Stick to good cable-labelling practices

By Robert Vines, Country Manager for the UK, Ireland and Nordics, TSC Printronix Auto ID.

You can’t look at any news outlets without seeing someone speculating about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) or maybe its legal or sustainability ramifications. Generative AI such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard are fast gaining traction, which, in turn, is driving an increased demand for data centres. 

And with the rising demand comes a need for more energy to power them as well as keep them cool, with one study suggesting the AI industry could consume as much electricity as the whole of the Netherlands by 2027. In addition to the increased energy requirements comes the challenge of ensuring the cabling networks that interconnect these crucial business systems are running at maximum efficiency.

Organising and labelling cables should be standard practice in any business. Failing to properly label individual cables can not only cause costly operational interruptions and unnecessary downtime but also take longer for problems to be identified.

Good processes and practices help keep you safe from outages

Data centre outages are caused by anything from cyber-attacks to natural disasters but it’s human error, rather than equipment failures or architecture, that is the most common culprit. 

The Uptime Institute claims that three quarters* (75%) of all data centre outages could be attributed to human error, be they inefficient layouts, no labelling, insufficient training, or scant maintenance. Inadequate cable management can also jeopardise operational safety as it obstructs airflow to racks, traps dust, and leads to cable overheating. 

Accurate and timely cable labelling is important because it enables you to:

Comply with industry standards and regulations or meet customer specifications.

Follow the ANSI/TIA-606-B standard for administering telecommunications cabling infrastructure

Troubleshoot and rectify issues quickly thereby minimising safety risks and any downtime

Conduct maintenance and repairs efficiently and effectively

Record hardware assets better

Preparing for network expansion

Many UK businesses have probably managed fine up until now with their own server and renting cloud space but an increasing number are seeing the need for their own data centres. In this instance, the IT team might prioritise network design and cable structure over in-cabinet wiring. 

However, how the cabling is bundled and segregated is every bit as important for compliance and operational reasons as the health and safety (H&S) aspect. A spaghetti of cables hanging from a cabinet poses a real trip hazard!

That said, the networking industry is fairly well practiced in ensuring cables are easy to identify, inspect and replace. Colour-coding of cables is commonplace to determine cable function and connection type, and labels at each end of the cable further aid identification. But comprehensive labelling offers further benefits:

Efficiency; being able to quickly identify what hardware is connected where saves time in routine maintenance and repair jobs, in audits of assets and in troubleshooting outages.

Meeting standards: enables businesses to comply with industry regulations and alert people to safety risks like dangerous areas. 

Accurate records: minimises the risk of errors in troubleshooting and clarifies the function of each cable to those who neither planned nor installed the data centre.

Neat: not only does it look more professional it also makes for better organisation

Choosing a labelling solution

Once you start looking around, there’s a bewildering choice of cable labels to choose from, encompassing various types, sizes, and materials. And that’s not where it ends, you also need to think about the right labelling tool, such as a reliable commercial-grade label printer. 

Ideally, you want a device that is versatile enough to print, with exceptional quality, speed and precision, across a variety of media types. To ensure print quality, you must also select the right printer based on such consideration as frequency of label printing, label size, and materials used. 

When it comes to cable labelling, the top three cable labels are:

Printable polyolefin heat-shrink labels that come in different diameter sizes, ranging from 1/8-in, 1/4-in, and 3/16-in up to 7/8-in.

Self-laminating labels crafted from clear polyester or vinyl material, featuring a small white printable area.

Cable and wire tags, usually made of durable polyethylene, available in heights of 1/4-in, 1/2-in, and 3/4-in, with widths ranging from about 1/2 inch to 3 inches.

When considering media variations, it is vital to also think about selecting the appropriate ribbon to ensure it works with the selected media type. 

Future-proof your cable labelling

Given the diverse label media available, and the amount of information you might want to include on them, it pays to choose a printer with the capability to overcome both current and future label printing challenges. The TSC Printronix Auto ID TH Series of desktop barcode printers are available for 4-inch and 2-inch applications, offering direct thermal and transfer thermal print methods and are particularly recommended for cable label printing. Its key features include:

Heavy-duty cycle support: can print up to 7,000† labels per day.

Wide media width support with minimum 5 mm print height: both the 4-inch and 2-inch versions can handle media widths of 15 mm to 120 mm and 15 mm to 60 mm, respectively, making them ideal for cable labelling. A unique narrow media adaptor can also handle 10mm wide media, which will ft most heat-shrink tubes.

Exceptional precision and print quality: a combination of high precision performance and a media damper to stabilise media during printing guarantees top-notch print quality for narrow and small labels. Moreover, the heater line and thermal print head (TPH) pressure can be adjusted to accommodate thicker labels, while the 10 mm wide adaptor securely holds the media for seamless printing.

User-friendly operations: Each TH Series Printer boasts three shortcut buttons that can be customised to perform frequently used functions. For instance, a shortcut for media calibration proves invaluable when working with different media types.

Auto-switch printer language emulation: out of the box plug-and-play, no need to modify label templates, ensuring a smooth transition.

The TH Series, like the DH Series, of barcode printers is TSC Printronix Auto ID’s most versatile and future-proof range of devices yet. They can print on diverse media including fabric, card and linerless and it is this last medium that additionally offers H&S benefits. 

The peel-off backing sheet from more traditional labels is not recyclable and the waste material presents a real slip hazard on cluttered commercial or industrial premises floors, especially high-volume shipping areas, for example, where litter from label liners can be significant. Another advantage of linerless that is that labels can be printed to any length so more information can be included such as cable function, location or any other criteria.

Bring order and professionalism to your cable management with the TH Series of desktop barcode printers.


† The print volume is based on printing 4-in x 6-in and 2-in x 6-in labels at a print resolution of 203 dpi.

Gordon Johnson, Senior CFD Manager at Subzero Engineering, addresses the potential risk of data...
By Sam Bainborough, Director EMEA-Strategic Segment Colocation & Hyperscale at Vertiv.
By Darren Watkins, chief revenue officer at VIRTUS Data Centres.
By David Walker, Field CTO, Europe, at Yugabyte.
By Chris Coward, Director of Project Management, BCS.
New reporting requirements for data centres and IT don’t have to be burden they might first...