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Remember when a 100 Gigabyte hard drive was huge? I try not to think about it, but I also remember when no one could figure out what to do with a hard drive “that large”. Except we did. Now if you only have a 1 Terabyte hard drive we feel slightly sorry for you. Same thing with networks. It used to be that your 10/100 Mbit/s network would do all you ever needed. Times have changed.
The problem is back then you wired your building thinking no one could ever need to go faster than 100 Mbit/s, and certainly not 1 Gbps for basically as long as you were alive. But it happened. Now there’s a new technology to get your old cabling you’ve strung thousands of feet of to go faster than a Gbps. 2.5 to 5 times in fact.
Sure, you can buy all 10 Gbps if you were doing a new buildout, but you can’t get that kind of data across a building full of Cat 5e/6 wiring. You could also pull fiber and be fine, but running new cable is (almost) no one’s favorite pastime. This is especially true if your network documentation is, uh, less than 100%. If you don’t love pulling cable, you’ll love tracing your existing cabling even less. If you weren’t attending a 12-step program before starting, you should probably look one up, you’ll need it.
Here at Interop, they’ve set up a test lab, showing this new technology called NBASE-T, a technology capable of squeezing much more than 1 Gbps out of those old cables. They’ve created a consortium of vendors who provide everything from converters, aggregation, network interfaces and the like to make it all happen.
Fiber optics are getting way cheaper (like cheap enough for normal people to use)
In case you do decide to roll out some fiber optics, the now be in reach as well. It used to be fiber optic prices were printed very small to fit on a brochure, or not printed at all for fear of shock. Not true anymore. Turns out you can now buy a 2 meter fiber optic patch cable from vendors here at Interop for around $10. You can plug this fiber optic cable into a fiber-to-electric adapter which costs around $50 and plug it into more and more switches that allow dual-personality SFP (Small Form-factor Pluggable) ports, meaning they can either accept Cat 5e/6 traditional electrical SFP, or the optic version of a SFP that plugs into the same receptacle.
And speed is where fiber optic far outshines copper, even NBASE-T. While you have to work to get copper cabling to do 10 Gbps, fiber optics wouldn’t even be breaking a sweat. Not that you’d ever (or for the foreseeable future) need to scale to 100 Gbps, but with fiber, you would only have to change SFP’s, the fiber would handle it just fine.
Worried about security? It’s much tougher to snoop traffic across fiber optics without being noticed.
Also, while copper cabling can be used for a hundred meters or so (I know, sometimes they are run much farther), fiber optics distances are measured in many kilometers, like 40 or more sometimes, depending on how powerful your lasers/LED’s are.
Switch and router companies are finally even dropping their prices, primarily because they offload the port cost to the SFP manufacturers and just provide the tiny boxes that the gumstick-looking SFP’s plug into. I found some sub-$100 routers that have support for at least on SFP port, meaning you could route between nodes far apart with fiber, and then plug back into your existing copper Cat 5e/6 cabling you already have deployed and working. If you get a few more SFP ports on your switch/router, you can start swapping more fiber optics as you get to it, and sort of “test the waters”.
So either way, copper or fiber, you now don’t have to spend millions to make it happen. Luckily if you do happen to find a million bucks sitting around, there’s still plenty of large shiny security appliances here at Interop that do amazing things, including helping you get rid of that excess budget.
Author Cameron Camp, ESET