Fiber U Self Study

Self Study Lesson Plan: Data Center Cabling
Level: Intermediate

Data Center Cabling

Data Center Inside a giant Data Center (Google)

Intended For:
  • Anyone new to data centers and/or data center cabling who wants to learn how it works
  • Designers and installers involved in projects with data center cabling
  • Managers and supervisors involved in projects with data center cabling
Objectives: From this self-study program you should learn:

  • How data centers store and retrieve information for usage
  • How data center networks are designed to maximize efficiency
  • How cabling connects all elements of a data center
  • What types of cabling (copper, fiber or active optical cables -AOCs) are used in data centers
  • Issues in designing and installing data center cabling.


Fiber U Certificate of Completion
When you finish, you can take an online exam on this course to qualify for a "Fiber U Certificate of Completion."


Data centers are the source of the information that forms traffic on the Internet. Data centers can be small or large, depending on the intended usage, with a few servers and some storage or thousands of servers and acres of storage. All data centers, no matter what the scale, involve similar architectures - connections to the outside world (the Internet), several levels of switches inside the data center providing efficient but redundant connections between servers, storage and the routers connecting to the outside world.

This course focuses on the cabling used in data centers – the types of cabling choices available, how to install the cabling, test it and troubleshoot cabling problems including some which affect data transmission. This course is not – NOT - about how to design data centers which involves complex issues such as equipment choices, layouts, powering equipment, cooling the data center, security, etc. It’s just about the cabling.

From our own analyses of data centers, we believe the approach of traditional standard structured cabling is not as valuable as it would be in a enterprise LAN. Data centers are highly specialized units where modularity is important in the design and consideration for power, cooling, redundancy and security often are more important than trying to force some standardized cabling design.

Data Center cabling is covered by standards: TIA-568 and ISO-11801 through three standards, ISO 24764, CENELEC EN 50173-5 and TIA-942. Both standards cover similar materials, offer lots of options for cabling in data centers and more TLAs (three letter acronyms) than most standards. In all our research into how data centers are really built, we found little relevance to these standards or what manufacturers of cabling were selling as data center cabling. Our research found that the descriptions of real data centers had little similarity with these standards, instead using designs with descriptive names like "leaf-spine," "top of rack" and "end of row" that are descriptive of the architecture of the networks used but are terms absent from standards. What that really means is that data centers use a lot of different options for cabling that are a result of many different floor plan layouts, rack layouts, theories of cooling, etc. And it seems something new comes up every month. In reality, standards with their long life cycles that take years to create and even longer to update, have little chance for relevance in fast moving technologies like data centers.

Furthermore, as TIA-942 states in the introduction “Data centers are designed to handle the requirements of large quantities of computer and telecommunications equipment. Therefore, telecommunications and information technology  professionals and specifiers should be involved in the design of the data center from its inception.” This short self-study program is designed to introduce both IT professionals to cabling and cabling professionals to IT/data centers based on what appears to be current industry practice.

So as is the FOA’s procedure, we will summarize the options and provide guidance on how the data center is generally designed and built and not spend our time on standards that will be changing continuously! We do however try to keep our references up to date.

In addition to the information on data centers design and cabling options, we include in this self-study program information on prefab (preterminated) cabling systems and MPO connectors related to their potential use in data centers.

You will be instructed to read the references or watch videos and take the quiz (Test Your Knowledge) to complete the "classroom" part of the course.

Get Started

Watch The Video
FOA YouTube Video Lecture 38, Data Center Cabling  

Read The Online FOA Reference
FOA Reference Guide, Data Center Cabling   

Learn About Prefab Cabling And MPO Connectors
Some data centers use prefab cabling systems with array connectors. You should learn about this cabling option also.
Read more about prefab (preterminated) cabling used in data centers and more or watch the FOA YouTube video on prefab cabling.

Read about MPO multifiber/array connectors or watch the FOA YouTube Video on MPO connectors and the challenges of testing cable plants using them.

Test Your Knowledge - Data Center Cabling Quiz And Case Study   

Fiber U Certificate of  Completion
When you finish the assignments and case study, you can take an online exam on this course to qualify for a "Fiber U Certificate of Completion." The exam cost is $20US.
Go here to take the Fiber U Data Center Certificate of Completion exam. Here are detail directions if this is your first time taking a
Fiber U Certificate of Completion exam.

This information is provided by The Fiber Optic Association, Inc. as a benefit to those interested in teaching, designing, manufacturing, selling, installing or using fiber optic communications systems or networks. It is intended to be used as an overview and/or basic guidelines and in no way should be considered to be complete or comprehensive. These guidelines are strictly the opinion of the FOA and the reader is expected to use them as a basis for learning, as a reference and for creating their own documentation, project specifications, etc. Those working with fiber optics in the classroom, laboratory or field should follow all safety rules carefully. The FOA assumes no liability for the use of any of this material.


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