Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is Data Center Structured Cabling Becoming Obsolete?

by Lisa Huff

Today if you walk into a “typical” data center you’ll see tons of copper Category cabling in racks, under the raised floor and above cabinets. Of course, it can be argued that there is no such thing as a “typical” data center. But, regardless, most of them still have a majority of copper cabling – but that’s starting to change. Over the last year, we’ve seen the percentage of copper cabling decrease from about 90-percent to approximately 80-percent and according to several data center managers I’ve spoken to lately, they would go entirely fiber if they could afford to.

Well, at 10G, they may just get their wish. Not on direct cost, but perhaps on operating or indirect costs. While copper transceivers at Gigabit data rates cost less than $5 per port (for the switch manufacturer), short wavelength optical ones still hover around $20/port (for the switch manufacturer) and about $120/port for the end user – a massive markup we’ll explore later. But 10GBASE-T ports are nearly non-existent – for many reasons, but the overwhelming one is power consumption. 10GBASE-SR ports with SFP+ modules are now available that consume less than 1W of power, while 10G copper chips are struggling to meet a less than 4W requirement. Considering the fact that power and cooling densitie4s are increasingly issues for data center managers, this alone may steer them to fiber.

This has also led to interconnect companies like Amphenol (APH), Molex (MOLX) and Tyco Electronics (TEL) to take advantage of their short-reach copper twinax technology in the form of the SFP+ direct attach cable assemblies and a change in network topology – away from structured cabling. So while structured cabling may be a cleaner and more flexible architecture, many have turned to top-of-rack switching and direct-connect cabling just so they can actually implement 10-Gigabit Ethernet. Of course, Brocade (BRCD), Cisco (CSCO), Force10 and others support this change because they sell more equipment. But is it the best possible network architecture for the data center? 

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