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How a Wiring Rack Should Look 357

Julie Jacobson writes, "It's so much fun to deride some of the worst home wiring jobs in existence. But once in awhile, we should salute some of the cleanest, most perfectly labeled cabling jobs in U.S. homes. At the recent CEDIA Expo, the association for home-technology integrators handed out awards for the Best Dressed Systems, each featuring miles of cable, hundreds of connectors, tons of steel, and a clean aesthetic that could make the most finicky designer swoon. Show them to your own installer for inspiration."
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How a Wiring Rack Should Look

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  • by crazyjeremy ( 857410 ) * on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:19PM (#16143181) Homepage Journal
    Found an old picture of one of the messiest racks I have ever seen. [] Personally I think a messy NOC should be a punishable offense. I can't tell you how many times some stupid blip in the system is caused by a dangling wire with so much other wiring hanging on it that it gets pulled from the panel. Nothing like a 4am pager going off, coming into work and finding the root cause of the problem is the idiots that wired the rack. Kudos to those who do it right.
    • What type of install is that? I see something big and bulky on the left of the photo that looks like a transformer or something heavy.

      Also why is there a shop light hung in the middle?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jeeves_moss ( 974640 )
      FINALY!!! Someone actuly relizes that guys like me who do the "grunt" work in the basement actuly know what they're doing. I've gone into COUNTLESS messy racks, rooms, and basements to fix the problems. My fav. tool is a large pair of limbing nippers. I usaly start where the wire dropps out of the celing, then just rip everything out. I HATE a mess, and 9 times out of 10 it's just easier to rebuild it than it is to patch it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        No doubt, jeeves. I've been there, done that.

        In a collocation facility that used to allow customer to rack their own gear... yeah, how ever bad the rack looks in your imagination at this point - double that. Now we strongly suggest they allow us to do it the first time, or we shut them down and do it over - and it typically takes about 150% more time.

        I can appreciate the neat and clean wiring/racking job - for a full 48u rack with 1U servers and network gear- expect about 15-25 hours of labor to get all the
    • by crazyjeremy ( 857410 ) * on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:30PM (#16143244) Homepage Journal
      The site is down already. e/10397/ [] should get you there until it's back up.
    • by antdude ( 79039 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @02:55AM (#16144203) Homepage Journal
      Check out this crazy yellow one []. And it's yellow! :)

      From AQFL [].
  • nyud mirror (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:24PM (#16143206)
  • by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:25PM (#16143215) Homepage
    but can a linksys wireless router actually work inside of a steel cabinet?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by spyinnzus ( 923219 )
      the principles of faraday cages tell us that you can't send signals out of or into a mathematically closed surface of conductors. The box isn't fully closed and isn't made of a perfect conductor, but it should kill 90+% of the signal I'd guess.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by MrP- ( 45616 )
      if you're talking about that last pic on the site.. its possible they're just using it as a router and not a wireless router.

      we're using a linksys wireless router at work to bridge 2 LANs for testing so its wireless but the wireless was disabled.
    • by NaDrew ( 561847 )
      but can a linksys wireless router actually work inside of a steel cabinet?
      But this begs the question* of Linksys wireless routers actually working at all.

      * []
  • Huh? The best and worst links are to the same article.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:37PM (#16143278)
    ... there is such a thing as carrying it too far. I'm reminded of the tale of the junior sysadmin who proudly showed the senior sysadmin the cabinet he'd just wired up. Very neat, very pretty.

    The senior sysadmin looked at it thoughtfully, then flipped a single switch. Every server in the cabinet went down. Yup: every server had its entire power source coming from a single rail, instead of having the two redundant inputs coming from different rails.

    Where I work [], every cable to every server in the machine room is labelled at both ends. The patch panels are also labelled with the address of the other end of the cable. Makes troubleshooting network problems a lot simpler (and that's important when you're talking over 200 servers on the floor ...)
    • To a limited extent, I agree.

      Neatness is one thing, but those examples just look like an advertising photo for nylon wire ties. I mean, they look nice now, but what happens when you need to move one of those connections around, say from one port to another?

      You'd have to cut 50 different ties, and all the wires are cut to such precise lengths, you'd probably end up having to splice some sort of nasty extender in there (adding a significant insertion loss due to the connectors or splice). It would be a total mess. Having everything wired in drum-tight may look nice, but it's a bitch later on. Something that has more "drip loops" before all the wires get bundled up into single harnesses may not look quite as polished initially, but it's far easier to work on down the road.

