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Fiber-optic Technology: Where is it Heading, Part 2

Dec 24, 2013 1:44 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

It’s all going to fiber and the Fiber Optic Association is paving the way by educating the fiber work force in installation and testing. Jim Hayes from the FOA is back to talk about passive optical LANs and where fiber technology is headed, coming up right now on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Jim Hayes from the Fiber Optic Association, thanks for being back with us for part two. We were talking before about what’s been happening with fiber-optic technology and we were getting into passive optical LANs. We didn’t get much into the comparative advantages and disadvantages between passive optical LANs and the more traditional networks, so what are the plusses and minuses?

Jim Hayes: The idea of the passive optical LAN is that you use the technology of fiber-to-the-home to create a local area network, but they use some rather interesting technology that cuts the cost tremendously. Prior to this new technology, we built local area networks just like phone systems of 30-40 years ago. We would have a main equipment room where we connected to the outside world, and because we were using Category 5 cable, we could go 100 meters and then we had to put a repeater or switch in. A typical structured cabling network based on what was standardized by the TIA, under a document that everybody knows called TIA-568, we’d go from the main equipment room to a telecom room near the users, and then from there to what they call the horizontal cabling to the work area was based, again, on Cat-5. If you had 1,000 users, you would have 2,000 cables that you would have to deal with. Those who are familiar with local area networks, you go into a wiring room, typically on every floor of a building, and you’re used to seeing just massive numbers of split switches and patch panels. In a passive optical LAN, we have a network that looks really like an apartment building with fiber-to-the-home. Down in the main equipment room, instead of racks of switches and routers that connect to the outside world, we have about a foot-and-a-half tall of rack space with a little box that can handle 8,000 users. That would take three to five racks of equipment to handle with a typical structured-cabling LAN. But with a Passive Optical LAN, let’s say we put it back in the telecom room. We rip out all of the cables and all of the equipment, and all we have is a little, small box with an optical splitter in it. The fiber that comes up from the box in the main equipment room goes through the splitter and connects to 32 different work areas. At each of those work areas, we put in the four-port Ethernet switch, but we can just as easily use the kind of box they put on the side of the house for fiber-to-the-home that gives you video, a phone, and an Internet connection. One fiber to 32 fibers—32 fibers, one fiber to each work area—supports 128 users. [Timestamp: 3:40]

Well, that’s a lot of people.

It’s a lot of people. And all of a sudden we don’t need 128 people requiring 256 copper cables. Two hundred and fifty-six copper cables make a bundle almost 1ft. in diameter. Instead, all we need is some single-mode fibers that are 2 or 3mm in diameter to go out to the work areas. What we have now is something that, as I pointed out in part one, saves a lot of copper. We use single-mode fiber, which has virtually infinite bandwidth. The network, naturally today, runs 2.4Gb downstream and 1.2Gb upstream, so it’s plenty fast for everything we want. Those switches that we put in the work area can connect to, well, anything that runs on IT these days can plug in and it does it with a standard Cat-5 patch cord. [Timestamp: 4:35]

In addition to saving space, one of the biggest things in applications and it’s affecting AV, too, is cloud computing. Now, what effect are fiber networks and cloud computing having on each other?

Fiber optics and cloud computing are like exactly the same thing. The problem with cloud computing is that the people who are pushing the concept tell you, “You store your data on our equipment. We have servers and storage that you store your data here rather than building your own data center.” So a corporation can look at it and say, “Wow, data centers are expensive. They have to be upgraded all the time. They consume lots of power. I can turn around and take this service instead, and my employees will have the same kind of service that they would have if I had my own data center and I can get rid of some of those IT people I would normally have around to support it.” Well, there’s a problem and the problem is that the typical enterprise network, it is running at a gigabit per second these days. That’s the default. The Internet backbone, which connects to the cloud-computing suppliers, is running at 10Gb or 100Gbps. The data centers for the cloud computing typically runs at 10Gbps, and they’re starting to look at 40Gbps and 100Gbps. Now how do these two talk to each other? The corporate network has to connect to the Internet backbone, and there’s somebody in the middle there that we call an ISP, an Internet service provider. When you go around and you talk to companies, you’ll find that most companies, there are still a lot of companies running T1 lines, which is 1.5Mbps. [Timestamp: 6:19]

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