How to increase port density in data centres?

May 02, 2021
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Connectivity demands are increasing in data centres, particularly in hyperscale facilities where 3456- or 1728-fibers are widely used. Because of limited data centre rack space, linking these cables with high fiber count to switches and servers is a challenge. Fiber patch panels are the core aspect of this issue. For this task, data centres are enhancing port density in fiber patch panels to meet the rising demand for more bandwidth.


Increasing Data Centre Rack Space


Rack space is precious in data centres and it's a challenge for architects to maximize its use. Each data centre rack generally has 48 or 42RU, and the chief objective is to utilize the maximum number of these units for computing. However, computer servers need to be linked, therefore some of the racks need to be utilized for patching.


More volume will be available for hardware if less is utilized for passive features. The volume in cooled data centre racks is costlier, therefore architects look to reduce usage of this expensive rack space for patching, and the solution is to increase port density.


Data centre techs have different optical interfaces and applications for connectivity. Some utilize serial connectivity, while other architects increase bandwidth by leveraging parallel connectivity. Ideally, horizontal cabling and passive infrastructure should allow the maximum possible modularity and flexibility to avoid different kinds of patch tools for different requirements.


The Patch Field - Improving Both Parts


The patch field is where you connect computer hardware to cabling with high fiber count. For first day implementation, you need to access the BTW (behind-the-wall) or back-side cabling, as well as the port latches on the patch part. You require excellent rear cable handling, planned at platform creation, and implemented at installation. Plus, you need to access the port latches. The need to access both the rear and front parts of the panel affects the flexibility of some fixed panels.


Some providers present flat panels that have adapters to accommodate more ports in each panel, but these solutions lack modularity and flexibility, and ignore cable management issues. Movable panels offer better access to port-latch but are found lacking when it comes to flexibility and modularity.


Pre-terminated panels are another alternative to flat panels, but they are not flexible: providers have reduced back-part cable management, but haven't enhanced the patching part of cable management or permitted flexibility in the platform.


Modularity is severely limited in these panels, so you have to commit to the port type while buying the panel. In addition, when a fixed panel is filled with maximum density ports, there is no place for port identification. To increase density in fixed panels, you need to go up to higher rack space commitments of 3RU and more to get the maximum port density.


Manufacturers are restricted to 72 ports each RU in legacy patching solutions. Some providers have inflexible and non-interchangeable applications. Other tools preserve interfaces with AIM (Automated Infrastructure Management) programs by sacrificing port density. This backwards legacy makes it impossible for a lot of vendors to enhance density.  In addition, many providers don't wish to use a new solution that is not compatible with previous applications.


Modularity and Flexibility are Vital


Modularity and flexibility are important as they allow reconfiguration of the platform to fit a different requirement for a different solution. A platform that is modular at the level of the connector allows you to accommodate parallel and serial ports in one cassette if needed.


In addition, connector modularity allows port designation by utilizing non-shuttered and shuttered adapters, keyed adapters, colored adapters, and others. Platform level modularity also permits users to utilize the same cassettes in several applications while preserving port density.


Currently, MPO is the popular parallel optical connector preferred in data centres, mainly with a 12-fiber count. In breakout applications, eight fibers in a ferrule of 12 fibers is the favored solution. An ideal platform will support both 12- and 8-fiber connectivity, as well as new variants like 32-, 24-, and 16- fiber ferrules. A good patching solution has the capability to mix cassettes in the same hosts, without loss of port density. Most platforms support up to three types of these panels.


A connectivity platform should accommodate the above trends, easily support parallel and serial connectivity, and adapt to various types of cable management needs and connectors. Vendors need to create patch panels with good flexibility and modularity to support the new directions taken by data centre designs and architectures.


The global data centre colocation market is expected to reach $62.3 billion in value by 2022. In India, STT GDC India is a leading player in the colocation services market with 18 data centres in nine cities.