MDF vs IDF vs Data Centers

MDF stands for Main Distribution Frame, and IDF stands for Intermediate Distribution Frame. They are common terms in the field of telecommunications and computer networking. These are essentially physical locations – rooms or cabinets – where networking equipment is stored and connections are made.

Main Distribution Frame (MDF): This is the primary networking closet or room where the connection to the outside world begins. The MDF houses the main routers, switches, and other important networking equipment. It may also contain servers and other key infrastructure. The MDF connects to the external service provider, and then distributes connectivity to the various IDFs throughout the building or campus.

Intermediate Distribution Frame (IDF): These are secondary rooms or closets that are connected to the MDF. An IDF typically contains switches and other networking equipment that distribute network connections to users in a localized area. For example, in a large office building, there might be an IDF on each floor or wing to provide network connections to the devices in that specific area. The IDF connects back to the MDF, either directly or through other IDFs.

The reason for having both MDFs and IDFs is to manage and organize the network infrastructure in a way that provides efficient and effective network connectivity throughout a large building or campus. Rather than running cables from every device directly to the main routers in the MDF, connections are instead run to local IDFs. This can significantly reduce the amount and complexity of cabling and make it easier to manage the network.

You would use an MDF when you have a central location where your main networking equipment resides. This is usually where your internet service provider’s connection comes into your building.

IDFs are used when the area to be networked is too large for a single wiring closet to service. Large buildings, for example, might have an IDF on each floor or in each wing to provide network connections to all the devices in those areas.

As far as recommendations, it depends on the size and layout of the building or campus. If it’s a small office, you might only need an MDF. But if it’s a large office building or a campus with multiple buildings, you will likely need multiple IDFs to efficiently distribute network connections. The main idea is to avoid long cable runs, which can degrade signal quality and network performance. The exact placement and number of IDFs can depend on several factors, including the size and shape of the building, the number of network devices, and the requirements for network speed and performance.



A data center, MDF (Main Distribution Frame), and IDF (Intermediate Distribution Frame) all play crucial roles in network infrastructure, but they serve different purposes and are used in different contexts.

Data Center: This is a large facility used to house computer systems and related components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. It generally includes redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, environmental controls (e.g., air conditioning, fire suppression), and various security devices. A data center can be private, serving only one enterprise (on-premises or enterprise data center), or it can be provided as a service to many organizations (co-location, cloud, or managed service data center). Data centers are typically used to run large scale applications, store and process large amounts of data, and provide services over a network.

MDF (Main Distribution Frame): This is the central point in a network where all the network connections come together. It’s typically located on the premises of a building or campus. The MDF is where the connection to the outside world (like an ISP or a connection to a data center) begins and where it’s distributed to the IDFs. It contains equipment such as routers, switches, servers, and potentially firewall systems.

IDF (Intermediate Distribution Frame): This is a secondary hub in a network. IDFs are used in large buildings where it’s not practical to run all connections directly to the MDF. Instead, connections from the MDF are run to an IDF, and from there they’re distributed to end users in the nearby area. The IDF will typically contain switches and other networking equipment, but unlike an MDF, it usually doesn’t contain the main routers or servers.

In essence, the difference lies in the scale and purpose of these facilities. A data center is a large-scale facility designed for handling vast amounts of data and providing various IT services. An MDF or IDF, on the other hand, is a part of a building’s or campus’s on-premises network infrastructure, facilitating local network connectivity. MDFs and IDFs would be found inside a building or campus, whereas a data center might be anywhere in the world, and businesses connect to it via public networks or dedicated telecommunication links.