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Ask Slashdot: Clever Cable Management? 374

sooth... writes "What clever ways have network administrators found to cleanly sort varying length patch cables within IDFs, BDFs, and MDFs or simply wiring closets? Pictures or examples are welcome." Since not everyone is a network administrator, let's expand this to include efficient or clever management of other cables. How do you route your computer cables (internal or external), your entertainment center cables, or any other corded setup?
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Ask Slashdot: Clever Cable Management?

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  • If you don't have a thick bundle of cables weighing several pounds, those rolls of light-duty velcro for tying plants to stakes work great for cables. A few bucks per several yards instead of several bucks for a few feet.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 18, 2011 @05:20AM (#37432780)

    1) No cat5, I use wireless only.

    2) When I do need to run cable, such as telephone wire for my fax machine, I put the cable in the middle of the room. Then I buy a big rug, and place it over the top of the cable.

    3) When it's something complicated, like using a ladder, I always call a professional installer. The satellite company always send the most knowledable folks available.

    • by indeterminator ( 1829904 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @05:45AM (#37432838)
      +1, Proper Use of Rugs.
    • by DeBaas ( 470886 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @07:40AM (#37433074) Homepage

      2) When I do need to run cable, such as telephone wire for my fax machine, I put the cable in the middle of the room. Then I buy a big rug, and place it over the top of the cable.

      so 5 cables later you've got 5 rugs piled up?

      • 2) When I do need to run cable, such as telephone wire for my fax machine, I put the cable in the middle of the room. Then I buy a big rug, and place it over the top of the cable.

        so 5 cables later you've got 5 rugs piled up?

        Nah, he just adds another room, you insensitive clod!

    • by dna_(c)(tm)(r) ( 618003 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @07:49AM (#37433100)

      2) When I do need to run cable, such as telephone wire for my fax machine, I put the cable in the middle of the room. Then I buy a big rug, and place it over the top of the cable.

      The pro's call that a ruggedized setup.

    • by Kozz ( 7764 )

      The satellite company always send the most knowledable folks available.

      This. We had a guy running some coaxial cable back in my last house. I told him I wanted to run the cable to my corner office of the basement, where, aside from it being finished in the 70's, was in decent shape. He took a drill with a 1-1/2" spade bit and punched a coarse hole right through the paneling on both sides of the framing about 12" above the floor. He didn't even ask about location (he did it on the WRONG SIDE of the door). Not to mention there were rafters and things exposed and the cable c

      • THIS is why you micromanage these guys. Anything having to do with cable, telephone, or broadband generally ends up with me perched right in back of them saying "I don't think so.. here's where we're going to run this..."

        These guys are generally nowhere near as competent as a journeyman electrician, and I found that out the hard way:
        I bought my first house in Arizona in the early 90s when I was a naive young lad in my mid-20s. I let the cable installer do his thing when I moved into a house that previo
      • In house cable runs are the pits, whether done by Cable company contractors, or just about anyone else these days. My Father was an old time telephone man and "back in the day" cables were ALWAYS fished through the walls, or run down the inside of closets and along baseboards. Now days the OUTSIDE of most houses around here have a web of cables running to each room where there is something that needs to have a cable connection -- whether it is for TV or telephone it does not matter. Oh, and one cable in
    • by mangu ( 126918 )

      You must spend a lot in AA batteries.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well, the obvious choice are different cable colors. This is easy to get with Ethernet cables. Another trick I did is buy a label writer and label both ends of a cable (by wrapping the label around the wire so it is a little "banner"). I do this for my power supplies, so I see which plug belongs in which device on top of the table, and which power supply I have to unplug (particularly useful if you have several hard disks from the same manufacturer, or ones where the power supply comes from a completely dif

    • by emj ( 15659 )

      The interesting thing is what do you name you cables? I always move them around so "router"/"vacumcleaner" won't do, so I name my cables things like "Chrysophylax" or "Tintaglia"

    • by rvw ( 755107 )

      Another trick I did is buy a label writer and label both ends of a cable (by wrapping the label around the wire so it is a little "banner"). I do this for my power supplies, so I see which plug belongs in which device on top of the table, and which power supply I have to unplug (particularly useful if you have several hard disks from the same manufacturer, or ones where the power supply comes from a completely different company).

