As the demand for bandwidth increases so should the common sense approach to installing fiber to the desk. But, there are still those that need convincing on a daily, if not hourly, basis. As we all know and have been taught since we were wee wire pullers, fiber is always more expensive than copper. This myth has recently been proven false in many projects all around the country. Unfortunately some of our network design engineer partners are still using the old cut and paste method of network design and seldom offer the end user the option of installing fiber to the desk. Sadly these same engineers are still specifying 62.5 micron fiber when they should, in fact, be calling out 50 micron fiber for new multi mode installations.
In 2004, I had the opportunity to speak at 11 luncheons given by various design firms in Houston and Austin. Surprisingly, no engineer at any of the firms was aware of the standards governing fiber to the desk. Many had no idea that 50/125 fiber was, in fact, a part of the existing wiring standards. Unfortunately there was and still is a common misconception that FTTD is always more expensive than copper.
In early 2005 while teaching a Certified Fiber Optics Technician Course at the University of Texas in Arlington, I was very fortunate to have two students from the US Courts South Texas Division in Houston. During the 5-day course, FTTD was described In great detail. Although this was a fiber optics class and was obviously biased toward fiber, the presentation offered an opportunity for the US Courts, South Texas Division, to completely understand the benefits of fiber optics networking without all the myths and misconceptions about using fiber instead of copper all the way to the desk top.
Once the techs had completed the class and had good, solid, up to date information, they were able to convey their fiber optics networking ideas back to the Houston office. Not surprisingly, before they made it home to Houston the decision to install fiber to the desk in 7 Federal Court Houses in the South Texas District was in the works.
It just made good sense, for the tax payers and the US Courts, Texas Division facilities. They had been pulling and re-pulling Category UTP copper cables for years just to keep up with the demand for bandwidth in the Courthouses. From Cat 3 to Cat 5e, they had it all. In fact, they were about to purchase new switches/routers for their entire network district wide (7 cities). And further, the entire network cable infrastructure was going to have to be replaced yet again. Once they realized that fiber to the desk was a valid option, they began to research the cost involved for both scenarios (fiber Vs. copper) - not only from a cable standpoint, but also from a cost per port standpoint. Some questions, therefore, had to be answered such as: What was the total cost for switches if they ran copper? What would be the total cost of switches and media converters if they installed fiber? How did the cost of fiber cabling compare to that of copper? Finally - If they installed copper, how long would it be before they would eventually be installing fiber? Also they knew, based on their available budget, if they were going to put this new network in place, they were going to have to install it themselves.
I have seen network technology standards change dramatically over the past 15 years (10MB, 100MB, 1Gig and now 10G). Every time the speed gets faster, the copper manufacturers come out with their 'final' solution to meet the demands. Unfortunately, the US Courts, South Texas Division technicians have been installing and re-installing this 'final' solution for years. As a result, organizations attempting to keep up with these standards are forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every 3-5 years because the copper infrastructure will not support the new technology that was being introduced.
So the latest 'final' solution of 10 Gig networks has put copper manufacturers on the defense once again attempting to meet the ever-changing 802.3an (10GBase-T) standard. But we know, based on the past history of copper, that it will probably not meet the next standard that comes along. It appears that even if copper can meet the new 10GBase-T requirements, this could very well be the final 'twist' for copper. Based on these facts, fiber would eventually be installed in the US Courts South Texas buildings in 3-5 years from now regardless.
In addition to being tasked with purchasing new switches/routers, now the technician's responsibility included trying to convince US Courts management that Fiber to the Desk was in the best interest of the Court and the tax payers and that they were capable of installing it themselves after Fiber Optics Network Training from BDI DataLynk.
The US Courts, South Texas Division's, ultimate FTTD decision was very simple based on the facts. It was just as cost effective to install fiber to the desk as copper considering the fact that it would be installed in their buildings anyway in 3-5 years or less. With fiber, their network would have maximum bandwidth capabilities with no EMI/RFI interference, no alien cross talk, be more reliable, be more secure, and virtually future-proof. More importantly, as new technologies are introduced, they would only need to purchase the electronics, instead of both electronics and cable infrastructure to meet the demand.
