is bad enough. Fighting through 96 cables per blade to replace it is just ridiculous.

Instead, I'd like to see switching modules with 96 or 128 ports per module, with only a few physical connectors that run to paired patch panels. When the cabling waterfall comes down into the rack, those cables are punched down one time, and that corresponds to a port within the connector. There would be fewer cabling problems, assuming the punches were done well, and the patch panels would have two connectors on the front that would directly connect to the switch blade.

This would result in far less cabling and a far simpler approach to high-density switching. If a port goes bad because of a problem within the trunking cable, you either repunch that port to a different pair group or replace the cable. In my mind this would be a welcome trade-off to losing hundreds of individual Cat5e patch cables and their accompanying frustrations.

In fact, this might even lead to cheaper manufacturing and retail costs for the blades. Depending on the construction of the module, a group of RJ45 ports is controlled by a single ASIC. Cheaper switches pile more ports on a single ASIC, while higher-end switches reduce that number for better overall performance and enhanced feature sets. As the number of ports increases on a single blade, the number of ASICs will increase, but you'd still potentially get more bang for your buck since you can dispense with all the other hardware necessary to run two lighter-density modules.

It doesn't seem like too much to ask. These days, people who know very little about the details talk endlessly about magically automating the data center. How about starting from the ground up and cleaning up the cabling mess first?

This story, "Why aren't we finally rid of patch cables?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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