IDF rooms are a vital piece of the network topology puzzle, as they provide a way to network a large building without relying on long cable runs that increasingly degrade data speeds. With the right setup, an IDF room organizes and efficiently distributes Ethernet cable and links it to the wider network with short, speedy cable runs.
What is an IDF room?
IDF stands for Individual Distribution Frame. An IDF room or cabinet is essentially a hub for telecommunications within a limited area, usually one floor in a large building. The IDF is itself connected by way of vertical cross-connect (VCC) cables to a Main Distribution Frame, or MDF. The MDF in turn acts as the gateway between private or public cables and the building’s own network.
IDF rooms are necessary in network installation, and in large buildings in particular, because the speed of Ethernet cable drops dramatically over long lengths. This is true even of Cat6 and Cat6A, which can carry 10 gigabytes per second, but only up to 328 feet.
The one exception to this rule of fiber optic cable, which maintains data speeds over long distances. But fiber optic installations will still sometimes use an IDF room when the engineering makes sense.
IDF rooms are places where IT professionals can firstly connect cables to the MDF to create a LAN, and secondly organize cables and reinforce an orderly network topology. An IDF room makes setting up and maintaining a reliable Ethernet network more manageable.
Where are IDF rooms used?
IDF rooms are used in a number of settings:
- Office buildings
- Apartment buildings
- Coworking spaces
Basically, any building that has a large square footage and/or multiple floors, and a need for most of that square footage to be part of a Local Access Network or LAN.
IDF Room Requirements
What actually goes into one of these rooms?
There’s a generally standardized set of equipment to corral and direct cables, as well as fire suppression equipment–vital in an enclosed area full of wires–and sometimes surveillance measures as well.
Most of the real estate in an IDF will be taken up by a cable rack sometimes also called a rack and wire manager. This rack both receives cables from the MDF, and links devices on that particular floor to the network through secondary cables and patch panels.
The IDF will also need UPS, or Uninterruptible Power Supply, which provides emergency power to essential IDF equipment in the case of a power outage.
These rooms typically have their own ISP modem to provide an internet connection. The IDF may also contain a router, switch, and/or hub.
A controller acts like a server for the floor’s LAN, including processing and directing data, managing wireless access points, and acting as a firewall.
In buildings that have chosen power over Ethernet, the IDF room will contain PoE switches to provide power and an Ethernet connection over its cables.
It’s also not uncommon to outfit IDFs with backup devices such as hard disk drives or a redundant array of independent disks (RAIN). This ensures that workstations, devices, and equipment on each floor has a dependable backup for their data.
The last thing you want in your gateway to the LAN and the site of your backup drives is fire. A properly installed IDF room will have little to no risk of fire; however, a properly installed IDF room also allows for the existence of potential fire-causing emergencies such as earthquakes. In many cases, local building codes require IDF rooms to have fire suppression in place.
Clean agent, non-water suppression agents are usually the best bet with systems like this, both to minimize further harm to the equipment and to eliminate risk of electric shock.
Synthetic gas suppression stores as a liquid but is dispersed as a gas, which makes it useful for large areas. However, because the synthetic gas puts out fires by reducing the amount of available oxygen, it’s hazardous for use near humans.
Inert gas suppression, on the other hand, stores as a gas and disperses as a gas, does not affect oxygen levels, and is not hazardous for use around humans. This is the clean agent fire suppression most often found in IDF rooms as well as MDF rooms, server rooms, and electrical closets.
And of course, the IDF room should have a fire detector to detect the fire in the first place!
Surveillance won’t be necessary or appropriate for all IDF room settings, but it can be for some. In businesses that deal with sensitive information, or that have had security breaches in the past, IDF room surveillance provides an extra layer of network security.
This can take the form of:
- Dedicated CCTV cameras
- Biometric locks
- Limited-agent locking mechanism with credentials
- Smart lock that logs entrances and exits
IDF In Networking
IDF rooms are useful subunits of a wider LAN that make it possible to maintain high data speeds throughout a facility by keeping cable runs relatively short. It is an important and convenient component of network design that can increase network performance in a number of high-data-volume settings.