The Importance of Protecting Fibre Optic Cabling Infrastructure

The number of optical fibre links between switches, storage area network (SANs), and equipment continue to rise in data centre environments due to increasing data and bandwidth needs. As connections between core, SAN, interconnection, and access switches push to 50, 100, 200 or higher gigabit per second (Gb/s) speeds and require low-latency transmission to effectively manage larger volumes of data, fibre is emerging as the dominant media type for data centre infrastructure.

As the flexibility, scalability, and higher bandwidth offered by fibre continues to lead to the replacement of copper cables across the data centre, market volume for fibre is expected to increase at a rate of more than one and a half times that of copper in the years ahead.
As a data centre manager, the challenge of routing and segregating increasing amounts of fibre from network distribution to SANs and server areas is always prevalent. 
You need to ensure those routes maintain fibre protection and cost-effectively facilitate change so that you can confirm optimal performance, uptime, and scalability in your data centre.

The Need for Effective Fibre Optic Protection

Fibre is sensitive to stress, and it is imperative to maintain proper bend radius of fibre cable along its entire route-both during and after installation. The bend radius of a cable is the amount of bending the cable can handle before sustaining damage or signal loss that can limit bandwidth performance.

When a fibre cable is bent beyond its minimum bend radius, light signals carrying data can leak out at the bend location. Maintaining proper bend radius becomes an even greater concern for higher-speed data centre applications that have more stringent fibre loss requirements.

Consider that 10 Gb/s Multimode applications have a maximum channel insertion loss of 2.9 dB, while higher-speed, 40, 100, 200, and 400 Gb/s applications have a maximum loss of just 1.9 dB.

The minimum bend radius of fibre cable depends on its diameter, overall construction, and whether or not it’s under tension (i.e., during installation). Generally speaking, the standard minimum bend radius for fibre is 20 times the cable diameter under tension and 10 times the diameter after installation. Maintaining the minimum bend radius can be especially difficult when routing fibres through cable managers in higher-density, tight spaces within racks and cabinets. While newer bend-insensitive fibre that is less susceptible to performance loss from bending can ease the burden by offering a greater bend radius of 15 times the diameter under tension, you still need to pay close attention to bend radius throughout all pathways to achieve maximum performance. Best practice to avoid problems is to select fibre routing systems, cable managers, and connectivity solutions with integrated bend radius protection throughout.

The physical bends that occur in a fibre cable are referred to as macrobends, but they are not the only bends you need to worry about. Small microbends in the fibre caused by pressure on the cable can also cause signal loss. Over time, these microbends can cause the glass to crack and render the fibre completely dark with no ability to pass any light signals, leading to downtime and additional time and money required to locate and repair the break.
One of the primary causes for microbends is fibre cable resting on a pressure point such as a basket tray rung, hard edge, or other nonconforming surface or transition points. They can also be caused by weight from other cables, which can occur from overloading pathways beyond recommended capacity. Cable routing systems specifically designed for fibre with flat surfaces and no hard edges at transition points go a long way to preventing microbends while also providing a more secure environment.

To prevent the overloading of pathways, you also want to make sure your routing system has plenty of capacity and can be easily updated to support more as your data centre grows.

An additional benefit of fibre routing systems over traditional solutions such as wire ducting or basket tray is the additional security and fire protection offered. It’s important than when selecting a solution, that you opt for a halogen-free option, this will provide additional peace of mind that if the worst were to happen that your infrastructure and employees will have maximum protection.

Changing Technology Demands Additional Flexibility and Scalability

With transmission speeds and the number of data centre fibre links on the rise, it is also important that your data centre’s fibre routing system makes it easy to access the entire route, allowing the addition of new fibre or replacing existing fibre to support new applications. At the same time, the increasing complexity of the overall data centre environment may have you facing some additional challenges when it comes to routing fibre between critical areas and equipment.

As new technology and applications emerge and data centres become highly virtualised, switch-fabric mesh architectures (i.e., spine-leaf) that support low-latency networking also mean multiple redundant paths to connect every switch to every other switch. The dynamic nature of highly virtualised data centre environments doesn’t just mean more fibre; it also means more fibre routed to more spaces and more equipment. If you’re dealing with a large data centre environment segregated into multiple interconnected switch fabrics, you likely know just how complicated fibre routes can be.
Maintaining and managing diverse fibre paths in these complex, highly dynamic environments demands routing systems that are flexible and scalable by design to enable reconfiguring existing routes or adding new routes easily and quickly.

When it comes to reconfiguring or adding to a routing system, it’s also better to avoid tool-based connections that require drilling and screws as they require more time and incur further labour costs, as well as creating additional dust and debris which is best avoided in these critical environments.