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Data Patch Panels

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This article is the truth about Data Patch Panels.

The Truth about Data Patch Panels

Data Patch Panels

The majority of us know of patch panels. We could point one out. We can tell you what goes into them and how they work. We've all sold one. But, do we understand the importance, the usability or the true function of a data patch panel?

When I first started at Cetnaj Stronglink, I posed the question: why were these things called 'patch panels' relevant? It made more sense to me to plug the incoming copper cable directly into the servers, switches, and other items. I thought, “why would someone waste their time and money in mounting, terminating, and labelling them?” I quickly learnt in the industry that patch panels served four important purposes: network maintenance, equipment longevity, cable control, and future proofing.

Firstly, for anyone who is unsure what a patch panel is, it is a group of data outlets assembled together in one static panel. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words, so here’s what we’re talking about:

 Data Patch Panel


As discussed in another article, I mentioned that data racks (or enclosures) are the main physical point of access to isolate, fix, and modify the workings of a data network. Patch panels are another tool that help achieve this. Because all of the copper cabling throughout a network usually travels through a patch panel (at one point or another), it provides the ability to achieve one point of access for all network maintenance. If a fault is found somewhere in the network, patch panels can be utilised to isolate, diagnose, and divert around faults simply by moving a few patch leads around.


Equipment Longevity

From a network longevity point of view, patch panels provide a transition from solid copper cabling to stranded copper cabling. Solid copper cable provides better conductivity and therefore allows for longer runs of network cabling than stranded. However, solid copper doesn't hold up well to bends and movement, and is difficult to terminate to an RJ45 connector. Stranded copper cable is ideal for patching and for termination to RJ45 connectors. These characteristics make it perfect for use in patch leads. This allows network longevity by taking advantage of the performance benefits of solid cable, while keeping it static (not putting it under stress or strain), and also allows frequent network modification through the use of stranded copper in patch leads.


Cable Control

Because patch panels offer a static surface for all copper cabling to pass through, a network can easily labelled and organised. This is complemented by cable managers and other managing devices set up for use above, below, and behind the panels. In an installation where multiple patch panels are used, you can quickly see the advantages of not having to sift through hordes of labelled copper cables to find the one you're needing.


Future proofing

Lastly, it is cheaper for the end user to have all their copper cables run at once, rather than running a new cable every time a new connection is required. Even if the ports are not active, patch panels are commonly terminated with these runs of cable so that in the event of a new connection being required, a simple patch at the data rack allows a new fully-functional outlet to be up and running within minutes.


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