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Patch panels: Do you need them?

A patch panel is a piece of hardware with multiple ports, to organize a group of cables. It’s a passive device, used primarily for cable management and not for receiving, forwarding, or processing data in any way. They are used to connect IT devices together.

Each port of the patch panel connects to a wire going to a particular location, either a wall port or within a server. Without a patch panel, you would see a number of dangling cables. 


The pros… 

  1. Easier scaling: With patch panels, it’s easier to add on connections to new devices. It’s also possible to over-provision by including more runs of cable than you feel strictly necessary. You can also use it to have more available ports on your switch.

  2. Lower costs: A patch panel is not a “smart” device, as it does not process data. As a result, and since it is also associated with shorter cable lengths, it’s a low-cost initial investment. It’s also easy to install. 

  3. Simpler maintenance: Since you can label individual cables exiting a patch panel, you can tell which cable leads where! This makes technical troubleshooting easier. Patch panels also help avoid switch port damage.

… and the cons

There are really only minor disadvantages associated with patch panels.

  1. Creating a mess: Without the right patch cable management plan, you can end up with a messy nest of cables emerging from your patch panel. With the right strategy, however, your server room can be neater with the patch panel than without.

Do you need a patch panel?

It’s not a server room essential. However, it is a convenience, and often a good idea to use one. Alternatively, you may end up with extra-long cables dangling from one IT device to another, or from the rack to the wall port. It’s easier to replace a broken patch cable than to re-run the cable in the wall, for example.

It’s not a modern invention (in fact, it’s one of the older pieces of equipment still in use). Since it’s easy to install, easy to use and efficient, and not too expensive, it’s a relatively easy decision to lower your tech debt by investing in patch panels in your server room.

How do I install it?

Before installing your patch panel, consider the rack height and layout. How many rack units are available for a patch panel? Do you have all the accessories (switch, patch cords, cable loops, etc) that you require? Does the patch cord match the installed cables? Plan and prepare a sketch in advance to decide where the panel should be installed, based on where the cables are entering the rack from.

You could choose ground, bridge, or side outlet. If the cables are entering the rack from its bottom, install the patch panel at the lower part of the rack, on the inside. If they’re coming in from the top of the rack, the patch panel should be installed near the upper part of the rack, on the inside. And if they’re entering from the side, install the panel in the middle of the rack.

Cable management is key to an efficient server room. When you’re setting up your server room and server racks, plan your cables and data flow beforehand. Based on your drawings, plan your patch panels before investing in your racks. Do consult with our experts at this initial stage, to avoid issues later.

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