Monday, July 26, 2010

SFP+ Marks a Shift in Data Center Cabling

by Lisa Huff

With the advent of top-or-rack (ToR) switching and SFP+ direct attach copper cables, more data centers are able to quickly implement cost-effective 10G and beyond connections. ToR designs are currently one of two configurations:

1. GigE Category cabling (CAT5e, 6, or 6A) connection to each server with a 10G SFP+ or XFP uplink to either an EoR switch or back to a switch in the main distribution area (MDA)
2. SFP direct attach cabling connection to each server with a 10G SFP+ or XFP uplink to either an EoR switch or back to a switch in the MDA

Either way, SFP and SFP+ modules and cable assemblies are starting to see huge inroads where Category cabling used to be the norm. Consequently, structured cabling companies have taken their shot at offering the copper variants of these devices. Panduit was one of the first that offered an SFP direct-attach cable for the data center, but Siemon quickly followed suit and surpassed Panduit by offering both the copper and optical versions of the assemblies as well as the parallel optics QSFP+ AOC. Others rumored of working on entering into this market are Belden (BDC) and CommScope (CTV). This really marks a shift in philosophy for these companies who traditionally have stayed away from what they considered “interconnect” products. There are a couple of notable exceptions in Tyco Electronics and Molex that have both types of products, however.

So what makes these companies believe they can compete with the likes of Amphenol Interconnect (APH), Molex (MOLX) and Tyco Electronics (TEL)? Well, it might not be the fact that they think they can compete, but that they see some erosion of their patch cord businesses and view this as the only way to make sure the “interconnect” companies don’t get into certain customers. So, protecting their customer base by offering products they won’t necessarily make any money on – because, after all, many of them are actually private-labeled from the very companies they are trying to oust. Smart or risky? Smart, I think, because it seems to me that the future of the data center will be in short-reach copper and mid-range fiber in the form of laser-optimized multi-mode fiber (LOMF).

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