      I've worked on audio systems like this, and it always strikes me as something that you'd do if you were a contractor working on a one-shot job, something where you want to impress the client and justify your fee, with no real thought to maintenance later.

      • by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:05AM (#16143637)
        That's exactly what I was thinking while looking at those pictures.

        Half of the purpose of having neat wiring is maintainability (in addition to aesthetics, air flow, and just plain keeping crap out of the way of other things). That setup is almost as unmaintainable as a wall draped in spaghetti. I at least hope they either have good documentation kept up to date to match the small fortune and abundant time they spent on zip-ties or else have both ends of their cables labeled so they know which cable to yank once they do cut all those zip ties, because you aren't going to trace those out by hand.

        I guess if your system is perfect and you have no need to ever replace equipment or expand, this is fine, but for the rest of us, give us some service loops and removable wire clips.
      • by chazwurth ( 664949 ) <cdstuart AT umich DOT edu> on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:53AM (#16143853)
        You'd have to cut 50 different ties...

        Indeed. Where I work, we use velcro ties to solve this problem. They can still be a pain in the ass, but it's a lot easier than cutting and re-tying every time you need to move a cable.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by putaro ( 235078 )
        We had that situation. One of our managers had set up a rack and he had gone through and cable tied everything down just so. The rack didn't need to be changed very often but finally there was a day when something needed to be replaced. One of the sys admins who worked for him (who was a close friend with him) walked over to his desk after she had fixed things and dropped a double handful of cut-off cable ties onto it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by NoMaster ( 142776 )

        Neatness is one thing, but those examples just look like an advertising photo for nylon wire ties. I mean, they look nice now, but what happens when you need to move one of those connections around, say from one port to another?

        You don't - that's the back of the rack you're looking at, not the front of the patch-panel...

        (And if you do need to change a subrack for something different, you pretty much have to replace all the cabling anyway.)

        Having said that, those pics look like nothing more than (what us

  • by pcgamez ( 40751 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:40PM (#16143289)
    A super-neat wiring rack is great, if you don't need to get to the wires often. If you need to rearrange wiring often (for whatever reason), there is no point in making it look great (though a certain level of neatness is required for optimum efficiency).
    • Exactly. Neat-looking network and server racks are for taking photos for glossy magazine and sales brochure covers. In a *real* IT shop, like the ones I run, things can change on a daily basis... sometimes several times each workday. We keep our racks just neat enough to be serviceable and flexible for the rapid config changes and equipment installs and removals we perform very frequently.
    • That's definitely a problem. Bundling all the wires together so tightly, with no slack, allows for no rearrangement and might not allow equipment substitution. It shouldn't be a rat's nest, but I don't think making it look like it was moulded in place makes it easier. Ideally, it should be neat, but making it accessible and easily changeable is more important.
    • by rs79 ( 71822 )
      "if you don't need to get to the wires often"

      But golly, this is electronics. Why would you need to change anything?
    • by CharlieG ( 34950 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @08:05AM (#16144950) Homepage
      That's why they invented PATCH PANELS - the wiring coming into/out of the rack is bundled, and goes to the patch panel - NEVER to an item in the rack - in fact, even wiring intra rack goes via a panel
  • Cheap does it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:40PM (#16143291) Journal
    Back in the days when RS-232C ruled, I was in charge of wiring, and our department always made fun of another department's propensity at overspending and buying expensive gadgets.

    When they wired their mainframe, they spent about $2000 for a bunch of bix panels.

    When it was my turn to do the same job, I took $5.00 and went to the hardware store, I picked up a 1ft by 4fr plywood scrap and bought a box of finishing nails and brought that in the office (the canadian head-office of a fortune 500 company, btw) and started hammering away neat rows of nails to which I soldered wires from a 100 pair cable we ran between two floors.

    On hearing the hammering, the boss of the other department (who happenned to pass by by chance) came to have a peek, and he sees me hammering and soldering and asks me "what are you doing???"

    - I'm doing a patchboard for the serial lines.

    - Why don't you use a BIX board like we did in the plant?

    - Because yours cost $2000 and mine only $5.00.

    He left without saying a word.

