Show Me the Cable: Why Product Flexibility Provides Customer Solutions

When it comes to network devices, there are many factors that can affect a customer’s decision. Customers normally want the latest, fastest, most sophisticated LAN technology, but they are sometimes constrained by things which are not obvious. This means that suppliers who are flexible and able to accommodate unusual requests can be in a strong position.

With our range of NETernity switches, we provide a lot of that ability to handle the “corner cases”. With many of our products we have configuration options which allow for situations which are not the standard installation. This can range from complex interactions of sophisticated protocols at the high level, all the way down to a particular type of cable. Being able to engage with the customer and fully understand the customer’s needs is one of our strengths.

As an example of this, let’s consider fiber optic cabling. There are numerous different cable types available, and most of our customers tend to use recent cables, which support Gigabit Ethernet signalling. Indeed, over the last few years, some of our biggest success has been 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE)—which uses fiber cable types which were either unobtainable or very expensive a few years ago. 10GbE allows for very high data rates, and we have supplied many military customers with single board computers, digital signal processing cards, and Ethernet switches with 10GbE capability.

The trend within our industry—and for most industries, come to that—is for faster and faster data rates, so we could assume everyone always wants the newest, fastest cabling technology. But that assumption isn’t always true, for various reasons.

It’s the application that’s important

We must always view networks from the end user point of view—and many applications cannot make use of all the bandwidth which could be available. Add to that the fact that higher speed transmission tends to need more power—and more power means more heat to dispose of; thermal problems are a challenge in many environments. So, although we do very well supplying 10GbE solutions, we still sell more Gigabit ports than 10GbE. As such, providing combinations of these capabilities in our switch products is the secret to success in this market.

Added to that, there are specific cases where there are “legacy reasons” to limit the connection capability. A nice, simple example of this is in navy applications. Back in the 1980s and 90s, one of the popular networking technologies was FDDI (Fiber Distributed Data Interface). FDDI was one of the choices for low-level technology, alongside Ethernet, Token Ring, and a few others. One of the big wins for FDDI was that it made for easy “redundancy” in the network; if one link went down, there was a secondary traffic route. This was attractive to the military (for obvious reasons) and so FDDI was taken up by a number of military navy operations. This means that many ships—both surface ships and submarines—had fiber cabling suitable for FDDI laid in during their construction.

It is now 30 years on, and FDDI is pretty much consigned to the history book (as with Token Ring) and Ethernet now dominates. So, when it comes to any sort of upgrade or refit of these vessels, replacing FDDI systems with Ethernet systems is often a requirement. But—replacing the cabling is a major challenge. So, a requirement which some of our customers come to us with is to run Ethernet over the installed cabling. Enter a particular Ethernet technology, known as 100base-FX. This is currently defined by the IEEE standard IEEE 802.3u. The wonderful thing here is that it can be used over the same cable that carried FDDI!

So, in some of our switch and network interface card products, we offer 100base-FX as an option. On our RM921N switch, we can combine these 100base-FX ports with other copper or fiber ports. This allows customers to make use of existing cabling where necessary, and combine them with Gigabit technology where appropriate.

A simple solution to the legacy cabling problem!

Richard Spiesman

Richard is a 40-year veteran of the embedded computing industry. Having graduated from UCLA with a bachelor of arts in economics, he joined Motorola before moving on to RAMIX, who were acquired by GE in 2003. He is now product manager for GE’s networks and communications product line.

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