      I label power adapters with the name of the device it belongs to. I once used a power adapter from a photo printer on an external harddrive, and that was the end of it. And I label (usb) cables at work that belong to me.

  • Velcro! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IversenX ( 713302 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @05:36AM (#37432824) Homepage

    I found a solution which I'm pretty happy about.

    Take a good piece of double-sided velcro (that will bond to itself), about 10-20cm. Get a short, screw with a large, flat head. Put the screw through the middle of the velcro strip, and screw it onto the underside of your table, somewhere out of sight. Rinse, repeat.

    Now you have velcro loops that can carry all your wires really neatly, with infinite and easy reconfigurability.

    (Initially, I tried gluing / velcroing the velcro strips on. It never lasted, so I went with screws instead. That really works!)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 18, 2011 @06:07AM (#37432868)

    How do you manage the pile of external power supplies for hard disks, routers, switches, phones, etc.? Is there some way to power external computer peripherals from the ATX power supply? I have a bunch of 12V 2A wall warts that keep drawing power even when the attached device is off. I think I should be able to power these devices from the ATX 12V rail, but I can't seem to find a product that allows me to safely attach external devices to the internal power supply.

    • I minimize that issue rather than eliminate it.
      I simply have all of my power cords (tower, monitor, router, printer) plugged into a surge protector which is then plugged into the wall.
      However, I once opened an external hard drive enclosure and put the actual drive inside the tower. There it's hooked up like any other external part.

      Are devices that draw power via USB any easier for you?

  • A short length of scotch tape or painters' tape at either end of the cable allows easy labelling of cables.

  • Check if some kind of frame runs under your table - you can zip-tie all sorts of stuff to it, such as a laptop power supply. Try also not to leave cables lying on floor, as they collect dust.
  • In my case [] I just connect one end to one device, the other end to the other, keep adding stuff as needed and then charge admittance as installation art.

  • Loads of cable ties! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SplatMan_DK ( 1035528 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @07:05AM (#37433016) Homepage Journal
    I think cable ties [] are a great way to reduce the chaos in a pile of spaghetti-style cables.

    Some people dislike them, but I think they are just not accustomed to using them. Proper use of cable ties means you are not afraid to use a LOT of them, and also not afraid of cutting them open when you need to change someting. I keep a cheap diagonal cutter and a bag of assorted cable ties in every desk drawer in my house (3 "kits" in total).

    Its easy to work with, extremely flexible, and best of all: cheaper than most of the fancy "solutions" you can buy.

    Just stop being afraid of cutting them open when you need to!

    - Jesper
    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      How do you deal with the sharp edges on the cut? Categorically snip everything if you're gonna touch it in any fashion?

      Just stop being afraid of cutting them open when you need to!

      Oh there's plenty of cutting open involved, mostly of your hands...

      A tool that burned the end off would probably be safer, other than the plastic fumes.

      • I haven't tried this, but wiki says [] you can "open without cutting it, the ratchet box can be crushed vertically using pliers.".
      • Diagnocal / side cutters are way safer than any burning method. If it burns the zip/lock it can burn the cable.

        You can remove the locker, or directly cut the tie. You just keep your eyes open and no wires cut, no hands cut :) and the cutting portion of those is so small anyways they are quite safe, unless your fingers are the size of ethernet cable.

        In any case, if you are unable to use side cutters safely, you maybe shouldn't touch any kind of tools.

      • by Tynin ( 634655 )
        We use cable/zip ties in our datacenter, to keep the back of the racks cable mess more organized, all of the cable runs get tied back to the sides of the rack (mostly cat5). We snip off the excess from the tie which can leave a sharp edge. To deal with that, honestly, we just try to cut them off as close as possible to the racket box, as horizontal as possible. That usually results in a smooth'ish, non-sharp end. I will say that our racks look very neat, almost artistic, although we have practically no serv
    • Velcro ties do something similiar, are reusable, cheap as well. The proble with your basic cable tie comes when you need to add or change a cable. If it's a medium size, you need quite a decent cutter, and then you need to cut them all and used new ones - when adding cables, I've seen people forgo the cutting step and just add more and more cable ties around the existing bundle, it becomes a nightmare if you need to access one in the middle.

    • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @09:52AM (#37433550)
      My solution is to use a whole bunch of solutions:
      - Instead of cable ties, we mostly strips of double-sided velcro. It's faster to reconfigure. (Hint: Buy "Velcro Plant Ties" instead of cable ties... it's the exact same stuff but much cheaper.)
      - Also use cable ties and twist-ties liberally.
      - CableDrop [] (or similar) when you want to hold a cable in position but be able to move/remove it frequently.
      - AnthroCart [] cable management accessories. They are optimized to work with their line of desks, but some of the accessories are just generally useful for group cables.
      - Medium-length runs of multiple cables can be grouped together using a split tube (e.g. this []). Ikea used to sell some dirt-cheap split-tube for cable management, but I can't find it anymore (they do have these [], though).
      - For some runs, braided sleeving [] (or even just solid PVC tubing from any hardware store) can be useful. You can unplug all the cables from both ends, and move it as a unit to a new span.

      So I guess my advice is to have a mixture of solutions on-hand. For any given task, use the one that feels right!
  • Free twisty-ties from the grocery store.
  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) * on Sunday September 18, 2011 @07:30AM (#37433052) Homepage Journal

    At one job where I had little ability to run cables under the floor/through the walls, but had a bunch of thick multi-microphone cables plus a few other types to run I made my own "hanging cable tray" using upside-down potted plant hangers I found at Lowes, []

    I was only going to run them from the punch-down panel to the first audio rack, the client liked the idea so much they bought more and ran them all the way to the wall for the cables they didn't hire me for.

    • by Jjeff1 ( 636051 )
      You made a J-Hook, those are supposed to be part of any properly done structured cable install. Some examples []
      • Mine were about $2.50 each at Lowe's, were readily available, fit the decor of the offices (granted this was in a back room), and has the nice extra hook on the end for hanging baseball caps and the like when the permanent techs move into that room. I did consider some proper J-Hooks, but the plant hangers were actually a better fit for the client relations part of the environment and the physical limitations of where I was doing the work. (A sound studio where I wasn't free to put many holes in the wall

  • by Monoman ( 8745 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @07:37AM (#37433062) Homepage

    Cable ties are too permanent. I have seen too many times where they get cut off to trouble shoot and never put back for various reasons. Use Velcro to bundle up the cables because it is easier to take off and put back on when needed. No tools required.

    Choose and use good cable management trays. There are lots of choices. Decide if you want the trays to have covers or not. I like the horizontal trays to be the type without covers and the verticals to have wide gaps with hinged covers.

    I don't like the Panduit Panduct type stuff ( because they require you to cut tabs out for passing more than a few cables in and out at a time. They also tend to tear up your cuticles when working with them. Also, the covers snap on and off and people put the smaller horizontal ones in the weirdest places. -- Hard to find.

    You can use different cable colors for identifying certain things in your environment (wireless, printers, servers, etc). If you can't justify buying all of the cables sizes you need in all of the different colors then you can use colored tape or some other type of identifier like plastic tags. You have plenty of options.

    Lastly, limit access to the wiring closets only to those that need it, have been trained, and are held responsible if it becomes a mess.

    • putting new ones is the key tbh. Lazyness is not a form of cable management by definition ;) and lazy ppl don't bother to do cable management in the first place.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Ideally you should install large bundles of cables with redundancy. Cable tie them once and then never touch them again. It requires some planning and more up front cost, but is well worth it

  • Straps and brackets cost too much. We pay one tech to find cables []
  • toilet paper rolls (Score:4, Informative)

    by Maglos ( 667167 ) <> on Sunday September 18, 2011 @08:31AM (#37433216) Homepage
    Saw this on reddit a little while ago: []
  • I use toilet paper tubes for organizing small cables [], it makes it very easy to find that cable to that old phone you just gave to that friend. The most important thing is to keep all the connectors on the same side of the roll, so you really get the right connector on both ends of the cable.