The decision to do the job themselves was an easy one. Whoever said that installing, terminating, and testing fiber was more difficult than installing, terminating, and testing UTP copper should reconsider, because terminating SC Anaerobic Connectors is a breeze. Also the cost of two SC singlemode connectors used in the project were less expensive than one of the 10GigBase-T, RJ-45 connectors they had considered initially. The entire project consists of about 8,000 hand terminations. I would much rather be installing 8,000 Anaerobic SC fiber optic connectors any day than 8,000 UTP, RJ-45 connectors. They have no worries with separating 8 different colors per termination, no worries about maintaining this twist or that twist, no worries about punching down too hard or not enough, and no worries about extra testing for alien cross talk or any other cross talk for that matter. They used a basic power source and light meter to test their fiber segments to insure they were within the recommended loss budget of the electronics. As a result no hassles, now worries, no errors, and only a few SC fiber connectors had to be re-terminated. The decision to use 50/125 µm, OM-3 Laser Optimized Fiber (LOF) was quite simple. The US Courts, South Texas Division needed a product that would offer a final solution to cabling upgrade issues that have plagued all IT Managers since the early days of networking. The ever-increasing demand for more bandwidth, the need for security, and the demand for network reliability made FTTD the best solution - hands down. Installing fiber is really just a matter of understanding the facts.
In virtually all cases, the ability to upgrade a fiber network fiber is quite simply a matter of changing a switch or NIC. In reality, the formula for fiber to the desk is quite simple - install it, test it, and forget it. No more dealing with this cross talk that cross talk issues common to copper infrastructures - not to mention the Alien (UFO) Cross Talk problems currently plaguing the 10Gig Copper guys. Since the active TR, as we know it, goes away, there is no need for HVAC equipment, air ducts, primary power, secondary power, secure access, thermostats, lights, UPS Systems, grounding, and costly switches - not to mention the fact that many active closets consume roughly 2% of the annual power budget of the building. One has to consider that building space is at a premium as well. The telecom room (TR) is now much smaller using a FTTD solution. Taking the above into consideration results in a cost effective solution that is future proof and is almost limitless in it's bandwidth capabilities. Also, if there was ever any doubt about whether or not one is getting full network speed to the desk continuously, fiber provides a comfort level copper does not. While contemplating the need for a fiber to the desk solution, the US Courts, South Texas Division not only considered the ever-changing bandwidth demands of the present, but also the bandwidth demands of the future. Over the years they had installed several generations of UTP copper cabling and felt the time had come to install a longer term solution. With an eye to the future, it was decided that the latest spec multimode, OM3, 50/125 Laser Optimized Fiber would be used throughout the system at all US Federal Court House locations in Houston, McAllen, Laredo, Victoria, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, and Galveston. OM3 fibers have the capability of supporting higher transmission rates using low-cost, 850 nm Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers ( VCSELs), standard 850 nm LEDs, or most any 1300 nm lasers on the market.
For future bandwidth considerations the OM3 fiber (which costs around 16 cents per foot more than standard 50 micron fiber) has the capability to support even higher data transmission rates using low-cost parallel optics transceiver arrays and/or coarse wavelength division multiplexing (CWDM). Consider this: if you had 10 OM3, 50 micron fibers each with a throughput of 10 Gbits/sec, each could be aggregated into a 100-Gbit/sec system. Further, if you had two OM3 fibers, each carrying four wavelengths (CWDM) at 12.5-Gbits/sec each, the result would also be a 100-Gbit/sec system. Why not use singlemode fiber? The lasers cost much more to manufacture and would drive the cost of networking electronics too high for LAN-based applications. Singlemode fiber is best used for distances in excess of 550 meters. What about the high cost of Plenum Inner duct? No worries here because there is none used. With the high tensile strength of the new distribution and Riser-Rated fiber cable being manufactured today, the use of Plenum Inner Duct is an unnecessary expense in most cases. The US Court's fiber is being hung from J-Hooks in the sky above the drop ceiling and along the walls as necessary. Most LAN cable problems occur where we humans have access to them on a continuous basis - in the Telecom Room. Therefore, the use of plenum inner duct in the project was avoided resulting in a significant decrease in cost per drop savings to the tax payer.