    • Twenty years I worked in telecom in Toronto (ROLM, Mitel, Nortel, others), and if I had ever seen a punch down block where the tech had soldered the connections, I would have been astounded to the point where I would have walked out. There's a reason for BIX blocks; they work well, they keep the MDF reasonably uncluttered, and more important, you save thousands in the long run through easier maintenance and upgrades.

      Your solution is the perfect example of "penny wise, pound foolish".

  • by MikeDataLink ( 536925 ) <`mike' `at' `'> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:42PM (#16143305) Homepage Journal
    Here is a picture of a site in Dallas, TX. This picture belongs to a HUGE telecom company. A baby bell if you will. ;) How they maintain this I will never know. What is more amazing is that after several attempts by staffers, the management refuses to let people clean this up. And they show this to prospective customers on a daily basis!!! []
    • Ohhhhh myyyyyy god.... I don't even know where to begin with comments... wow.
    • Now, the site seems down, but being that you labelled that "One of my favorite messy racks", and it's from a site called, I was expecting a set of breasts with mud on them or something.

      But then I remembered I wasn't on Fark.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jnaujok ( 804613 )
      Well, if this is a telecom, then I can tell you exactly who is to blame for this mess, your favorite Uncle, Sam.

      Having worked for a telecom (one that might just have had the biggest bankruptcy in history), I went to one of their main voice switching centers and was shown an entire room that looked like this. When I asked why in the world we had an entire room that was just cable loops that went from a DEMUX board to a MUX board, he told me that federal law requires them to break out every signal that trav
  • Neat != Usable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:43PM (#16143310)
    I'd actually argue that although some of the wire racks pictured look nice they're unusable - you'd have to snip all of those zip-ties to trace a cable. If letting the cable lie in the wire management isn't good enough Velcro would be better, and less likely to be over tightened to the point of pulling the cat5 twists out of spec.

    In our computer room I just provide plenty of wire management, a wide assortment of cable lengths, and a picture of the wedgie I gave the last admin who kludged something 'for testing' and left it that way for months.

    • Re:Neat != Usable (Score:5, Insightful)

      by curtlewis ( 662976 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:59PM (#16143390)
      Exactly, you need to be able to get to any cable. Zip ties are single use. Velcro rip ties, while more expensive, are reusuable.

      And talk about overkill on that one 24 port switch or whatever it was. They used at least 24 zip ties, one for each cable and some doubles. Don't you think one every 2-4 would have done just as good a job? Instead, they completely locked down the cable making any troubleshooting a nightmare. Three well placed ripties would do a fine job, keep it orderly AND maintainable. Especially if the ties were long enough to have additional room for growth.
    • Re:Neat != Usable (Score:5, Informative)

      by akahige ( 622549 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @11:22PM (#16143480)
      What you fail to grasp -- along with everyone else who's posted in the thread so far, if the comments are any judge -- is that these are AV gear racks, NOT computer/network/phone racks.

      CEDIA == Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. These people install home theatres, integrated audio systems, etc.
      • Audio/Video connections still fail from time to time, just like notwork connections. When I worked for a big A/V firm out of OKCity, our service techs would tear installers a new hole for not leaving some sort of service loop (usually at least 6", preferably 12") on every connection inside of a rack. We eventually started using deep well Panduit inside of the equipment racks: It leaves the rack looking nice, yet gives you a place to shove a service loop that's out of sight.
        • Re:Neat != Usable (Score:5, Interesting)

          by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:45AM (#16143812) Homepage Journal

          It is hard sometimes to make service loops look neat, but they're absolutely worth any clutter they cause.

          Of course, with a little creativity it's often possible to bundle everything up so that one or two snips releases plenty of extra length.

          My "favorite" though is people who pull fibre cables "nice and tight" then zip them within an inch of their lives while the equipment is warm. As soon as it's powered off for a few hours, fibres start breaking. It sure looks pretty until you have to cut a zillion ties to do anything.

  • If I were building a house, I would almost certainly do the low-voltage wiring myself. Is there any reason not to?
    • you could do the high voltage wiring yourself too. i've done lots of stuff with digital and analog circuits, and they nearly always have to be debugged. but once you know that black is hot and white is neutral and bare copper is ground, it's very rare to wire something at 120 volts and not have it do exactly as expected. dual-switched lights are the only exception to this rule, but only in cases where you're faced with someone else's existing work.
      • Right, but if it doesn't do exactly what you expected, its a bit more serious if its 120V! Besides, it is illegal, unless you are a qualified electrician and have passed the wiring rules. Or at least this is true where I live, surely it is true in USA as well?!?
  • Wow, I'm impressed. I run a fairly cable intensive home network, and I get grief from friends & partner for my neat cabling obsession. But once you've tripped over the wires running from your video card to your TV going for a piss at 4am, and chip a tooth when your mouth hits the arm of a chair on the way down, you get neat.