  • I have more cable that I can think of to deal with so, even though it can be time consuming it's unquestionably neat. Plaiting and braiding cables is the way to go. Once you learn three, four, five and six way plaits and braids you can make any wiring loom neat and controllable in a unit.

    Anyone lucky enough to have me build a performance gaming/audio/video workstation for them get the full service internally braided cables. Having hot rodded several cars, this is the one time I think a car analogy is in t

  • I use Quantum Tango(tm) cables. Who needs to worry about managing them when you can just snip out the bothersome bits?

  • Clever cable management?

    [_] If they're so clever, they can durn well manage themselves!
    [_] Is that why the cable bill goes up when you're not looking?
    [_] Wireless FTW!
    [_] We cut the cable, cut the satellite, and get everything in HD with a cheap pair of bunny-rabbit ears.
    [_] Are you kidding? There goes my job security!
    [_] We're still on token ring, you insensitive clod!
    [_] We color-code them by length. No exceptions. So, when we're out of a certain length, you have to move the computer/desk

  • I cannot take credit for this one, but a cheap cable tray is a plastic rain gutter you can purchase in 10 foot lengths at any hardware store => []
  • by mattr ( 78516 )

    I always kept a huge plastic box on top of the fridge.
    It held a full kilometer of ethernet, hubs, a couple routers, power blocks, testing apparatus, crossovers, and doodads, including a long spool of cool flat ribbon type ethernet which I never used (no rugs).
    The problem with cables is they always spaghettify. Like all the extra computers. Too many.
    I think I almost never had a use for the cable box and extra pcsand after much getting slapped around a little finally agreed to part ways with them in my last m

  • We use these [] a lot in the datacenters.

    So, the rack looks like this:
    [patch panel]
    [panduit tray]

  • by shish ( 588640 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @04:32PM (#37435488) Homepage
    It's a solution that only works in a very limited number of cases, but when it does, the results are beautiful []
  • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @05:43PM (#37435922) Homepage

    Like any addiction, the first step is to admit that you've got a problem. :)

    Seriously, though. You've got to realize that whatever the result of your efforts is, it's still going to be non-ideal, even if it looks as uniform and as neat as humanly possible. The truth is, no matter of initial neatness will prevent someone from coming along and fucking it up, whether unintentionally and with good cause or because they're a lazy git.

    At home, I will label both ends of a cable that is likely to be sitting in a pile with other cables (usually - particularly when they're likely to be confused with others and when tracing the cable will be difficult). Just a simple file folder label or piece of tape, usually. Mostly, I don't worry about it, because at home "oops, I unplugged the system" only bothers me and/or my family. At work, it's another story: everything you do should be done to help mitigate downtime and improve your ability to effectively work with the cabling.

    On server racks, I prefer a handful of techniques. There are a couple principles I abide by:

    * always assume the rack will get messy over time
    * your original intent will not be the intent of the next person to come along
    * never assume a standard, because everyone has a different idea of how things should be done, and first impressions to that effect can be wrong
    * standards only make sense when the implementation requirements/specifications/etc. are identical/universal, eg. with electrical wiring or in a large hosting facility where everything is the same or there is a standard which can be applied to. This isn't usually the case with most colocated racks or with most server rooms, in my experience.
    * "Do things right the first time so you don't have to do them again". This applies generally to things like figuring out which cable goes where. "Right" is not necessarily the most aesthetic or "neat" option, but it is the laziest and most time-efficient, with an eye for long-term maintenance.