The use of Fiber To The Desk in lieu of copper provides an unprecedented ability to offer not only virtually unlimited bandwidth to each and every user on the network, but it also offers a substantial savings for current and future upgrades and applications. Upgrading the network in the future is now just a matter of changing electronics - NOT installing new cable. The installation was so simple that the US Courts technical staff at each location did the work themselves.
Many of the "installers" had little, if any fiber optics cabling experience. Senior US Courts, South Texas Division, personnel provided all daily support and project supervisory functions at all sites. RCDDs from BDI DataLynk are providing periodic visits to inspect installation progress and offer any assistance should any problem occur during the install.
All installation, terminating, splicing and testing is being done by US Courts technical support staff. Every technician and supervisor involved in the actual installation at all 7 locations was trained by myself and BDI DataLynk providing Fiber Optics Association (FOA) sanctioned, fiber optics training. Although Fusion Splicers were utilized for splicing pigtails to the 144-fiber backbone cable serving every TR, this entire project is being completed with basic fiber optic tools and test equipment. No fancy, high cost connectors or terminating equipment was used.
The Loss Budget for the low cost, high performance, 1300 nm media converters used at each end of the segment, is 11 dB. With a 3 dB Aging (Excess Margin) built in at design and additional specified losses allowed for cable, connectors and splices, no segment is approaching an attenuation level that would cause concern now or in the future. Specifically the US Courts Technicians are able to achieve an average splice loss of 0.0 dB and a loss of less than .3 dB per connector pair using the anaerobic 3-step polishing process. Testing of the newly installed fiber segments is being accomplished with an inexpensive Optical Loss Test Set (OLTS). Final segment testing and certification at both 850 nm and 1300 nm is being accomplished using an industry recognized, bi-directional cable certification tester.
The benefits and expectations of this 2,000 plus user FTTD installation will far exceed the expectations of the US Courts South Texas Division. The general public, judges, clerks, staff, and network technicians will have faster access to important files, unlimited unlimited video teleconferencing abilities, uninterrupted VoIP, and day-to-day file sharing with over-the-top bandwidth capabilities of their new 10 Gig capable fiber infrastructure.
Utilizing on-staff personnel, low cost, high quality SC Singlemode connectors, low cost tools, basic fiber optics installation, terminating, and testing techniques, the elimination of legacy active telecom rooms and costly plenum inner duct is resulting in a low cost, virtually maintenance free, high quality, high-bandwidth fiber to the desk network that will meet and exceed all current and future networking bandwidth requirements. Even with the utilization of temporary, low cost, media converters at each end of most fiber segments, the installed cost per port FTTD installation was, in fact, a cost effective solution. The substantial overall savings allowed for the purchase of new switches to add to the vast network of switchgear already installed. Now instead of "mystery" meg to the desk, the network is only limited by the capabilities of the active components at each and not the cross talk (alien, UFO, or otherwise) and other maladies commonly associated with installed UTP copper networks.
The US Courts South Texas Division IT team got all of the facts before they made the decision to properly future-proof their infrastructure. They took the time to analyze the big difference between actual cost per port Vs. installed cost per port. They also understood that the definition of insanity was continuing to do the same thing time after time and expecting different results.
Shouldn't you do the same and learn the facts?
Bob Ballard, RCDD, CFOI, CFOT, and owner of BDI DataLynk, is a Registered Communication Distribution Designer appointed by BICSI, and is also recognized by the Fiber Optics Association as a Certified Fiber Optics Instructor. Bob has been actively involved in the telecommunications industry for over 20 years. His expertise in the area of fiber connectivity has made him a sought after consultant whenever problems arise. He speaks at Universities, Architectural Firms, Integrator Gatherings, and Conventions. He has performed fiber optics training for contractors all over the US and Mexico. He also has taught numerous fiber optic training sessions in the United States and Mexico on subjects ranging from Long-Haul Fiber Connectivity to Network Grounding. He is also responsible for one of the largest fiber to the desk installations in the US - the US Courts FTTD Project in Texas. For more information about installting and testing fiber optics networks, visit us at http://www.bdidatalynk.com
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