    Having seen these pics, I think I'll go and re-do all my cabling...I feel inspired by these mush bigger, yet even neater seups.

  • by hellfire ( 86129 ) <> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @10:55PM (#16143376) Homepage
    I'd like to be a judge on that panel. I'd love to give out awards for the best rack.

    What? Wiring? What are you talking about? Oh...
  • by Sometimes_Rational ( 866083 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @11:03PM (#16143400)
    While viewing the article, my wife overheard me saying, "Ooh, nice rack on that one.
    • by mdhoover ( 856288 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:27AM (#16143738) Homepage Journal
      Heh, best story I have comes from Comdex/Interop.

      Wandering around away from my display (armed with booty to trade, mugs for penguins etc) I came across 2 middle aged IT geeks checking out some glorious powdercoated, properly cooled, neatly wired and well laid out rack equipment on display.

      As they were tinkering with the offerings one was heard to pronounce "what a great rack, wouldn't you love one in your home".

      At this point the poor unsuspecting geek was set upon by one of the very well endowed skimpily clad models hired to parade around and lure in the punters, who promptly slapped him across the face and berated the poor confused fellow (who had that mix of deer in the headlights and WHA!! look on his face) for being a "misogynist pig" etc etc.

      Took 2 hours for my sides to stop hurting...

  • Leave some slack!

    And don't wire wrap every half an inch!

    Nothing worse that a bunch of Cat5 cable cut too close that you can't even change the switch out with a different model because the jacks are in different places and the cable is too short. Or the patch panel is flaky and needs to be swaped out, but there's not an inch of slack!

  • by ryanhos ( 125502 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @11:14PM (#16143452) Homepage Journal
    You want to know what I didn't see in a single one of those "neat & tidy" wiring photos? I didn't see a single service loop. Sure, anybody can wire-tie the heck out of something and make it look nice and neat on project completion day. Hell, I used to produce racks of similar tidiness when I was 19, working for a regional communications installer doing hospital and school networks. But it takes a real artisan to make something look that neat AND design it to stand up to five years of corporate changes and rearrangements. Just wait until one of your wires has to move from the top of the rack (near the entry point) to the bottom of the rack.

    I think it was a previous comment that wrote: "Neat != Usable" That's so true. (Or Neat !== Usable for you PHP-tards)
  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @11:18PM (#16143467) Journal
    You know, those with obsessive compulsive disorder can get really really bad about it... or get over it.

    I didn't Read either of TFA, because they seem to be slashdotted at the moment.

    However, after years and years of living, I can tell you that "if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well" is just not true. Sometimes doing a job "good enough" is more than enough. It might get torn down next week. If you wash the windows "OK", that is probably good enough, they'll be dirty again soon enough.

    It all depends on what you are doing. Building a house? Do it well. Wiring a computer cabinet? Pfft - make it good enought for a few years. It will change. RS-232, thin-wire, thick-wire, 10BaseT, Cat 3, Cat 5, Cat 5e... Fibre... whatever.

    If you can do a 90% job for half the cost you will have enough left over to do another 90% job of something twice as good 4 years from now.

    Maybe. YMMV.

    • by lullabud ( 679893 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:27AM (#16143737) Homepage
      You're totally right. That's something I've learned at my new job. I was always trying to do things perfectly, and I realized that it took too long to do them as well as I wanted, and even then they wouldn't be *perfect*. I thought back to my metals class when my teacher talked about the level of accuracy which is necessary for particular jobs, and how you wouldn't build a house while measuring lengths in micrometers just as you wouldn't build an engine while measuring in inches. (I forget the name of the principle, I was in Jr. High.)

      What really drove that point home was when somebody plugged an ethernet switch into itself a few weeks after I'd done a moderately good wiring job in our closet and I had to tear it all out because I couldn't even get to our management console on the switch to see which port was causing the traffic storm. (Netgear FSM750S if you want to know.) So, just as many people had pointed out, my zip-tied bundle of cables did me no good and they are now hanging off the side of the switch in a mess, no longer matched up to the numbers on the patch panel.

