Today’s Cabling Infrastructure Certification Challenges

How Simac ICT Belgium addresses them in Enterprise Data Centers

In this article Nicolas Le Fevere de Ten Hove, Technical Manager of the Cabling & Infrastructure team, discusses the typical challenges faced by Simac as an integrator, and how they deployed the Fluke Networks VersivTM Cabling Certification System to help address these challenges. Fluke Networks is Simac’s preferred test instrument vendor as the brand is considered the defacto standard by peers and customers alike.

Moreover, these instruments are very reliable, with the Gold Membership (a turn-key maintenance solution) considered an added plus. As the Technical Manager of the team, Mr. Le Fevere relies on over 15 years of relevant experience within Simac, while previously being employed by a world-class cabling and network connectivity manufacturer.

Design considerations

The proper design of a Data Center is governed by a balance between desired flexibility and the necessary investment. Likewise, the design must help bridge the gap that traditionally exists between Facility and ICT departments. Keeping in mind that the lifetime of an Enterprise Data Center typically amounts from 15 to 20 years, scalability and redundancy are considered important criteria. While growth should be easily accommodated, downtime is one factor to rule out, knowing that in a Financial Services Data Center, an interruption of just two seconds can be extremely damaging. As a preventive measure, the design should allow for easy exchange of core network components, resulting in minimal disruption due to component failure (or during a migration).

Driven by the lower cost of copper compared to fiber, a large percentage of the installed cabling is currently Cat.6A copper. Structured cabling terminated on RJ45, predominantly used for monitoring and management tasks, is forecast to remain the primary technological choice. Cat.8 may become interesting in the future, foremost in Data Centers to be designed from the ground up, where the impact of the Cat.8 length limitation of 30 meters (including patch cords) can be addressed in the design phase. When upgrading existing Data Centers, sticking to Cat.6A is by far the preferred solution to date.

Whereas singlemode fiber is dominant in (large) hyperscale Data Centers, we see a clear preference for multimode in the Enterprise Data Center space, Mr. Le Fevere says. This relates directly to the cost of singlemode components being far more expensive than their multimode equivalents. Over time, shifts from multimode to singlemode are to be expected, when network teams start to deploy evolving IEEE standards for Ethernet connectivity, like (serial) 25G and (parallel) 40/100G, in their Data Center environments. This evolution will eventually lead to new certification challenges.

Product and system warranty

As bandwidth increases, the loss budget becomes ever tighter. Cost considerations add to this constraint, while manufacturers introduce transceivers with a limited power budget. The race for higher throughput (100 Gbps & beyond) and longer distances between network components (as experienced in spine-leaf network topology), dictate rigorous testing to warrant peace of mind for the end user. On top of that, the traditional compliance requirement to industry standards is more likely to be replaced by custom test protocols with more stringent test limits, having been set by manufacturers of cabling and connecting hardware. Current practices, such as the deployment of ultra-low loss components, are an indication of change in the area of (system warranty related) fiber certification.

To address above mentioned developments and avoid running into liability issues, Simac ICT Belgium defines test protocols upfront, and has them validated by both the end-customer and the involved cabling manufacturer, prior to any installation work being executed. These documents can be quite extensive and will typically include detailed test procedures, cleaning instructions, cable tester settings, etc.

Real world certification

The Fluke Networks LinkWareTM Live Cloud Service has considerably enhanced the Simac Cabling & Infrastructure team’s productivity, especially in large projects where multiple Versiv testers are being used concurrently. The instruments – periodically calibrated thanks to the Gold Membership – are always programmed from the central office, with test settings automatically downloaded into the tester in the field, whenever the operator touches the “Sync” button. Simac ICT Belgium adapted their existing work processes to make this happen and are delighted by the fact that testing to the wrong limit, typing errors in label ID’s or entering incorrect numbering are avoided altogether. Moreover, measurement results no longer get lost or misplaced as synchronization between the tester and LinkWareTM Live takes place at least twice a day. Test results can thus easily be shared with the end-customer.

The DSX-8000 CableAnalyzerTM is considered “the tester for the next decade” with the most appreciated feature being the unsurpassed Cat.6A - 8 second test speed. On big jobs this drives substantial savings. The top feature of the CertiFiber Pro Optical Loss Test Set is considered the Set Reference Wizard. This helps technicians set the fiber reference correctly, while checking the Test Reference Cords (TRCs) and preventing potential negative loss measurements in the process. It is equally important to note that, as part of the previously mentioned custom test protocols, defined by the manufacturers of cabling and connecting hardware, fiber reference setting may be required multiple times per day, as some vendors specify a fiber reference validity of 2 hours only.

Conclusion

Evolving technologies drive change in today’s Data Center environment. They impact design, installation and certification protocols alike. While test limits increase, a steady decrease in headroom is noted. The application of ultra-low loss connectivity only being able to partly compensate for the difference, necessitates strict adherence to agreed test protocols and above all, thorough cleaning and inspection.

In contrast, most customers still underestimate the cost of certifying a network. Apart from the investment in instrumentation, a considerable amount of man-hours is required, executed preferably by a dependable partner, honoring the “right first time” principle. Simac ICT Belgium is a certified partner of most leading brands available on the market.


Today’s Cabling Infrastructure Certification Challenges