News, Opinion

Corning executive highlights the importance of ‘standards’ in data centre design

Dave Kozischek, Standards Manager, Global Technical & Industry Standards at Corning has written an op-ed which explains in detail why standards are so important in the planning and design for data centres on a global scale.

Across the industry, we generate, process, and store big data every day. The demand for bandwidth is ceaseless and every new technological innovation, from artificial intelligence to virtual reality, brings new challenges in managing this data.

These developments have created a surge in the need for facilities to be positioned closer to the user to enable a data offering with more flexibility, high quality of service and low latency.

With this proliferation of more diversified data centres and more advanced technologies, comes a renewed need for data centre operators to follow and understand the relevant design, build and operational standards – which also play a very prominent role in ensuring quality, safety and compatibility.

Standards: the what and the why

In essence, standards are agreements on technical characteristics and they can be widely adopted. They are developed to an open, consensus-based process and most importantly, the use of standards is voluntary – although in many markets, standards do establish minimum functional performance.

It can sometimes be confusing, however, to understand which standards to use when confronted with the many standards and development organisations that are available. Speaking generally, the process when first deciding what standard to use is to make sure you comply with any existing local, regional or international regulations so that you comply with the law.

Other key elements that govern decisions around standard selection are transmission speed, the required distances in the cabling architecture, the kinds of applications that are needed to run, the type of fibre and the active equipment that is required. Crucially, standards protect the end-user. They ensure that, for example, when you buy an LC or MPO connector from Corning or any other vendor you can be assured that it will interoperate with other products that follow the standards.

Involvement in organisations that aren’t standard bodies, industry fora and consortia such as the FTTH Council, European Data Centre Association and Broadband Forum, can also be invaluable as part of the quality process. Often, these are the kinds of groups that develop industry consensus that will then make its way into standards further down the line.

Let’s take a closer look now at the chronology and lookouts for identifying the correct standards to support technology decisions in the data centre.

Standards and their effect on data centre product selection

So, what kind of standards are governing the typical data centre cabling infrastructure we see today? One of the most prominent is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) which covers many types of electronics that are used in the data centre.

Figure 1 – IEEE Ethernet Transceiver Standards

The IEEE is one of the first reference points to guide the customer into what kind of fibre they’re going to use. Each of the standards shown in Figure 1 are Ethernet standards with the ones in black governed by the IEEE, and the ones in red representing solutions not recognised by the standards bodies.

Figure 1 is a snapshot of what is available today. These options vary depending on transmission speed – from 25G all the way to 400G – and there is an array of different solutions that a customer can choose from, even going up to 800G. In the design process the standards provide important intelligence on how future-ready these initial decisions are. A data centre operator can easily see that from 25G all the way up to 400G, for example, 100m solutions are available.  So, if they were to design a data centre of maximum length connections of 100m with 100G, they could get confirmation that the system is already covered up to 400G.

Transceiver models are available for both single-mode and multimode fibre, referenced on the left-hand side of the table, for a mix of duplex and parallel technology. The former has the advantage of high information carrying capacity, low attenuation and low fibre cost, but multimode has the advantage of low connection and electronics costs which may lead to a lower overall systems cost.

The next key decision is around how to approach the cabling. The ISO IEC, commonly used across Europe, is broken up into six parts with 11801-1 being the base document for all the others, covering the general requirements for twisted-pair copper cable and for fibre with 11801-5, which covers the standard for data centres.

The key areas for the data centre standard, at a high level, would include the requirements for general cabling structure, channel and link performance, cable requirements and connecting hardware in the different zones, ENI (External Network Interface), MD (Main Distributor), ID (Intermediate Distributor) and ZD (Zone Distributor) amongst other elements.

The next step then is to consider which products to choose in line with the standard requirements, for data centres mainly fibre and fibre optic hardware and connectivity. Depending on the required distance to cover, this will impact the decision to use multimode or single mode, based on the availability and choice of transceiver.

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