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Fiber optic cabling and copper options for data storage pros

How long do you keep a data storage system? If you're like most storage pros, six years is typical while the average shelf life for servers may be four years. But what about the cabling found in your data center? Cabling -- the pipeline for data and power -- is likely to last approximately 15 years, meaning it can have a powerful, long-term impact on your storage environment.

"You have to think ahead," said Dennis Martin, founder and president of Arvada, Colo.-based Demartek LLC, during his Storage Decisions 2012 presentation titled "Next-Generation Data Center Storage Networking." Storage administrators need to be aware of current cable and connector options because as speeds increase, requirements change. For distances of more than 50 meters, the older, orange-colored fiber optic cables are no longer adequate for higher-speed connections such as 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) and 16 Gb Fibre Channel (FC), especially the 62.5 micron OM1 cables. The industry is moving to aqua-colored 50-micron OM3 and OM4 fiber optic cables for long-distance connections. OM4 is now the preferred cable type for horizontal, or data center-wide, cabling for both Ethernet and FC.

"The bottom line is that if you're running multimode fiber, you should be buying OM4," Martin said. "The recommendation is that you go to OM4 because [it] will also run 40-gig Ethernet and 100-gig Ethernet, and it will run the higher-end speed to Fibre Channel as well."

In addition, some of the higher speeds are achieved by bundling four or more lanes together, which requires different connectors, such as the Quad Small Form-factor Pluggable (QSFP+) connector. There are similar considerations for copper cables and connectors.

"As we move forward in speed, you're going to see more interest in fiber optic cabling and less in copper because copper can't push the signal very far," Martin said. But copper cabling can work when "it's on the same rack, on top of a rack or the next rack over -- up to seven or eight meters,” he explained. To hear all of Martin's remarks and view helpful charts outlining cable considerations and recommendations, view this video.

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