As was evidenced by the content of educational presentations, products displayed on the exhibit hall floor, and casual conversations between colleagues, the need to operate a data center more efficiently was at the top of most attendees' minds at this year's BICSI Spring Conference, a weeklong event that took place May 10-13 at the Baltimore Conference Center and attracted more than 1,700 industry professionals. Other key announcements from the conference included the release of the “Electronic Safety & Security Design Reference Manual,” 2nd edition, the upcoming release of the ESS credential, and the “Telecommunications Distribution Design Reference Manual,” 12th edition, at the fall conference.

Data center details

Attendees learned that tighter budgets, stricter regulations, and emerging technologies require a rethinking of how the data center should be managed. One way to gain energy efficiency is to address everything from the process chip, servers, and IT structure to the chillers and air handlers. Many vendors have introduced new systems or options with energy efficiency as a key feature, such as a storage solution that uses automated tiered storage and advanced virtualization to cut power consumption. Additionally, virtualization can dramatically reduce the number of servers needed, which brings savings on power and cooling costs.

Enclosures also play a role in thermal management. Products that support low- and medium-heat load densities are plentiful, including server cabinets that assist in convection cooling and convenient mounting hardware. Another critical area is cable management to ensure that the intake and exhaust movements of air are not blocked. With the growth in demand from data centers and information-hungry enterprises, the application of optical networks continues to trend upward as well. Now that Gigabit Ethernet is at home in many LAN installations, the move to 10 Gigabit/sec (Gbps) and beyond — 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps in the backbone — is not far away.

In “Using Energy Management to Help Create Green Buildings,” Herman Chan, Raritan, Somerset, N.J., explained how a data center manager can determine the total electrical consumption at a facility by setting up power monitoring with either portable or permanent monitoring equipment. Then, the monitoring of power use should be followed by proper analysis and reporting before implementing any changes aimed at gaining appreciable energy savings.

In keeping with the green movement, a number of standards-making groups continues to address the needs of the data center. For example, the Energy Star program and the Department of Energy provide measurement metrics, efficiency ratings on servers, and comparison data with existing equipment.

Headquartered in Beaverton, Ore., the Green Grid organization, a global consortium of IT companies and professionals seeking to improve energy efficiency in data centers and business computing ecosystems around the globe, advocates measuring the actual IT equipment power of the device. As a result, it created two related metrics: power usage effectiveness (PUE) and data center infrastructure efficiency (DCIE).

At the show, various ways to increase overall data center efficiency were highlighted, including how to avoid overcooling, minimize humidification, reduce bypass air flow, use variable-speed fans, and serve the IT equipment at higher voltages.

Fiber optics

In “Next Generation Multimode Fibers and Standards,” Sharon Bois, Corning, N.Y., talked about the next generation of fiber — called 50 micron, multimode bend-insensitive OM4 fiber. In all multimode fibers, as the bend radius decreases, the amount of light that leaks out of the core increases. However, the new construction can contain most of the energy of the different modes when the fiber is bent. Thus, OM3/OM4 fiber with this construction can support tighter bends than those currently specified in standards, bringing better performance and reliability.

Laser-optimized multimode fiber is recognized as the medium of choice for high-speed data networks. With next-generation 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps Ethernet speeds on the horizon, OM4 can be economical in specific applications, offering an effective [minimal] modal bandwidth (EMB) of 4,700 MHz/km with VCSEL launch at 850nm, compared with 2,000 MHz/km for OM3 fiber.

A number of standards currently under development will define the use of OM4 fiber for high-speed transmission in the future. Work is progressing on TIA-492AAAD, which will include the OM4 performance. Similarly, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), headquartered in Geneva, is preparing equivalent specs that will be documented in the international fiber standard IEC 60793-22-10 as fiber type A1a.3.