    The techniques are:

    For ethernet:
    * ethernet should not be bundled approximately 5 per group.
    * ethernet cable should be a rainbow of color, with different colors in each bundle. Eg: a bundle should have blue, green, red, white, etc. not multiples of any given color. This helps drastically when determining which cable goes to which system.
    * Jack ends should be labeled descriptively and dated at the time of labeling. The description should describe the other end of the cable, not the end you're labeling (eg: sw2j5 for the 2nd NIC in server 5 that goes to switch 2 jack 5, or 'svr5n2' on the other end).
    * use generic (not the 'fancy' ones) velcro straps to bundle the cable
    * do not bundle the bundles, especially with velcro (because it will stick to the bundle velcro and make things a mess). To hold them up and away, I prefer using 6" ball bungees ( or similar,
    * DO NOT USE HORIZONTAL CABLE MANAGEMENT PRODUCTS. DO NOT. They make a mess of things and, more often than not, get in the way more often than not. The one exception to this is on a part of the rack where you've got a patch panel or switching which is likely to remain consistent through several server iterations.
    * Do not pull the Ethernet to one side of the rack only. "Alternate" the bundles of ethernet to each side (like pigtails, sorta).

    For power:
    * Do not use the 6'+ power cables unless you need to. The cables are big enough and cheap enough to buy them in shorter lengths so you do not need to bundle them as much and the bundles are neater.
    * Label both ends with the name of the system in question (UPS side) and the UPS in question (server side).
    * Color code, if possible, by UPS. IE, if you have 2 PSUs per host, the first PSU gets black cables which go to one UPS, and the second gets grey cables which go to the other.

  • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @06:36PM (#37436226) Homepage Journal

    One of my first network gigs, they converted from twinax to Cat5 for an army of 5150 terminals. Some glad to get rid of triax, but as they brought up the twisted pair terminals, they had trouble keeping some of them online for more than a few minutes. IBM subbed the cabling work out, and it took them weeks to give up and admit they had no idea what was wrong.

    At this point the powers-that-be were discussing the problem in the machine room, and their telecom tech was feeding another stick of gum into his mouth when I asked if they could stand a little advice. I recommended they loosen the cable ties that they used to bundel up the cable runs in the room and the various MDF rooms, they were pretty but very, very tight. Solved the problem. Turns out twinax waveform at the time was essentially a square wave, and UTP is not sielded like twinax. Crosstalk was the culprit. The clue? One big complaint from users was that they would get someone else's session for an instant on the scrren, then the terminal reset and they had to log in. Another session? Not exactly, but it did sometimes paint a little of screen from another session (cable) before it flipped out. Very unusual.

    This should not affect Ethernet, being resistant to all forms of interference including crosstalk etc, but no point in testing the theory. Velcro ties don't cause the crimping that ties do, and that crimping was the culprit. Compression shorts do still happen, not as often as they used to in telecom.

    And yes, plant ties are the bargain. Maybe soaking a few rolls in black dye to avoid the stigma of 'plant' ties will give you the panache you were looking for. Salt water sets the dye, avoids ruboff and black fingers. Or sell green as the new black.

  • by whit3 ( 318913 ) on Sunday September 18, 2011 @07:06PM (#37436384)

    It is possible in most rack-mount (big cable complexity) systems to
    get your cables routed from the source, to the edge of the array,
    down (or up) the rack then across to the destination, if the wires
    are long enough. This is important if a box in the rack ever
    requires replacement, because all cables NOT routed to that box are out
    of the way for removal/replacement operations.

    It is relatively commonplace, in science labs, to see wiring tied to the
    rackmount modules' handles, just to keep its loops draped on the
    side, out of the way of maintenance and configure and monitor operations.
    It ought to be more commonplace, IMHO.

  • I use rubber bands (Score:4, Interesting)

    by davesag ( 140186 ) on Monday September 19, 2011 @12:57AM (#37437976) Homepage

    We always seem have have millions of spare rubber bands in our house so, for my home office cabling needs, I affix ethernet and phone cables to the tops of the legs of my desk to prevent my kicking them by accident, using rubber bands.

    Now rubber bands don't actually last that long, a few months at most, before they dry out and snap. When they snap I tend to pull everything out of my office, vacuum and mop the floors, scrub the desk down and generally file all my shit. Then I go down to the kitchen and grab another 8 or so rubber bands and set everything up again. This both works well to keep cables off the floor and provides a handy timer to remind me to tidy up my office. And best of all those rubber bands are free.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972