      I guess it really does matter what kind of job you're doing... If you're not going to be changing anything, zip tying it all up might make sense. They staple AC wires inside the walls of houses, so I'm sure we can find an instance where zipping up cables would be appropriate. For me though, I'll take velcro and a slight mess.
  • That home network "can" looks almost identical to mine. Packed into the same sized unit is a cable TV splitter, a multi-tap cable TV amplifier with power brick, a power strip, a 5 port GigE switch, a Linksys cablemodem, a phone punch panel, and loose bits of cellulose insulation. The wireless router sits in another room since I actually want a usable signal (though it does require 2 drops to the room, one from the modem, and one back to the switch). There's an abundance of unused cabling for extra cable dro
  • Yes, all the bundles of coloured wires look nice. But holy mother of home theatre, check out the links to the project pages []!

    Might be an ok place to watch a flick. []

    This is what a hardcore geek does when he sells his dotcom to Microsoft. []

  • When I kid in the early 1980's, I always wanted something like the main Whiz Kids [] room with multiple tables, electronic gear and wires strung all over the place. As an adult, I prefer my room [] to be neater for more practical reasons like vacuuming the floor. Some of those killer dust bunnies can put up a fight.
  • The cabling might be incredibly neat and tidy, but when replacing one cable means cutting 50+ cable ties, isn't that going a bit overboard?
  • Pretty, I suppose, but looks like an operational nightmare. Just IMAGINE having to check for a cabling problem somewhere in one of these tightly packed systems, or worse yet, reconfiguring your server setup. This is one big reason for going with a simpler physical server setup and running VMs.
    • ... Or simply running more applications on the same physical server. Either that or virtualisation would do.

  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:11AM (#16143665) Homepage

    This article sponsored by; ZipCo International.
    Manufacturers of the worlds most reliable and most costly zip-ties!
    Organize your wiring cabinet today! You can never use enough zip-ties!
  • Broadcast TV (Score:3, Informative)

    by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:20AM (#16143697)
    Your average network TV station has wiring that puts any telecomm to shame. I've seen patchbays just in control rooms that have far more going on than anything in the photos on the CEDIA website. That stuff *has* to be organized. Just the labelling systems are amazing, let alone the craftsmanship involved in wiring them.
  • These guys should see what the back of my Effects rack looks like. That includes power amps, beat machines, synths, guitars, pedals, rack-mounted DSPs, and THEN you've got my computers, stereo systems, powered monitors, cameras, lights. I've got four breakers to myself in my room (thank goodness the panel's right in my closet!) Hell, I can't even take a picture of it. I couldn't get it all in four shots If I stood in the other corner of the room!
  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:46AM (#16143822) Homepage Journal
    ... I feel I am the worst wiring technician on the planet. All I have to do is look at a cable to get it tangled!
  • Maintainability (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PhotoGuy ( 189467 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @07:33AM (#16144827) Homepage

    The discussions of maintainability reminded me of a funny story.

    At the first company I started, we had an excellent ops fellow who did all our wiring. The racks were immaculate, on par with the the winners in the competition. We never found maintainability a major factor, as things were wired right, and patch panels routed things as changes dictated.

    However, on one occasion, I do remember his obsessive compulsive approach annoying. We were doing some moving around, so he was coming in and out of my office every few minutes for various changes, as was I. I typically don't screw in my monitor (or other cables), because, well, I don't need to, and I often change things around. Anyhow, the work I was doing that day involved plugging the monitor into a few different units to check things out. At one point, I couldn't remove it from the PC. It had been screwed in. I undid it, and moved it to the next PC I was checking, went to the bathroom. When I came back, I couldn't remove it, it had been screwed in again. Every time my employee walked by, he was screwing the monitor cable in tight, the way it "should be." This went on for about four or five times. The fact he even spotted it was amazing, much less the inability to walk by it without "fixing" it.

  • No labels, no good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MECC ( 8478 ) * on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @08:48AM (#16145159)
    The racks shown in the article look nice and all, but I didn't see any labels. They get an 'F'. Its one thing not to have labels at IDFs, but not on server racks - ever. At least one of those looked like server racks.

System checkpoint complete.