Meanwhile, IEEE, Piscataway, N.J., is working on standards for next-generation speeds, where OM4 fiber should play a large role. For short reach 40-Gbps and 100-Gbps applications, it appears that the 802.3ab Task Force will define a physical medium dependent (PMD) solution using parallel optics technology. This will maintain the usefulness of the 850nm VCSEL light source. One 10-Gbps signal will be transmitted on each of four or 10 fibers (for 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps, respectively). Performance of OM4 fiber will be established using the same criteria as OM3 but to tighter specifications.

In “Specifying Optical Fiber for Data Center Applications,” Dr. Andrew Oliviero, OFS, Norcross, Ga., reviewed the fundamentals of optical fiber technology before describing the latest developments in high-speed Fiber Channel and Ethernet applications running at 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps. Recognizing that high-speed connections simplify the network, early deployment of 40 Gbps will support data center servers and storage area networks, as well as corporate medical and R&D enterprises. Early deployment of 100 Gbps will be driven by high-bandwidth switching, routing, and aggregation interconnection points. Additionally, the trend is toward the use of pre-terminated multi-fiber trunk cable to interconnect racks.

In “Ensuring Fiber Optic System Performance,” Matt Brown, JDSU, Mill Creek, Wash., stressed the idea that connectivity is the most overlooked component in a fiber cabling plant. While the connector type is not the most critical factor, the end face preparation of the connector is paramount. Brown also recognized the convenience of being able to easily move fiber-optic connectors, but the technician should ensure that each fiber end remains clean, because they are highly susceptible to contamination. Particles of dirt on a connector end face can cause transmission error and permanent damage.

Brown also reviewed the proper methods for inspecting, cleaning, connecting, and testing an individual fiber. For Gigabit links, the new de facto industry standard connector is the LC, replacing the SC or ST, which are still common in multimode links.

In “Use of Fiber in Hardened and Industrial Environments,” Art Felgate, Transition Networks, Minnetonka, Minn., described how Ethernet networks are invading the manufacturing plant because of the benefits offered, such as being an open protocol and allowing management to monitor inventory from anywhere in the organization. There is a trend for devices to embed some form of Ethernet switching internally, especially in motion-control applications. Thus, over the past few years, industrial cable suppliers have begun offering sealed RJ-45 connectors and cables that can withstand the demands of the factory floor. Today, LC-type fiber connectors are recommended for non-sealed and sealed connector outlets.

Additionally, with a call for greater data transfer speeds and an expansion of a network's reach, optical fiber offers an economical migration path. Hardened media converters are available, making it easy to install fiber-optic cabling in conjunction with a copper-based industrial network on an as-needed basis. Characteristics specific to an optical fiber installation include: DIN rail mounting, the use of passive cooling in the enclosure, and the need for electronics that can handle extended operating temperatures and offer high reliability.

Felgate also covered the NEMA and IP ratings of enclosures and described the new ANSI/TIA-1005 standard 568-C.3 requirements. The MICE classification table offers users a way to categorize their environments in four areas: mechanical (M), ingress (I), climatic (C), and electromagnetic compatibility (E). A user can consult the table to determine the severity of the environment on a scale from 1 to 3.

Security systems

In “Expanding Options with IP - Industrial Security Systems,” Theron J. Roe, GarrettCom, Inc., Hockessin, Del., gave an overview of IP technology, describing techniques, such as redundant rings, industrially hardened switches, and software for managing images. He urged attendees to avoid making half steps by trying to graft digital technology into analog architectures. Although there are installation challenges in going all-digital, the advantages — in addition to being fully scalable — include the use of Power over Ethernet (PoE) to support not only cameras, but also access readers, biometric devices, VoIP phones, emergency call boxes, and other services.

In “Wireless Security and Surveillance - Challenge or Opportunity,” Mike Intag, Firetide, Los Gatos, Calif., underscored the advantages of a self-forming, self-healing wireless mesh network for cities and public safety agencies. The network should be capable of handling concurrent video, voice, and data applications to support video surveillance, Internet access, temporary networks, and more — wherever rapid deployment, mobility, and ease of installation are required. The design should set the right expectations, and the project should start with a site survey, followed by specifying the proper equipment.