Physical Layer Management in 10/40/100-Gigabit Ethernet Migration


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By Pat Thompson, Director Business Development – Managed Connectivity


The ability to migrate from 10- to 40- or 100-Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) hinges on knowing the nature and length of the backbone cable. The problem is, if you don’t know the overall length of the circuit, connector style (LC, 12 or 24 fiber MPO) or the fiber type (OM2, OM3, OM4, SM, etc.), you don’t know if it’ll support 40- or 100-GbE.  Since this type of information is rarely collected manually or accurately, Physical Layer Management (PLM) systems can provide instantaneous access to detailed information about the length and type of cables deployed, so IT managers can migrate their network with confidence.

With the amount of data skyrocketing, IT managers are constantly looking for ways to push more data through their networks. 40- and 100-GbE migration offers tremendous improvements in data center data-carrying capability. IT managers are looking for the most efficient and cost-effective ways to upgrade. Ideally, migration should occur selectively, on the paths that have priority in the data center. By having all physical layer cabling, components and their details documented (e.g., : length, media type, category, polarity, part numbers, etc.), circuits requiring upgrade can be identified, prioritized and deployed as needed.  This allows for a controlled migration, maximum recovery or repurposing of existing circuits and infrastructure as well as efficient management of pathways and spaces.  Panel upgrades would be by module or blade rather than entire chassis or enclosures, resulting in a lower cost of upgrade. This discrete migration would be more cost-effective than a wholesale forklift upgrade, migrating the most needed paths quicker and avoid the overspending and complexity of a wholesale migration. This also gives network providers the opportunity to differentiate their service offerings to their clients.


The problem is that most data centers don’t have the ability to upgrade selectively, because there’s no documentation about the physical state of the network. Data paths aren’t measured or characterized, so the IT team has no way of knowing whether the path is configured to support 40- or 100-GbE performance. Instead, IT teams envision upgrading everything at once. With thousands of cables in play, wholesale migration is a daunting and expensive prospect that could be delayed for years.

PLM systems enable IT managers to understand the physical characteristics of their networks down to the connector and port level. In a PLM system, each physical cable connector has an identity chip that stores information about the connector type, color, cable length, location, and other manufacturer metrics. A managed patch panel reads the information and forwards it to a database and software management system. By viewing the PLM database, IT managers can determine precisely how long a cable pathway is, how many hops it takes, what type of cable it is, and how it will perform. The PLM system measures a variety of metrics, including:

  • Media type – the type of cable and connector, such as LC or MPO, 12- or 24-strand fiber cable.
  • Wiring pattern –12- and 24-strand cables won’t have the same wiring patterns – it’s essential to track the wiring pattern coming out of trunk cable A and know whether it’s compatible going into trunk cable B.
  • Performance level – whether a 40- or 100-GbE cable, OM3 or OM4, it also provides details about the expected performance of a cable assembly.
  • Insertion and cleaning –the number of insertions used as an indicator of how often a particular fiber should be cleaned – if the fiber has been re-connected four or five times, it’s a good idea to clean it to remove dust or oil.
  • Length of cable – Intelligent connectors enable the database to add up all the components on a circuit to see if the circuit exceeds the length budgets for 10-, 40-, or 100-GbE. Even if the circuit segments are different lengths, it will base the length determination on the media type and expected performance level.


With a PLM system in place, IT managers can determine the most critical network segments that should be upgraded first, where they are, and how long they are. This allows managers to upgrade only the areas of the network having the greatest need, enabling a gradual migration that quickly brings higher-level service to key segments.

PLM systems provide all of the critical information an IT manager needs to determine whether a given circuit can support migration. As soon as a circuit layout is planned, the IT manager knows whether or not the assets are in place to support it.

PLM systems facilitate and accelerate 10/40/100-GbE migration and offer valuable network data for the day-to-day operations of businesses. When faced with the choice of whether to fund a wholesale network migration or to implement a PLM system, migrating selectively, most IT managers will determine that a PLM system is less expensive and offers greater overall responsiveness to network needs. Investing in a PLM system allows network managers to give differential service to their clients, yield revenues for high-speed service quickly, and efficiently. Network managers can now confidently manage their network each day.


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